'Voice' sheds light on Hawaiian language evolution

By Burl Burlingame

Oct 31, 2010

“Mai Pa’a I Ka Leo: Historical Voice in Hawaiian Primary Materials, Looking Forward and Listening Back,” by M. Puakea Nogelmeier (Bishop Museum Press, $16.95)

Hawaiians were considered “prehistoric” primarily because they had no written language and relied on oral traditions. The early missionaries did their best provide a transition from oral to written traditions, creating a Hawaiian grammar and structure for the printed page. Hawaiians, almost overnight, became the most literate society on the planet, with Hawaiian-language texts filling thousands of pages of newspapers and journals during the 1800s.

Annexation, however, caused a weaning of Hawaiian to standard English, and the ephemeral nature of newspapers meant that much of this Hawaiian writing has been lost to history. Of that which remains, mostly in musty archives, a very small percentage has been translated.

Nogelmeier, director of Awaiaulu, a Hawaiian literature preservation project, selected as his University of Hawaii dissertation this very problem. Her work has been repackaged here by Bishop Museum Press for a wider audience, although it’s still heavy on the scholarly and light on the entertainment value. If you’re interested in the crossroads of Hawaiian and English, and how the intersecting paths meander, it’s all right here.

“Ancient Sites of O’ahu: A Guide to Hawaiian Archaeological Places of Interest,” by Van James (Bishop Museum Press, $14.95)

James’ classic guidebook from the early ’90s has been revised and updated. It contains information, photographs and maps of the primary landmarks on Oahu built by ancient Hawaiians, and the book design has been rebuilt into a flat-opening, spiral-bound contraption that makes it easy to read on the go. It’s also had updates and favorite-site lists added, just in case you can’t get around to seeing everything.

“Practice Aloha: Secrets to Living Life Hawaiian Style,” compiled and edited by Mark Ellman and Barbara Santos (Mutual, $15.95)

What “aloha” means can be debated all day. This handsome book, however, skips over the what and goes directly to how. It is a compilation of what some people think about applying the concept of aloha to real life.

Naturally, it’s a catalog of reveries, whether it’s an anecdote, a song lyric, some advice or even a recipe (actually, there’s a whole chapter of recipes: The authors’ previous titles are cookbooks). It’s all rather nicely packaged (by Jane Gillespie) and well-printed.

The wise ones chosen by the authors tend to lean toward Hawaiian musicians and entertainers, politicians, chefs and celebrities who live in Hawaii part time. In other words, their aloha advice tends to vary wildly. But, hey, living aloha means co-existing on a small island in a harmonious way. Kind of like sharing an elevator with strangers, but there’s no pretty book in that scenario.

COURTESY BISHOP MUSEUM PRESS
“Mai Pa’a I Ka Leo: Historical Voice in Hawaiian Primary Materials, Looking Forward and Listening Back,” by M. Puakea Nogelmeier (Bishop Museum Press, $16.95)
COURTESY BISHOP MUSEUM PRESS
“Ancient Sites of O’ahu: A Guide to Hawaiian Archaeological Places of Interest,” by Van James (Bishop Museum Press, $14.95)
COURTESY MUTUAL
“Practice Aloha: Secrets to Living Life Hawaiian Style,” compiled and edited by Mark Ellman and Barbara Santos (Mutual, $15.95)

More Photos

“Mai Pa’a I Ka Leo: Historical Voice in Hawaiian Primary Materials, Looking Forward and Listening Back,” by M. Puakea Nogelmeier (Bishop Museum Press, $16.95)

Hawaiians were considered “prehistoric” primarily because they had no written language and relied on oral traditions. The early missionaries did their best provide a transition from oral to written traditions, creating a Hawaiian grammar and structure for the printed page. Hawaiians, almost overnight, became the most literate society on the planet, with Hawaiian-language texts filling thousands of pages of newspapers and journals during the 1800s.

Annexation, however, caused a weaning of Hawaiian to standard English, and the ephemeral nature of newspapers meant that much of this Hawaiian writing has been lost to history. Of that which remains, mostly in musty archives, a very small percentage has been translated.

Nogelmeier, director of Awaiaulu, a Hawaiian literature preservation project, selected as his University of Hawaii dissertation this very problem. Her work has been repackaged here by Bishop Museum Press for a wider audience, although it’s still heavy on the scholarly and light on the entertainment value. If you’re interested in the crossroads of Hawaiian and English, and how the intersecting paths meander, it’s all right here.

“Ancient Sites of O’ahu: A Guide to Hawaiian Archaeological Places of Interest,” by Van James (Bishop Museum Press, $14.95)

James’ classic guidebook from the early ’90s has been revised and updated. It contains information, photographs and maps of the primary landmarks on Oahu built by ancient Hawaiians, and the book design has been rebuilt into a flat-opening, spiral-bound contraption that makes it easy to read on the go. It’s also had updates and favorite-site lists added, just in case you can’t get around to seeing everything.

“Practice Aloha: Secrets to Living Life Hawaiian Style,” compiled and edited by Mark Ellman and Barbara Santos (Mutual, $15.95)

What “aloha” means can be debated all day. This handsome book, however, skips over the what and goes directly to how. It is a compilation of what some people think about applying the concept of aloha to real life.

Naturally, it’s a catalog of reveries, whether it’s an anecdote, a song lyric, some advice or even a recipe (actually, there’s a whole chapter of recipes: The authors’ previous titles are cookbooks). It’s all rather nicely packaged (by Jane Gillespie) and well-printed.

The wise ones chosen by the authors tend to lean toward Hawaiian musicians and entertainers, politicians, chefs and celebrities who live in Hawaii part time. In other words, their aloha advice tends to vary wildly. But, hey, living aloha means co-existing on a small island in a harmonious way. Kind of like sharing an elevator with strangers, but there’s no pretty book in that scenario.