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Hawaiian language speakers are raising the visibility of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi through social media

olelo hawaii instagram
Courtesy @ka_alala and @eaumikipu
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Instagram

The growing number of Hawaiian language accounts on social media is sparking discussions on how ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi can take advantage of platforms like Instagram, Facebook and TikTok.

Traditional approaches to language revitalization, like classroom instruction, have been fruitful but using social media may help raise the visibility and accessibility of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi.

When Maluhia States began learning ‘ōlelo Hawaiʻi at UH Mānoa, he found the language in the classroom sounded very different from the language he heard spoken by native speakers.

Reviving that authentic Hawaiian sound became the aim of his social media account Ka Alalā.

"ʻO ka mea nui ka ʻōlelo kupuna. ʻAʻole kākou aʻo ka huaʻōlelo wale nō, ka ʻōlelo wale nō. Aʻo kākou ka leo kekahi, ka leo o nā kūpuna. ʻO ia ka leo Hawaiʻi. Inā ʻaʻole kākou aʻo i ka leo, hapa wale nō ko kākou ʻike."

States says language learning is about more than just vocabulary and grammar — we also learn the authentic sound, the sound of our ancestors. If we don’t learn this authentic sound then we only learn a fraction of the wisdom embedded in the language.

States’ social media posts are a blend of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi and humor, which have attracted nearly 30,000 followers on Instagram over the last three years.

Social media sites like Ka Alalā help raise the visibility of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi and increase access for language learners.

UH Hilo Hawaiian language professor Kamalani Johnson says the inspiration for him and his colleagues to launch the social media account Aumiki was to elevate the Hawaiian language.

"Ua nui loa ka poʻe e mālama ʻana i nā papahana aʻo ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi ma ke kūlelepāpaho no ka poʻe ʻākahiakahi e aʻo nei. Akā ʻaʻole i nui ka poʻe a i ʻole nele ka poʻe e lawelawe ana i ke kaiaulu maʻa i ka ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi. Me he mea lā ke aʻo i ka ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, pau, ʻaʻohe mea."

Johnson says there are a lot of social media accounts geared toward language learners who have just come upon ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, but there were not many social media accounts geared toward fluent speakers. He joked that it was as if once you learn Hawaiian, there’s nothing more to learn.

Johnson and Aumiki co-founders Kapua Roback and Kuʻulei Bezilla create social media content that explores contemporary issues told through the Hawaiian language.

The growing influence of ‘ōlelo Hawaiʻi in social media sparked discussions at a recent virtual gathering of Hawaiian language speakers.

The ‘Aha Kūkā 2022 aimed to envision the future of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi. Kaimana Barcarse was one of the event’s coordinators.

"He aha ana kāu e hana ai no ka hoʻoholomua ʻana? A i ko kākou manaʻo o kēia kekahi o nā mea. ʻAʻole o ia mea hoʻokahi. A ʻo ia nīnau like e nīnau ʻia nei i ko kākou lāhui: Pehea ʻoukou e hoʻoholomua ai i ko kākou ʻōlelo ʻōiwi, ko kākou ʻōlelo aloha, ko kākou ʻōlelo kupuna ma ko ʻoukou kaiaulu, ma ko ʻoukou pōʻaiapili?"

Barcarse says the question posed to participants was, “What are you going to do to move the Hawaiian language forward?" Social media, he says, is one of those ways. It’s not the only way.

He asks the Native Hawaiian community, "How do we push our language forward in our own communities and in our own roles?"

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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