Hale ‘olelo Hale Dedication Ceremony

This afternoon we were delighted to experience the dedication of the Hale ‘olelo building as the College of Hawaiian Language as part of the University of Hawai’i Hilo.  This building is not just a building.  It is a large step towards saving the Hawaiian language and culture.  Ever since the “Illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1896” (as one speaker put it today) the Hawaiian culture has been slowly eroded.  This started with the banning of the Hawaiian language in schools and government in 1898.  As the younger generations grew up they had very little knowledge of the Hawaiian language which in turn cut the Hawaiian culture at the knees.  Without knowing Hawaiian it is very hard to truly appreciate hula, chants, and most aspects of the Hawaiian culture.  In 1982 there were only 35 students who used Hawaiian as their first language.  Since then new law changes and new schools have led to a slow come back of the Hawaiian language.  Even though it is on the rise in 2001 the Native speaker of Hawaiian amounted to under 0.1% of the state’s population.

Throughout our journey here in Hawai’i I have rarely seen Hawaiian written anywhere.  It is not written on menus, road signs, etc.  Anywhere I have seen Hawaiian it came after English and sometimes even after Japanese.  Today at the dedication we were handed a program which was written in Hawaiian and then had an English translation underneath.  I found this interesting but not surprising.  The part that I did find surprising was how much of the ceremony was in Hawaiian.  Everything in the formal greeting part of the ceremony was in Hawaiian and even a few of the speeches made later on.  This made it extremely hard for me to understand exactly what was going on but I could still hear and fell the passion in the people’s voices every time they sang or spoke.  After the formal greeting we went inside to listen to the “Congratulatory Remarks” during these speeches there were two comments or lines that really stood out to me.  Both of these were lines describing the purpose of the College of Hawaiian Language the first declared that the school was “bringing Hawaiian language back from the brink of extinction”.  To me this perfectly summed up everything we have seen or read about the Hawaiian language.  It also shows exactly how extreme the loss of the Hawaiian language has been.  The next quote was that the school was “built for language, built by language, and will build language”, this was a very powerful speech that caused the room to explode in applause.  This response was the exciting part for me as it showed exactly how proud Hawaiians really are.

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