Island Scene Online

Printer Friendly

‘Ohana > Island LatitudesWinter 2011 IS Magazine

A New Generation of Hawaiian Speakers

Once a dying tongue, the Hawaiian language is now thriving.

By Lucy Jokiel

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.

Island Scene Online is not intended to replace the advice of health care professionals. Please consult your physician for your personal needs and before making any changes in your lifestyle.
HMSA An Independent Licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association
HMSA is licensed to operate in the state of Hawaii. Legal Notices.
© 2015 Hawaii Medical Service Association All Rights Reserved.