Hawai‘i State Legislature honors Ni‘ihau

  • Courtesy of Keao Nesmith

    Hawaiian Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Scot Matayohi, center, presents Hawai‘i State Legislature commendation certificates to the Ni‘ihau community via Ka Leo o na Kupa group, including Waiui Kanahele, Dr. Ku‘uipo Wong, Kahea Faria, Ha‘ao Kaohelauli‘i, Dr. Keao Nesmith, Keoki Faria, Keokapukoa Kaohelauli‘i at the Windward Community College in Kaneohe, O‘ahu.

KANEOHE, O‘AHU — The Hawai‘i State Legislature, through Hawaiian Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Scot Matayoshi, recently released a Certificate of Congratulations to the Ni‘ihau community for having continued the Hawaiian language and culture among their community without any break in the intergenerational transmission of the language.

The presentation, done at the Windward Community College in Kaneohe, O‘ahu, also expresses appreciation for the Ni‘ihau community’s contribution to the statewide Hawaiian language revitalization movement.

“The Ni‘ihau community have maintained the Hawaiian language among their families, without break, until today,” said Keao NeSmith of Ka Leo o na Kupa. “Mayor Bernard Carvalho in 2016 initiated a Hawaiian language advisory committee consisting of the Ni‘ihau community, including Leiana Robinson and others, called Ka Leo o na Kupa. This action by the State Legislature is further acknowledgment of the community at the state level. We hope this also leads to government support by legislation supporting efforts to maintain the Ni‘ihau variety of Hawaiian language and to protect it against new developments by second-language speakers of the school system that many in the Ni‘ihau community worry will alter the Ni‘ihau variety in ways the kupuna and parents do not approve of.”

NeSmith said there are about 400 members of the community living on Ni‘ihau and Kaua‘i, with less than 100 living on Ni‘ihau. There are also three churches — Ho‘omana ia iesu Church on Ni‘ihau, the Waimea Hawaiian Church, and a Hawaiian church in Kaumakani — where Hawaiian is the only language of the church.

There are also three schools that serve the Ni‘ihau community — the Ni’ihau School on Ni‘ihau and Kula Ni‘ihau and A Kahelelani Aloha, both located in Kekaha.

Elama Kanahele and Lama Kaohelauli‘i founded Kula Aupuni Ni‘ihau A Kahelelani Aloha in 1999.

“Not all of them speak Hawaiian, so the language is severely endangered and in need of government support to maintain it,” he said. “The Ni‘ihau variety of Hawaiian is in danger of being influenced and changed by newly-invented Hawaiian language from mainstream schools on all islands as well as English which is dominant society. In Hawaiian culture, it is the source, the traditional speakers, who are regarded as the role models of Hawaiian language. It is hoped that Hawaiian speakers of the Ni‘ihau community will continue to be influencers of language maintenance and development going into the future.”

Of the group representing the Ni‘ihau community at the certificate presentation, Dr. Ku‘uipolani Wong, the daughter of Mililani and Kaipo Kanahele, is the first Ni‘ihau to earn a Doctor of Philosophy degree and is a professor of Hawaiian language at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.

Mrs. Kahea Kaohelauli‘i Faria is an educator and faculty member at the College of Education at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa where she trains teachers of Hawaiian immersion schools.

NeSmith pointed out other significant Ni‘ihau community contributions, including Bene Kaohelauli‘i, his wife, and Howard Kaleohano bringing international notoriety to Ni‘ihau in 1941 when they killed a Japanese pilot who landed on the island on the day of the Japanese attack on Pu‘uloa (known today as Pearl Harbor), and being awarded the Medal of Honor by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Jean Kelley Keale was a well-known educator on Ni‘ihau and Kaua‘i having taught Hawaiian language classes at the Kaua‘i Community College in the 1960s and 1970s. Her daughter, Ilei Beniamina wrote Na Hu Hawai‘i, a weekly Hawaiian language column in The Garden Island newspaper in the 1980s, the first of its kind in a mainstream newspaper since the last Hawaiian newspaper, Ka Hokku o Hawai‘i, ceased operations.

Moke Keale was the host of a popular Sunday evening radio program on KUAI Am720 in the Hawaiian language called The Gentle Moke Show starting in about 1971 and running through 1999 after which he became an Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee for Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau. His show was succeeded by his nephew, Chala Vidinha, and later by his cousin, Mrs. Loka Kaohelauli‘i Bustillos.

Kaui Keamoai was a language and cultural resource for many people across the Hawaiian Islands, described as a professor of rare knowledge on Hawaiian culture of Ni‘ihau and Lehua Islands, and sharing his knowledge in recorded audio format.


Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or dfujimoto@thegardenisland.com.


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