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University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Hawaiian language haumāna (students), faculty and staff played traditional Makahiki games and learned mele (songs) to celebrate mahina ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian language month) on February 14.

The love for Hawaiʻi’s once forbidden language brought together dozens on the main lawn in front of the university. Everyone who attended was asked to communicate only in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi.

UH Mānoa freshman Kahulialiʻi Arraujo stopped by in between classes. He’s enrolled in Hawaiian 202. The Hilo native was motivated to take classes after discovering his grandfather, a pure Native Hawaiian never learned ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi because of a ban implemented after the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi.

“Ua komo au i ka papa ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi. E hoʻoikaika i koʻu ʻōlelo a hoʻoikaika i koʻu ʻike o ko mākou kupuna. (I joined Hawaiian language to strengthen my language and also strengthen my identity with the knowledge of our kupuna),” Arraujo said.

Lā Launa Pū is an annual event organized by the Kawaihuelani Center for Hawaiian Language, a part of Hawaiʻinuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge at UH Mānoa. Kumu (teachers) encourage students to engage in more conversations in Hawaiian to help them retain the language.

Kumu Kainoa Wong has taught ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi at UH Mānoa since 2005. The language has always been a part of his everyday life. Wong’s father and grandfather spoke Hawaiian fluently on their ranch on Maui. He takes pride in seeing how much of an influence Hawaiian language can have on haumāna. “It’s great to see students not knowing any Hawaiian not knowing any culture leave with a sense of ʻōlelo, culture…they know a sense of place. It’s very, very rewarding,” Wong said.

The first Hawaiian language courses were offered at UH Mānoa in 1922. Thousands have taken ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi since then. This spring, 966 students are enrolled in Hawaiian on the Mānoa campus, 76 are on track to earn bachelor’s or master’s degrees. Haumāna have access to 58 classes, with seven courses available online.

For the first time at UH Mānoa, free non-credit ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi classes are open to the public this semester, through a partnership with Hawaiʻinuiākea as an initiative to further the university’s goal of becoming a Hawaiian place of learning. Since the courses launched in January, an average of 200 to 300 people attend each week. Hawaiian language graduate student Paige Okamura is one of the instructors. For her, seeing senior citizens come to class is especially moving. “We have about 80 to 100 kupuna (seniors) that show up. Some are dropped off in Handi-Vans. They come every week…It’s lovely, it’s really touching,” Okamura said.

Instructors have also received numerous requests from people outside of Hawaiʻi wanting to learn. KTUH has provided a livestream of the jam-packed classes.

—By Moanikeʻala Nabarro

people playing musical instruments
Faculty taught haumāna (students) traditional Hawaiian mele.
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