As we enter February, celebrated in Hawaiʻi as Mahina ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, I am encouraged and excited to see our mother language alive and thriving! Native Hawaiian-serving organizations such as OHA and Kamehameha Schools have long used ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi in business, programs, and even facility signage.The Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs switch between English and ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi in proceedings and have even passed their resolutions in both languages.
But now, we are seeing ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi find its way into audiences that are not predominantly Native Hawaiian. In recent legislative sessions, committees in the Hawaiʻi State Senate file meeting agendas in both English and ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi. ATM users can select ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi as an operating option on Bank of Hawaiʻi machines. iPhone owners can set their calendar settings to ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi. Keiki and family alike were enthralled to be attend Pō ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, Hawaiian Language Night, at the carnival – also known as Kāniwala. Ride and game operators gave instructions in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi. Signage in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi only gave breakdowns for ride and concession costs.
Families and students have also had the opportunity to enjoy Disney’s animated Moana, ma ka ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi. Not a voice “dub over”, but a reanimation of the movie complete with translated dialogue and songs.
Celebrating these milestones are bittersweet as we have these accomplishments without the earthly presence of our kūpuna who fought to perpetuate ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi; mānaleo who worked to record our language and moʻolelo and perpetuate it for future generations. But we honor them and mahalo them through language revitalization.
One who I especially recognize as having done a lot of this work is Mary Kawena Pukui. Born in 1895 on Hawaiʻi Island, she was raised by her Hawaiian grandmother in the tradition of hānai, learning at home ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi and traditions and customs of Hawaiʻi. She began her work in translating at a young age. Eventually, she joined the staff of Bishop Museum in Honolulu as a translator.
She is the coauthor of more than 50 books. Many of her works are staples for students, professionals, practitioners, and even families at home. These titles include the Hawaiian-English Dictionary, The Polynesian Family System in Kaʻū, Hawaiʻi, and Nānāi ke Kumu, Look to the Source.
Another book, her compilation of ʻŌlelo Noʻeau, is a staple of many family libraries, and had been out-of-print and hard to find until a 2018 reprint by Bishop Museum Press. This collection of nearly 3,000 proverbs and poetical sayings is a result of Tūtū Pukui’s work she started in 1910 at the age of 15.
From these collections, one well-known ʻŌlelo Noʻeau:
I ka ʻōlelo no ke ola, i ka ʻōlelo no ka make.
Life is in speech; death is in speech.
Word can heal; words can destroy.
These words of our elders, immortalized thanks to Tūtū Pukui’s efforts, are an important reminder as we recognize Mahina ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi. Our words, our language, is so important to our future.
I participated in an ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi workshop in Kapolei. I was so impressed with the turnout. The demand was so high that it was moved outdoors to accommodate the demand. Our people are becoming more and more interested in the opportunity to perpetuate our language and traditions.
Our kūpuna have fought to preserve our language for us and it is up to us to continue upon their legacies. Our educators continue this work in the classrooms, and our ʻohana continue these efforts at home. E ola mau ka ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi!