One World, Many Voices

Language Communities

Hawaiian: Back from the Brink

If there’s a hula dance, there are words. We can’t dance without narrative. Language is how we communicate to our universe.
— Taupōuri Tangarō, Hula Master, Hawai‘i Community College, University of Hawai‘i System, Hilo, Hawai‘i

Hawaiian is a success story in bringing a language back from the brink of extinction. The use of this centuries-old language was actively discouraged in the early-20th century and Hawaiian was nearly destroyed. By the 1970s, the community of native Hawaiian speakers had dwindled to only a small number of elders and very few speakers under the age of eighteen. It now boasts over ten thousand fluent speakers, five times more than in the 1970s. This was done with great effort. The introduction of the Pūnana Leo (“language nest”) immersion schools and a vibrant Hawaiian cultural renaissance movement have raised a new generation in the Hawaiian language and traditional arts: celestial navigation, canoe building, taro cultivation, poi pounding, lei making, music, and hula.

Click to watch video

Hula: Preserving Native Hawaiian Language and Culture

This presentation was made possible by the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority, the University of Hawai‘i System, and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.


Festival Participants:

Kalani Akana, kumu hula
Kaimana Barcarse, teacher, radio dj, voyager
Chad Kālepa Baybayan, wayfinder, non-instrument navigator
Sherlin Beniamina, Ni’ihau shell lei maker
Snowbird Puananiopaoakalani Bento, kumu hula
Pele H. Ka’io, hula learner
Shaun Pilialoha Kamakea-Young, hula learner
Nāoho Kanahele, hula learner
Tuhi Kanahele, hula learner
Earl Kawa’a, cultural educator
Kekuhi K. Keali’ikanaka’oleohaililani, kumu hula
Kalehua Krug, immersion teacher, musician
Kihapaiokalani Krug, language homeschool teacher
Kamaleikuhalia Krug, language learner
Kaulakauikeaokea Krug, language learner
Leleapaoo Krug, language learner
Kihei Nahale-a, makuakane
Nāhiku Nahale-a, kikikane
Wahinepō’aimoku Nahale-a, kikamahine
Lolena Nicholas, Hawaiian language and culture expert
Puakea Nogelmeier, Hawaiian language expert
Aaron Salā, musician, singer
Noheahiwahiwa Stibbard, makuahine
Taupōuri Tangarō, kumu hula
Annette Ku’uipolani Wong, Hawaiian language and culture expert