Hawaiian Language

I know this is quite long — bear with me, too much information to not write about!

In the reading Tūtū’s Hawaiian and the Emergence of a Neo Hawaiian Language, by R. Keao NeSmith, I learned a lot about the development, history, and installment of the Hawaiian language. One quote in this reading that I think encases our entire day today would have to be “We feel a sense of kinship with our ancestors, because we’re learning to speak Hawaiian, we are also working to pass on our language to a new generation”. The native people of Hawaii have a strong connection and tie to their language, as they believe that is connects all different generations. NeSmith explains that most Hawaiian native speakers are elderly, and as they die, the numbers are steadily decreasing. This is due to the U.S banning the language when they occupied Hawaii, forcing this past generation to lose touch with this specific cultural tie. Now, the Hawaiian people are trying to pass down the language to their children and the younger generation. Nesmith says that over the past thirty years, “the growing numbers of aboriginal Hawaiians studying the native language has helped awaken the current generation’s interest in Hawaiian language, culture, and history”. He begins to explain two different periods of time in history, the Neo Hawaiian National Identity (NEONI) starting in 1970, which was a time of reawakening for the Hawaiian people. And now, being the Original Hawaiian National Identity (OHNI), which began in 1840 and ended when the Hawaiian Kingdom waned during the time of World War II. In 1983, ‘Aha Pūnana Leo was put together for the purpose of reestablishing the Hawaiian language through the creation of Hawaiian language immersion schools. Today we were able to visit Ke Kula ‘O Nāwahīokalani’ōpu’u in Hilo. It is an Hawiian language medium (immersion) school grades K-12. The school was established in 1994 and was named after Joseph Nawahi, a Native Hawaiian leader, publisher, and legislator. A Hawaiian medium school is a school that uses Hawaiian as its one medium of teaching. The faculty, staff, students, and administrative workers only speak Hawaiian at school. We were greeted at the school by a group of eighth grade students that were going to be our “tour guides”for the day. The whole school greeted us with a Hawiian chant and song, following by gifting us lei’s and hugging and kissing us on the cheek. Two students gave us a tour of the school today, their names were Huala’i and Kealoha.  They first showed us the lei that was hung at the entrance of their school. It is made out of two different plants, representing knowledge, being extraordinary, and protection. Each year a new lei is made and hung here to represent the birth and health of a new school year. This area is considered sacred to the school community and is not to be touched, they described this with the Hawaiian word “Kapu”. At the end of each school year, the lei is either buried in the land or preserved in another sacred place. Every Friday, the whole school gathers in the gym to do a group chant and hula. The two girls told us that they dance on their knees so that they are shown as lower than the chiefs and gods. For grades k-8 there is two classes, and only one class for the high school grades. The school is expanding and reaching capacity, which is a good sign for the remembrance and reestablishment of the Hawaiian language. Each grade has their own garden that they work in to grow their own food, as it is their kuleana to the land.  Before 5th grade, the students at this school learn Japanese as their second language. The Hawaiian culture has always had a blend of Polynesian and Asian ethnicities, so a lot of the students here can tie their ancestors to Japan. However, in the 5th grade, they start to take English classes. Our two tour guides told us they find English very hard and they don’t feel very confident in it. Me and my group found this very interesting because we observed that all the students were speaking very fluent English. A lot of the student come from both English speaking households and Hawaiian speaking households. Depending on what their parents speak to them, students come into school at different levels, which our lecturer at the University of Hilo spoke about, as well.  This school found great importance in the enrichment of their culture and history, through class and other practices. The students had Hula dances, farming classes, and they were required to take their shoes and socks off in the class room. The immersion starts at the infant level now, as well. We were able to visit the building in which they teach the 6 month to 2 year olds, and they were singing them Hawaiian chants. I have learned in my own studies that, developmentally, children are able to learn other languages very well if started early. This is why a lot of the students who have been at this school are slowly surpassing their parents Hawaiian language skills, because a lot of that generation didn’t learn the language until college. We learned that the Nawahi school has an 100% graduation rate. I found this extremely impressive, and I also thought about how appealing this must be to parents. The teachers told us that a lot of adults are skeptical of medium schools and worry that their kids cannot thrive without going to an English speaking school However, this medium school has proved that their method of teaching has payed off. Something else that I really admired about the Nawahi school was their Ohana based community. They had their own little family at this school, and you could tell that everyone was looking out for each other. Kealoha told me that all 4 of her older brothers went to the same school and her family would never do it any different. They both told me about how much they love it there and how they never want to leave. Me and my peers discussed after this about how different our school systems were from this, not even just in terms of language. These students were learning useful skills, as well as how to apply these skills. They practice their kuleana to the land and learn how to take care of the land and themselves. Not only are they learning, but they becoming culturally, academically, and socially aware of themselves and the people around them. I really admired that. They base themselves of their cultural ties, following the quote “We are of this place”, which grounds a love and devotion to their family and their knowledge. Their language binds them together, connects them to their ancestors, and creates a bigger purpose.

After going to the medium school, we were able to visit the Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani, College of Hawaiian Language. The lecturer we learned from was able to connect a lot of useful information to all that we had experienced earlier today at the medium school. Through giving us a timeline of the language and public school system, we were able to see how this specific medium school had come about. This College of Hawaiian Language and the medium school work together a lot, sharing faculty, and interacting with the students. He told us that “language is the fiber that binds us to our cultural identity” and that this is the basis of a lot of immersion and medium schools. The difference between these two types of schools is that immersion schools is just Hawaiian in the classroom, where medium schools use Hawaiian all over campus, which proves to be much more effective. He introduced the world mauli, which is our inner being, and our identity. Then, we discussed the 4 main aspects of our mauli. First, ʻõlelo, which is language. Then, piiʻunane, which is a spiritual connection. Lawena is the kinesthetic and behavioral connection. Lastly, ʻkekuʻuna is the traditional and inherited knowledge. These are all Pikos, which are connections to our mauli. Diving more into piko, he described that ʻī was the top of a head, which was a spiritual representation of your connection to the gods. ʻõ is a genealogical connection through your naval, which connected you to your mother and your ancestors. And ʻā is the creative connection through your genitals to the next generations. All of these pikos connects one to the Hawaiian language, culture, history, and future. Piko connects time, space, place and people, and nurtures our mauli. Our lecturer told us this to show us why Hawaiians cherish their language and why they wish to develop and bring it back. We learned that culture influences individuals view of their experiences and that it shapes the mind and provides it with the tools in which we construct our conceptions. As well, he ended our discussion with a quote that read “Who would not be wise enough to travel the path of our ancestors through language”. I thought this quote tied everything together very well. I was in awe of the medium school we visited because of their devotion to who they are and their determination to reverse the actions that harmed their ancestors in the past. They show true resilience and the college of Hawaiian language just shows that this resilience can bring you further into the history. I never knew this much rich information and history behind the Hawaiian language and I had no idea people were fighting for its survival. Everyday I grow more respect for these people and for the passion they have for their land and culture, and today only heightened this.