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Episode 40: Literacy and Hawaiian-language newspapers with Kau‘i Sai-Dudoit

For millennia, Hawai‘i had an oral society: The people themselves were the keepers of knowledge—mo‘?lelo that was passed down from generation to generation. But when the tool of literacy arrived with the missionaries in the 1820s, Hawaiians embraced it, says historian Kau‘i Sai-Dudoit.

“When Kauikeaouli became king in 1824 he proclaimed to his people, ‘He aupuni palapala ko‘u,’ ‘Mine shall be a kingdom of literacy.’ The teachers were sent out into every village, into every home.”

Within a generation the population was largely literate and the publishing scene was vibrant. The first Hawaiian-language newspaper appeared in 1834; in 1861 the first Hawaiian-edited and -owned newspaper, Ka H?k? o ka P?k?pika, appeared. Between 1834 and 1948 over a hundred Hawaiian-language newspapers published some hundred and twenty thousand pages. The newspapers connected the entire nation; they offered Hawaiians a well of information and a place to hone and store knowledge that was in danger of being lost as so many were taken by disease.

“They called this their national archives: put your chants here, your genealogies, your wind names, your rain names, the politics, the events, put it all here. Hawaiians understood the changing environment, they understood that the old ways of holding on to knowledge were leaving and this was going to be our new medium, so put your knowledge here. And the call went out constantly through the 114 years of newspapers.”

researcher, writter, and narrator of Aloha Aina. She is currently an editor at Hawai‘i’s largest magazine, Hana Hou!, where she has written and edited numerous award-winning articles about Hawai‘i. She was the founding editor of Honolulu Weekly. She holds a BA in Pacific history and journalism from the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa and a JD from Stanford Law School.
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