Hawaiian BYU students celebrate Hawaiian Language Month

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The Hokulea, a traditional Hawaiian voyage, arrived in Hawai’i on June 17, 2017, after its worldwide voyage only using traditional navigation such as sun, stars, winds and waves. Hawaiian students recognize and celebrate Mahina ʻŌlelo Hawai’i, also known as Hawaiian Language Month, during the month of February. (Photo courtesy of Hiilei Chan)

Hawaiian students recognize and celebrate Mahina ʻŌlelo Hawai’i, also known as Hawaiian Language Month, during the month of February. 

“It really is to bring awareness to Hawaiians, our culture, our language and our continued fight for our rights and privileges in our own native language and the land of our ancestors,” BYU junior Pōhaikealoha Chandler said.

In 1896, the Hawaiian language was banned from being taught or spoken in schools. Chandler said even Hawaiian names were forbidden and names of children had to come from the Bible.

“My grandmother’s name is Rachel. My grandfather’s name is Francis, although they are all pure Hawaiian,” Chandler said. “Names are so important to us as Hawaiians. My name came from my grandfather and each name has a special meaning.”

It wasn’t until 1978 that Hawaiian was once again recognized as one of the official languages of Hawai’i. Chandler said it was through the Manaleo, or native speakers, that Hawaiian immersion schools were created which helped “revitalize” the Hawaiian language. 

“Kupuna (grandparents) in the Hawaiian community that spoke Hawaiian came together to help formalize, create a dictionary, create curriculum so that Hawaiian could still flourish in today’s society,” Chandler said. 

BYU senior Hiilei Chan attended Kamehameha Schools from fourth grade until his senior year of high school. Hawaiian values such as love and humility were embedded into the curriculum, which Chan said is similar to how BYU uses scriptures to imbed gospel principles. In elementary school, students also learn how to recite the Lord’s prayer and their family genealogy in Hawaiian.

“Family history, genealogy and knowing where you come from is such a big thing in my culture. They kind of imbed that in you at a young age,” Chan said. “It’s just small stuff like that I know is different from our curriculum compared to the rest of America.”

Chan said the two most important things in her life are her identity as a Hawaiian and her identity as a child of God. An important part of that identity comes from the Hawaiian language. 

“In language there is life; in language there is death. If we perpetuate the Hawaiian language, then we perpetuate the culture, we will perpetuate the love,” Chan said.  

Chan said some of the ways people can practice Hawaiian are through music, hula and keeping up to date with what is happening with Hawai’i. She said any effort to remember Hawaiian is a “step forward, even if it’s a small step.”

BYU sophomore Kamailelani Grace also attended Kamehameha Schools and uses the Hawaiian language to ground her. She also uses hula to keep the culture alive in her. 

Grace shared a quote by King David Kalakaua, the last king of Hawai’i: “Hula is the language of the heart, therefore the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people.”

Grace said she doesn’t remember Hawaiian well, but the language of hula and song is how she shares her love.

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