Larry Kimura with Eric Matsumoto and Pieper Toyama
Larry Kimura, center, at the 45th Annual Living Treasures of Hawaiʻi Recognition with Bishop Eric Matsumoto, left, and President Pieper Toyama, right, of the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaiʻi. (Photo credit: Alan Kubota)

Larry Kimura, internationally renowned “grandfather” of the revitalization of ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi or Hawaiian language, has been named a “Living Treasure of Hawaiʻi” by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaiʻi.

Kimura is an associate professor of ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi and Hawaiian studies at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo. He is one of four recipients honored at this year’s annual awards, joining Hawaiian music and hula legend Robert Cazimero, Japanese brush painter Sachie Saigusa and YMCA volunteer Hawaiian studies and hula teacher Carolee Nishi.

The award ceremony was held on February 8, at the 2020 Legislative Assembly Aloha Luncheon and 45th Annual Living Treasures of Hawaiʻi Recognition at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikīkī.

Kimura was honored for his extraordinary commitment to the preservation and use of Hawaiʻi’s indigenous language. The Honpa Hongwanji Mission recognized Kimura’s stewardship as a kumu or teacher of ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi for nearly 50 years at both UH Mānoa and UH Hilo, and for developing curricula for Hawaiian immersion schools across the state that touched multiple generations of speakers from keiki to kupuna.

Ensuring Hawaiʻi’s mother tongue survives

Larry Kimura
Larry Kimura

One of Kimura’s most notable achievements was helping to restore Hawaiʻi’s mother tongue in the 1980s when he co-founded ʻAha Pūnana Leo, the state’s first Hawaiian language immersion preschool. Kimura continues contributing to restore the language as the chairperson of the Hawaiian Lexicon Committee based at UH Hilo’s Hale Kuamoʻo Hawaiian Language Center.

Kimura is the co-principal investigator for a National Science Foundation and National Endowment for the Humanities grant to digitize and archive spoken Native Hawaiian speech. He has collected approximately 525 hours of first language Hawaiian speakers recorded during the Ka Leo Hawaiʻi radio program starting in the 1970s. It is the largest collection of the spoken Native Hawaiian word. He is currently working on a digital repository to make these recordings accessible to future generations.

A prolific composer, Kimura is also credited across 47 albums, tapes and CDs for his songs and chants. He served as one of the consultants in creating a Hawaiian language certification program for Hawaiian Airlines employees to encourage Hawaiian to be spoken and shared with passengers on board their flights.

Kimura’s love and passion for ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi is keeping the history, beauty and essence of Hawaiʻi alive.

For more, visit the UH Hilo Stories website.