LIHU‘E — This is ‘Olelo Hawai‘i Month, or Hawaiian Language Month, on Kaua‘i.
The Kaua‘i County Council on Jan. 25 unanimously approved a resolution designating February 2012 as the month to celebrate a language that thrived as an oral tradition for centuries in the islands.
Missionaries in the early 1800s put the language in a written form, but also reduced its various dialects into one unified language.
“Hawai‘i ‘Olelo was considered to be nearly extinct by the 1980s, when fewer than 50 fluent speakers under the age of 18 were left,” the resolution states.
In 1896 a law signed by Sanford Dole, former President of the Republic of Hawai‘i, required English instruction in Hawai‘i schools, which was a major reason for the deterioration of Hawaiian language, according to Councilman KipuKai Kuali‘i, who introduced the resolution.
The 1896 law did not ban or make Hawaiian language illegal, but it stated the English language “shall be the medium and basis” of instruction in all private and public schools, and that other languages could be taught in addition to English.
Kuali‘i said the 1896 law functioned to ban students from speaking the Hawaiian language.
When the law was passed, Hawaiian was not taught in any school, even in the all-Hawaiian Kamehameha Schools established in 1887, and children were disciplined for speaking Hawaiian, including on the playground, according to Wikipedia.
The late Hawaiian scholar Mary Kawena Pukui, co-author of the Hawaiian–English Dictionary, said in a book she co-wrote in 1972, “Nana i ke Kumu, Look to the Source,” that as a child she was punished for speaking Hawaiian at school by being rapped on the forehead, allowed to eat only bread and water for lunch and denied home visits on holidays.
M.J. Harden, in the book, “Voices of Wisdom: Hawaiian Elders Speak,” wrote that Winona Beamer, dancer, composer and mother of musician Keola Beamer, was expelled from Kamehameha Schools in 1937 for chanting Hawaiian.
In 1978, the Hawaiian constitution was amended to recognize the Hawaiian language as one of the two official languages of the Aloha State.
In 1995, a gubernatorial proclamation — written in the English and Hawaiian languages — recognized February 1995 as Hawaiian Language Month in Hawai‘i. The following year, another gubernatorial proclamation recognized 1996 as Year of Hawaiian Language.
The Kaua‘i resolution recognizes “a number of historic initiatives” launched to save the Hawaiian language, including ‘Aha Punana Leo’s Hawaiian language immersion pre-school program, the state Department of Education’s Hawaiian immersion program and the Hawaiian language program at the University of Hawai‘i.
The resolution celebrates and encourages the use of the Hawaiian language, Kuali‘i said.
• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.