Preserving the Language of Aloha.

Author:Wyels, Joyce Gregory


From language immersion schools to hula and ukulele classes, devoted inhabitants of the Hawaiian Islands are dedicated to the protection and perpetuation of their indigenous language and age-old traditions

Hawaiians were certainly not the only indigenous people who reclaimed their traditional culture in the 1970s. Among others who forged a cultural revival were the Maori of New Zealand (Aotearoa) and several First Nations communities in North America. But one could argue that no group created a bigger splash than the Hawaiians.

The launching of Hawaii's ocean-going canoe Hokule'a in 1975 captured the public's imagination. Designed as a replica of the vessels their ancestors sailed to populate the islands of the Pacific, the Hokule'a demonstrated in its first voyage to Tahiti the feasibility of navigating vast distances guided only by the stars, ocean currents, winds, and other elements of nature. A point of pride for Hawaiians, it was like a validation of their ancient legends. More than that, it signaled a revitalization of deep-rooted traditions and a cultural reawakening that persists to this day.

Visitors, too, bask in the warmth of Hawaii's ancient but still vibrant culture. Who can resist a welcoming "Aloha!" as an islander slips a profusion of fragrant blossoms over one's head? Genuine hospitality, symbolized by the flower lei, is just one endearing feature of Hawaiian culture.

Other attributes, such as generosity, spirituality, harmony, reverence for nature, strong family ties, and respect for ancient legends and traditions find their expression in Hawaiian music, chanting, and hula, and the Hawaiian language is intimately interwoven with the whole.

"The appeal of the hula is universal," says Cy Bridges, kumu hula (teacher) and Director of the Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu. This quintessential Hawaiian art form, with its rhythmic movements and graceful gestures, has spread from an isolated archipelago in the Pacific, to Asia, Europe, and throughout the Americas.

Bridges, who has consulted for hula halau (schools) in both Mexico and Japan, observes that at one point, the number of hula halau in Mexico City rivaled the number of such schools in Hawaii. "When you turn on the radio and hear 'Hawaii Calls'--the language and beautiful songs--it's haunting," he says.

Recently "Uncle Cy" helped judge the popular "Hula o Na Keiki," or children's hula competition, at Maui's Ka'anapali Beach Hotel. "The keiki are...

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