Ka Wai Ola

He aupuni palapala ko‘u…
(Mine is a kingdom of education…)
–Kamehameha III

In the mid-nineteenth century, Hawai‘i boasted the highest literacy rate in the world. This amazingly occurred within less than 30 years from the time Calvinist missionaries introduced a written language and printing press to the Islands. The Kingdom’s superior level of literacy is evidenced by the more than 100 different Hawaiian language newspapers published from 1834 to 1948. These papers allowed for the entire population of Hawai‘i to have access to a platform where knowledge was conveyed and shared in lively discourse.

Experts estimate that over 125,000 newspaper pages were written – equivalent to roughly one million standard pages of typed text today. Not only did this Hawaiian language repository preserve information about practically every aspect of Hawaiian life, culture and history; it safeguarded our ‘ike Hawai‘i for future generations. It captured how Hawaiians of the time were engaging and interacting with the world around them on a global scale. And, most importantly, it served as a space in which this information could be recorded from a Hawaiian worldview.

The very first printing in Hawai‘i occurred in January of 1822. It was made by Governor and High Chief George Cox Kahekili Ke‘eaumoku, the younger brother of Ka‘ahumanu, Kalākua Kaheiheimālie, Namahana and Kuakini. A working replica of the original Ramage printing press used by Ke‘eaumoku is located in the hale pa‘i (press house) at the Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives in Honolulu, O‘ahu.

Lama Hawaii Issue
Nūpepa published from 1834 to 1948 offer a Hawaiian language repository that preserves
information about what it was like to live during that time period. – Photo: nupepa.org

By 1826, the Hawaiian language had been standardized into a written alphabet and literacy began to spread quickly throughout the Kingdom. This was due in large part to the fact that it was so strongly supported by the ali‘i of the time. Leading the movement was Kauikeaouli, King Kamehameha III, who believed that knowledge and learning was of the utmost importance. In 1825, just one year into his reign, the King proclaimed:

“He aupuni palapala ko‘u; o ke kanaka pono ‘o ia ko‘u kanaka”

(Mine is the kingdom of education; the righteous man is my man.)

Like his Kuhina Nui (Regent), Ka‘ahumanu, Kamehameha III encouraged his people to learn how to read and even passed laws that would motivate all citizens to educate themselves through literacy. Under his rule, Hawai‘i created its own public education system – decades before Great Britain, France, and most of the United States of America.

“Ua ao Hawai‘i ke ‘Ōlino nei mālamalama” (Hawai‘i is enlightened, for the brightness of day is here); this well-known ‘ōlelo no‘eau speaks of a time in Hawaiian history that education was valued above all else.  In honor of the “Year of the Hawaiian” we reflect on our vibrant culture of learning