How Hawaiian Came Back From the Dead

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tags: language, Hawaiian



HILO, Hawai‘i—When Herring Kekaulike Kalua was a child growing up on Hawai‘i’s Big Island, his parents spoke mostly in their native language, ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i. English had long been the official language of government in the islands, mandated in schools and other public spaces. But Kalua’s family favored the soft vowels of Hawaiian, rejecting the harder consonants of English while they fished, hunted, and grew taro, customs their ancestors had passed down for generations.

That ended about 60 years ago when Kalua’s father Samuel declared that Hawaiian was kapu—forbidden—in the family. Samuel, who had only a middle school education, panicked when his son started skipping class because his teachers insisted he use English. Samuel worried his son would fall behind and forfeit his future. Quickly and quietly,Hawaiian disappeared from Kalua’s childhood.

But where the language was once banned it’s now protected by the law, and a thriving network of schools aims to promote it. 




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