One of the most important and profound challenges faced by the Hawaiian community is the telling of our own history. So much of what abounds in historical accounts of Hawaiian history has been written by third party historians whose research, references, and methodologies, although well meaning, are sometimes challenging to substantiate as accurately capturing the essence of the events, conditions, and circumstances of what is being reported.
The challenge is heightened when one considers the tragic period of the population death spiral when Hawaiians, absent immunity from western diseases, died by the hundreds of thousands. Within a very short period of time the population decreased by more than 80%. Because so much of our history was based on oral tradition there was a dramatic loss of Hawaiian knowledge and history that died with the people.
While a few notable sources of historical information, such as David Malo, Samuel Kamakau, and John Papa ‘Ī‘ī helped to fill the vacuum, we know there is so much more yet to be recaptured.
When we speak in contemporary terms of rebuilding the nation as fundamental to a Hawaiian future, I cannot think of anything more important than for us to pull out all the stops to accurately reconstruct our past: to know with a high degree of certainty where we’ve been, to validate who we really are as a people, to be able to define our cultural past in ways that can guide us to our cultural future.
A compelling and vitally important initiative toward the rebuilding of the Hawaiian nation both culturally and politically is rising under the leadership of Puakea Nogelmeier, Professor of Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawai‘i, Mānoa. He has recently launched the Institute of Hawaiian Language Research and Translation. A fundamental strategy of the Institute is to develop the next generation of translators and scholars for collaborative assignments to work with faculty and graduate students across all University of Hawaiʻi campuses. The institute will pursue research projects proposed by University departments, government agencies, nonprofit institutions, communities, business entities, and individuals. Translations and source texts will be made public through open web access.
There is a repository of historical Hawaiian language materials that is an invaluable cache of knowledge that documents Hawaiʻi from ancient times through much of the 20th century. Long lying dormant, technology has made the material far more accessible and there is a growing need to make use of this historical knowledge today. The Hawaiian newspapers alone contain over a million letter-sized pages of published material that illuminate many facets of Hawaiʻi’s past, yet only a tiny fraction has ever been tapped. There remains a historical treasury of local and international events, regional reporting, editorial and political essays, historical accounts, native and foreign literature, cultural descriptions and narratives, as well as advertisements and announcements that clarify business and government practice spanning the 19th and early 20th centuries. The published materials illuminate and frame other archival resources, such as government records, archival manuscripts, and audio recordings. Less than 3% of this vast archival warehouse of historical accounts has been translated.
I would urge those who can to support the growth of the Institute of Hawaiian Language Research and Translation as the key, through our own words and historical accounts, to finally define and validate with historical accuracy who we were and provide us with a reflection of our cultural existence as we actually existed. Learn more at their website. ʻO ke ala o mua ke ala o hope aʻe nei – the path for the future is the path of the past.