The okina was introduced in the pages of The Garden Island in the mid-1980s, when Jean Holmes served as editor.
The addition of the symbol, which appears in words like Lihue and pau and denotes a short pause in pronunciation, was a first for a daily newspaper in Hawaii, and thus the world.
Though a number of Hawaiian language newspapers were published in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century, none used the okina. With Hawaiian as a first language for Native Hawaiians in those days, most knew from memory where the breaks came in the words of their language.
The concept of adding the okina to the pages of The Garden Island came to Holmes at a conference held at Kauai Community College.
She, along with radio announcer Bill Dahle of the Westside AM station KUAI, attended a Native Hawaiian language conference held at Kauai Community College.
They were inspired at the conference by becoming aware of the widespread rebirth of the Hawaiian language in daily life in the Hawaiian Islands, and saw they had an opportunity to do their part in reestablishing the Hawaiian language on Kauai.
“We learned how to treat the Hawaiian language properly,” Holmes said in a call from her home in Lawai.
“I started it and we’ve been do it every since,” she said of the use of the okina for almost 20 years in each issue of The Garden Island.
“It was part of a general feeling that Hawaiians weren’t being treated right in their home place,” she said of the cultural ramifications of bringing the Hawaiian language to the forefront of a daily newspaper. “Many of them said to me that they were being looked down upon because of the their brown skin and Hawaiian ways. I did my best to treat them a little more fairly, that this was their home and we could learn from them.”
She said Dahle focused on how to correctly pronounce Hawaiian words, and she researched how to correctly typeset the language for use in print.
Holmes said while editing the newspaper she frequently checked the proper spelling of Hawaiian words by referring to the “Hawaiian-English Dictionary” collected by Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel Elbert for the University of Hawaii Press.
She said Pukui considered the okina as “another letter of the alphabet,” not just as a break between letters.
“We didn’t have the facilities for a macron, but we did have facilities for using the okina,” she said of introducing the Hawaiian letter into the typesetting system at The Garden Island.
The macron, a line over a vowel that denotes a long accent on the letter known as a kahako in Hawaiian, wasn’t feasible to use in those days, for it would have required typesetters to hand draw a line over each vowel.
Today it takes a special set of letters in a digital font, and enhanced computer keyboard controls, to type out the kahako. The okina is readily created on a keyboard by using a backward apostrophe character.
Computer operating systems are beginning to include the Hawaiian language keyboard and character set as part of their basic type fonts, making typesetting in the Hawaiian language a straight forward operation. The latest version of the Macintosh operating system, known as Jaguar, is the first to include the Hawaiian keyboard as a built in option on every Apple Computer sold across the world.
The inclusion by Apple came at the request of Keola Donaghy of Hale Kuamoo at the University of Hawaii at Hilo and others involved in preserving and perpetuating the Hawaiian language. Donaghy is known as a master of Hawaiian typesetting and font creation.
“Hawaiian people told me they were pleased,” Holmes said when asked if she ever received any honors for being the first editor to use the okina in a daily newspaper. She replied that being asked to become a member of the Order of Kamehameha was honor enough. Today Holmes, now a longtime member of the Native Hawaiian organization, is the chaplain for the statewide group’s Kauai chapter.
Julia Neal, who took over from Holmes as editor in the mid-1980s, expanded on using the okina by running a weekly news column written in the Hawaiian language by Niihau native Ilei Beniamina.
Neal said the roots of the use of what’s known as Hawaiian letters in The Garden Island go back to the landmark Con-Con constitutional convention held in 1978.
She said she worked on what was called the Hawaiian committee at the constitutional convention. The committee was headed up by Frenchy De Soto of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
“There was a push for (Hawaiian language) immersion schools and the return of Hawaiian cultural practices,” Neal said of the focus of the committee.
Today Neal lives in Pahala on the Big Island. She publishes and edits the weekly community newspaper the Kau Calendar.
TGI Editor Chris Cook can be reached at mailto:email@example.com or 245-3681 (ext. 227).