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Growth of ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi stretches from kupuna to keiki

Frank Kawaikapuokalani Hewett
University of Hawaiʻi News
Frank Kawaikapuokalani Hewett

The growth of Hawaiian language immersion schools has exploded in recent years. Fifty years ago, there were only a handful of Hawaiian language speakers. Now, the community is thriving.

The story of that education stretches from kupuna to keiki. We're telling that story as part of our continuing project with the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa's Center for Oral History. Ethnic studies professor Ty Kāwika Tengan introduces our speakers.

Kumu hula Frank Kawaikapuokalani Hewett talks about how he sat at the feet of his kupuna and learned the Hawaiian language, which enabled him to hear and learn their histories and stories. He and others of his generation were raised as punahele or favored children and grandchildren. They were specially selected to learn and carry on the knowledge, language and traditions of their kupuna into our future.

HEWETT: I was like a sponge with all of these old people. And I sat there and I listened to all these stories. And mo‘o ‘ōlelo, these histories are how we pili. This is how we connect, yeah. When you ho‘olohe i kēia mau mo‘o ‘ōlelo no ka waha o nā po‘e kūpuna, as you're listening to the stories from their mouth, the hā is being imparted with the stories. And if you are the one that is listening, that is like that sponge, then you absorb that hā and then that hā becomes a part of you. But it starts way when that child is kama iki, young and the kūpuna starts to feed that child mea ‘ai, mea mo‘o ‘ōlelo, and hā. All of that starts very, very early. That's how we were raised, so you know, our kūpuna took those keiki punahele, and they're punahele not because of any other reason than they wanted to hear.

Kaʻōnohi Kekua-Berg is a 5-year-old student at Ke Kula Kaiapuni o Pūʻōhala Hawaiian Language immersion elementary school in Kāneʻohe. He gave a short speech in February 2023 at the Ola Ka ‘Ī Hawaiian language fair held at Windward Mall.

Kaʻōnohi introduced himself as the son of Kaikaina Kekua and Zach Berg, living at Nuʻuanu, Oʻahu. He says that he is proud to be Native Hawaiian and recites a traditional Hawaiian saying, “Who would not be intelligent and enlightened when one follows upon the path well traveled by one's parents?” This was a reply of King Liholiho, Kamehameha II, when someone praised his wisdom.


This oral history project is supported by the SHARP initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities through the American Council of Learned Societies.

Corrected: May 24, 2023 at 5:58 PM HST
This story has been updated with corrections to the transcription of Hewett's interview.
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