Keao NeSmith, a Native Hawaiian, published a study in 2005 in which he documented
his family’s “no Hawaiian” rule while growing up in Kekaha on
Kaua‘i. Although Hawaiian was his grandparents’ first language, they
did not speak the language to their children so as not to hinder their progress
in school and society, he explained.
“My parents’ generation experienced a strongly negative stigma against
being Hawaiian, a label that often embarrassed them,” says NeSmith, who teaches
Hawaiian language classes at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.
In the years following the 1893 overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i, the new
government worked tirelessly to eradicate the Hawaiian language. Three years later,
the state Legislature passed Act 57, which decreed, “The English language
shall be the medium and basis of instruction in all public and private schools.”
Children were physically and psychologically punished for using the native tongue,
and many parents chose not to speak or teach Hawaiian to their children.
On the brink of extinction, the resurgence of ka ‘olelo Hawai‘i (the
Hawaiian language) began with the Hawaiian Renaissance movement in the 1960s. Since
then, the Hawaiian language has undergone a tremendous revival. In 1978, Hawaiian
was re-established as one of the state’s official languages, and within a
decade, schools were allowed to teach it again.
In 1986, following three years of lobbying by the Hawaiian community, laws banning
the Hawaiian language were amended. After 115 years, it was legal to teach students
using the Hawaiian tongue. Hearing new generations of native speakers teaching the
once-dying language has been a great source of pride to Hawaiian-language advocates.
In 1983, ‘Aha Punana Leo was organized to promulgate the Hawaiian language
through the creation of Hawaiian language immersion schools. Their purpose is to
create a new generation of people whose native language is Hawaiian.
Today, roughly 2,000 students in nearly two dozen schools are enrolled in Hawaiian
immersion programs statewide that serve students from preschool to the 12th grade.
In the broader community, a daily segment aired in Hawaiian on KGMB’s Sunrise
morning show is an important validation that the Hawaiian language revitalization
movement is here to stay. Other examples include:
- The Office of Hawaiian Affairs recently launched Na ‘Oiwi ‘Olino, a
one-hour Hawaiian talk radio show airing weekdays from 7 to 9 a.m. on KKNE 940 AM.
- Hawaiian speakers worldwide now have a language interface that allows them to use
Google to search the Web in Hawaiian.
- In 2008, Kamehameha Schools helped produce A‘o Makua, an online learning program.
The 2010 Legislative session approved $28 million in construction funding for a
permanent facility to house UH Hilo’s expanding Hawaiian Studies programs.
“This reflects our serious commitment to revitalizing our Hawaiian language
and culture for generations to come,” says House Higher Education Committee
chair and UH Hilo graduate, state Rep. Jerry Chang.