People working with taro

Editor’s note: Diacritical marks commonly found in the modern orthography of second language learners of Hawaiian have been omitted to represent the orthography used during the height of Hawaiian written literature, which is the current orthography used by the remaining community of olelo Kanaka speakers.

Two faculty members at the University of Hawaii at Manoa from the Niihau community are working on several program initiatives designed to preserve and promote olelo Kanaka, the Hawaiian language of native speakers, by providing opportunities for Hawaiian language learners and/or future teachers to engage and interact with native speakers of Hawaiian.

Ipo Wong, director of the Kawaihuelani Center for Hawaiian Language, and Kahea Faria, College of Education assistant specialist at UH Manoa, were both born and raised on Niihau and earned advanced graduate degrees from the UH Manoa College of Education.

One program, immerses UH students in a week-long language intensive program on Kauai, engaging with native speakers in various activities such as saddling a horse and horseback riding, fishing and cleaning the catch, gathering maile and making lei, taro cultivation, visiting historical sites and other activities centered around ohana and malama aina. The native speakers provide instructions in olelo Kanaka, and the UH students are encouraged to converse with the same language and nuances.

“Ua ike wau i ke ola maoli ana o ka olelo Hawaii [I experienced a living and thriving Hawaiian language]” said Kamana Kawaha, one of the program’s participants.

Faria and Wong are also working on a teacher-training initiative with plans to increase the number of certified teachers who are native speakers from the Niihau community.

“This is an important endeavor as the schools that serve this population need teachers who are not only certified, but who are also able to communicate with students and families in the language of the community, olelo Kanaka,” said Wong.

Hawaiian history points to two monumental events that changed the landscape of the Hawaiian language. The first was the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom; the second was an 1896 requirement of English-only schools. These monumental events led to the isolation and preservation of olelo Kanaka on the island of Niihau.

“It’s critical to preserve and promote olelo Kanaka,” said Faria. “In olelo Kanaka, letters, sounds, intonations, expressions and world views are noticeably different than language taught today. There is nowhere else in the world where the Hawaiian language is so richly preserved, and we want to be sure it’s never lost.”

Preserving and promoting olelo Kanaka is made possible through the support and funding of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, Kawaihuelani Center for Hawaiian Language, UH Manoa College of Education and the Kauai and Niihau communities.

People on horseback