Let the Language Live

Ka Wai Ola

Read this article in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi


nvt. Language, speech, word, quotation, statement, utterance, term, tidings; to speak, say, state, talk, mention, quote, converse, tell.

Photo: Sylvia Hussey

Aloha mai kākou,

I remember my mother and grandparents speaking Hawaiian, especially when they didn’t want me to know what they were saying. It is a fond yet sad memory as I reflect now how precious their conversations were and how I could not participate. When I overhear Hawaiian spoken in ordinary places today — in the grocery store, while standing in line at the bank, or at a baby lūʻau — I am encouraged and reassured that our ʻōlelo makuahine lives.

During the first half of the 20th century, ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi was nearly lost. The 1893 overthrow and subsequent ban of Hawaiian language education had a chilling effect. Children were routinely punished for speaking Hawaiian in school and, eventually, most Hawaiian parents stopped teaching their keiki the language at all. Learning proper English was viewed as the way to advance and be successful in the post-monarchical Territory of Hawaiʻi. By the 1970s only a handful of Hawaiian language speakers, mostly elderly, remained.

The decision to re-establish Hawaiian as an official language of the State of Hawaiʻi at the 1978 Constitutional Convention was pivotal. Within six years the first Pūnana Leo Hawaiian language preschool opened and in 1987, the first two DOE Hawaiian Language Immersion Programs opened. Today there are 24 Hawaiian Immersion schools across the pae ʻāina, and about 20,000 people now speak Hawaiian fluently.

In this issue of Ka Wai Ola we celebrate Mahina ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi. By revitalizing our language, we perpetuate our moʻomeheu; our language contains the worldview of our kūpuna. In learning our language we better understand who we are as ʻohana, as a lāhui, and as keiki o kēia ʻāina nei. The power of language cannot be underestimated. Our kūpuna knew that “I ka ʻōlelo no ke ola; i ka ʻōlelo no ka make – Words can heal; words can destroy.” E ola mau ka ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi.

Sylvia M. Hussey, Ed.D.
Ka Pouhana/Chief Executive Officer