No matter where you go in Hawaiʻi, the Hawaiian language, or ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, is sure to be found. Whether in expressions like “aloha” or “mahalo”, songs like our state anthem “Hawaiʻi Ponoʻī”, or in the names of the places we live, work and play, like “Kealakekua”, “Keālia” or “Waiākea”, Hawaiian is a part of our daily life. Today, you can watch Hawaiian-language programs on ʻŌiwi TV or hear ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi on radio stations like KAPA, KHBC or KWXX. And, with Hawaiian being an official language of the state of Hawaiʻi, and with the number of speakers and learners of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi having increased tenfold between 2000 and 2010, it is imperative for the State of Hawaiʻi and the Department of Education to make the learning of Hawaiian language a requirement for all public school students.
Prior to 1896, ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi was not just a native language. It was also the national language. Most people who lived in Hawaiʻi, whether they were native Hawaiian or not, read, wrote and spoke in Hawaiian. Between the 1840s and 1890s, the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi had a literacy rate of 90% and ranked second in the world only to Scotland – surpassing even the United States, Great Britain and France. In 1896, however, the Republic of Hawaiʻi passed Act 57, which ordered all public and private schools recognized by the government to teach all subjects in the English language; although, these schools were free to use a secondary language alongside English. While Act 57 did not “ban” the use of the Hawaiian language, it created a social stigma that led to the suppression of the language well into the twentieth century. Even the Kamehameha Schools, an institution for native Hawaiian children, began to suppress the use of the language by punishing and even expelling students for speaking or chanting in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi. Between 1900 and 2000, for different reasons, the number of native speakers had dwindled from around 40,000 to about 2,000.
The year 1978 proved to be an important year for the Hawaiian language. That year, also called the year of the second Hawaiian renaissance, the state constitutional convention made ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi an official language of the state of Hawaiʻi alongside English. In 1984, the first ʻAha Pūnana Leo Hawaiian-immersion preschool was established in Kekaha, Kauaʻi. This was followed in 1986, by the repeal of English-only instruction in Hawaiʻi schools by the Hawaiʻi State Legislature. As such, Hawaiian immersion and public charter schools were also established. 30 years after its founding, the 11 ʻAha Pūnana Leo schools throughout the Hawaiian Islands, of which the Pūnana Leo O Kona operates out of the Konawaena area, have graduated nearly 5,000 keiki who are all kindergarten-ready.
Although the resurgence in the Hawaiian language continues and the efforts of the movement to preserve the language are beginning to bear fruit, much more work has yet to be done. By requiring the study of Hawaiian language (ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi) in our public schools,...