Native Hawaiian, ‘olelo Hawai‘i, was an oral language only until Western missionaries began translating Hawaiian into text in 1821. There are a couple of important things to know when considering this. First, the Hawaiian oral tradition was, and is, spectacular. Mo‘olelo, genealogical chants about the actions of one’s ancestors, span so many generations that they are not only a solid historical record spanning many centuries, but they are so accurate they can be corroborated by archaeological findings confirming Hawaii’s settlement and other major events. Second, the Hawaiian population embraced the printed word with vigor; at one point the literacy rate in Hawaii (estimated at 98%) was greater than that of the United States.
One of the major advantages of this explosion of Hawaiian literacy is the existence of a huge historical record through newspapers of the time. The first Hawaiian newspaper, Ka Lama Hawaii, was founded in 1834. Originally a printing exercise centered around the missionary schools, Hawaiian language newspapers rapidly became political tools of both the haole conspiracists working to overthrow the government and of the Native Hawaiian monarchy and resistance movement. (Noenoe Silva’s Aloha Betrayed is an excellent book detailing the huge popular resistance to colonization in the 1890s, using newspaper archives.) Newspapers from this era are like little gifts from the history ‘akua, preserving a huge amount of information about Hawaii as it went from a newly-unified monarchy to a colony.
SO OMG YOU GUYS there’s a project called ‘Ika Ku‘oko‘a going on between now and July 31 to digitize 60,000 pages of these newspapers and make them text-searchable! Help preserve the language and the history at the same time – how cool is that, especially if you’re a resident of the US who has a certain quantity of inherited guilt related to the fact that we stole their country! Join the project if you have any time at all, you don’t need to know Hawaiian but you do need to be an accurate typist.
Let’s just review how many of my happy-buttons this presses:
- preservation and revitalization of indigenous languages
- histories of resistance
- historical land tenure in Hawaii (these newspapers are a critical data source documenting the expropriation of land in the pre-colonial period)
- old printed objects
- popular literacy campaigns
I’m gonna try to do 20 pages between now and July 31. Let me know if you’re helping out, kay? So I can give you extra love.
Edited to add: I should note the major downside, which is not understanding what I’m typing! Which is really frustrating because I’m doing a page from Ka Makaainana in 1894 and I know it’s all about politics! (cries) My Hawaiian language skills are equivalent to toddler level. I’m working on it.