Ka Wai Ola

Last month, Hawaiian studies associate professor Kaleikoa Ka‘eo arrived in a Wailuku courtroom prepared to defend himself against charges stemming from a protest over construction of a telescope on Haleakala. He ended up leaving with a bench warrant – later revoked – because he addressed the court in ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i, his native tongue and an official state language.

The case shines a light on how far efforts to revitalize ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i have come, and how much further they need to go. Three decades ago, our native language was nearing extinction, but Ka‘eo has played an active role in its revival – as a teacher, and as a father who raised his children speaking only Hawaiian. Ka‘eo case is a chilling reminder of the cultural suppression that led to our ‘ōlelo’s decline. For decades following the illegal overthrow, Hawaiians were punished for speaking their native language. But the ‘Aha Pūnana Leo movement in the 1980s breathed new life into a dying language, and today new generations of speakers are using their native tongue to revive cultural traditions and increase their mana Hawai‘i.

February has been designated the state’s official ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i month, which is reflected in this issue of Ka Wai Ola. So many community members wanted to contribute articles in Hawaiian that we thought it was most appropriate to place them alongside our English content as a representation of where our language should be in the 21st century, in schools, businesses and government. For our mother tongue to thrive, it should be used in as many spaces as possible, including while seeking justice in a Maui courtroom.

I learned ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i from my grand-uncle, a mānaleo who taught my cousin and brother his native language, as well. My brother, I’m proud to say, was part of the early ‘Aha Pūnana Leo movement, and one of the first kumu ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i at an immersion preschool.

For me, my grand-uncle’s teaching offered a key to my past and inspired me to immerse myself in things Hawaiian, such as chanting and Hawaiian ceremonies. Today I perpetuate his legacy as I teach my daughter and niece our genealogy and chants, and more broadly as I use ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i in my own chanting and ceremonies.We can see the impact Hawaiian language and culture have made across the globe. People learn hula and ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i in Japan, Brazil, Mexico, Canada and Russia and we’re doing ho‘opono‘pono in Germany and Switzerland, Oklahoma and Kansas.

Now our challenge is determining how to move forward until ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i becomes a thriving language used in modern history and events. We saw a glimpse of that on Jan. 17, when thousands of community members united to acknowledge the 125th anniversary of the overthrow, and students from ānuenue School, Hālau Kū Māna, Kamehameha Schools and St. Louis joined cultural practitioners in honoring our Queen. And we saw it again a week later, when news organizations around the world carried stories about Ka‘eo’s case.

It’s been 40 years since ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i was made an official state language. We call on the state to treat it as such, and once and for all, stop penalizing Hawaiians for speaking our native tongue.

‘O au iho nō me ke aloha a me ka ‘oia‘i‘o.