Ka Wai Ola

This article is dedicated to mana wahine, Kumu Ka‘e‘e (beloved kumu of Kawaikini and Kanuikapono Charter Schools) and all of our ‘ike Hawai‘i and ‘ōlelo Hawaii kumu who rise up every day for our keiki.

The revolution to take back our ‘ōlelo, our ‘āina, our culture and most of all, ‘our education’ was initiated by the acknowledgment and revitalization of our Hawaiian language in the 1970s. This led to Hawaiian language and studies programs at the university, Hawaiian immersion schools, and the Native Hawaiian charter school movement. These schools have empowered our young kānaka, reinvigorated our language, values, traditions, and the ‘ike of our kūpuna.

When Liholiho became King after the passing of Kamehameha I, before the missionaries arrived in 1820, he had already learned the alphabet. Liholiho valued the adoption of literacy for his people and the introduction of a printing press by the missionaries. While Liholiho increased the number of Hawaiians educated in the English language, the missionaries did not make similar progress in their acquisition of the Hawaiian language.

Thus, Liholiho pledged his assistance. By 1822, the first eight pages of the pī‘apā were printed in ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i, resulting in the formation of an alphabet book and elementary reading primer. Therefore, it was literate Hawaiians, not the missionaries, who created the Hawaiian orthography.

The pī‘apā’s first printing was 500; six months later it was 2,000…and 120,000 spelling books were printed in Hawai‘i by 1829. Remarkably, the 12 years following the first printing saw a legendary rise in the Hawaiian literacy rate, from near-zero to above 90 percent by 1834. Many Hawaiians students quickly became teachers to keep up with the literacy demand and the Hawaiian Kingdom government financed infrastructure costs for nearly 1,100 schoolhouses.

By 1840, the Kingdom government established a Board of Education to administer public schools in Hawai‘i. Fast forward to 1899 and sadly, this same system was used to indoctrinate the children of the Hawai‘i to be “American” and to speak “English.” The book, “Programme for Patriotic Exercises in the Public Schools,” promoted American propaganda and a pro-annexation ideology. During this era, the foundation of our past was destroyed. The illegal overthrow led to the immense loss of our language, our literacy, and Hawaiian education that our ali‘i deeply valued and used to empower our kānaka.

Nearly a century later, during the renaissance of our Hawaiian culture, education of future generations became a major focus in the movement. During the 1978 State Constitutional Convention the following change was made to the Constitution in Article X, Section 4:

“The State shall promote the study of Hawaiian culture, history and language…in the public schools.”

“The use of community expertise shall be encouraged as suitable and essential means in the furtherance of the Hawaiian educational program.”

Today, our cultural pillars such as ‘ōlelo Hawaii, mele, ‘oli, and mālama ‘āina, are used to give our future generations a cultural foundation and self-identity that connects them as the indigenous people of Hawai‘i. Emerging national and local research demonstrates cultural and place-based learning has many positive impacts on Native Hawaiian youth that statistics have always painted in a dim light. We knew these statistics could not be accurate, our true history told us otherwise.

We must advocate vigorously to ensure our immersion and charter schools remain at the forefront of excellence in delivery of education in Hawai‘i. It is our kuleana as the indigenous people of Hawai‘i to practice our culture and to provide our youth with pono cultural learning tools that set them up for success regardless of income or geographic limitations.