Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Was There An Attempt To Kill The Hawaiian Language?

Dear Friends,

Since starting this blog, I've gotten all sorts of emails. While some have not been what anyone can call nice, I have received a lot of very friendly emails.

And while many have asked about parts of my life, there have been those readers who want to know how it is that I am from Hawaii?

Some have asked about growing up in Hawaii, my grandfather's ranch, learning about horses and cattle there, and other parts of growing up in the islands. Some have asked about the history of Hawaii.

A friend from Montana, who is a Native American Indian, wanted to know if the Europeans tried to discourage speaking Hawaiian the same as they did in Reservation schools back in the 1800s?

He asked an interesting question, "Was there an attempt to kill the Hawaiian language? Was it like they did in Reservation schools? If so, why didn't native Hawaiians take it upon themselves to keep it alive like my tribe did by teaching it at home?"

Some say teaching American English, or as the linguists call it "General American," in Reservation Schools was a way for whites to assimilate Native American tribes into the American culture. Others say it was a way to kill Native American languages.

I believe it was probably a combination of both reasons because of a not-so-simple dilemma.

In the East during the 1800s, there were certainly efforts made to assimilate cultures seen as "foreign" into the American landscape. The hundreds of thousands who arrived by ship during that time were encouraged to speak American English. And yes, Americans in the West were doing the same thing.

But there was, as I see it, a dilemma. Although, I do not think they saw it as a dilemma at the time. Back then they simply charged ahead and taught American English knowing that it was the language of the United States.

If they had thought it a dilemma, then it was a situation that put White-European Americans in a no-win situation. See, even if they wanted to, they simply did not have the teachers who knew how to speak the thousands of different Native American languages needed for individualized instruction.

Let's be fair about things, at the time those teaching in Reservation Schools did have a reason for teaching American English. The fact is, like the many languages that make up the European continent, America had thousands of different languages all different depending on the tribe, the region, and so on. And frankly, those teaching in the schools at the time were in many cases educators who volunteered to be there and only spoke American English.

As for Hawaii, before the arrival of Europeans whose war-fighting enabled King Kamehameha the Great to unite the islands, many of the different islands spoke different dialects of what we today call Hawaiian. To say they were "dialects of the Hawaiian language" is putting it nicely because they were completely different languages from island to island. When King Kamehameha the Great united the islands, he made Hawaiian the official language throughout his kingdom. Yes, King Kamehameha the Great did the exact same thing as every conqueror did in World History. He required everyone to speak his language. 

As for those early teachers who arrived in Hawaii, frankly speaking, those teaching in the Missionary schools at the time in Hawaii were in many cases the same Reservation school educators who volunteered to be there and only spoke American English.

When I started researching this topic, I wanted to know if there truly was a law "forbidding" the people of Hawaii, all of the people of Hawaii, from speaking Hawaiian, especially in schools? The Hawaiian language specifically?

I wanted to know if there was a law intentionally created to suppress Hawaiians and their native language, or was it a law that suppressed all languages deemed "foreign"?

So now, here comes where my friends and family in Hawaii will want to disown me. The fact is, I don't believe Americans tried to kill off the Hawaiian language.

Just 10 years after the establishment of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1810, the Bible was translated into the Hawaiian language by a White Protestant Missionary from Connecticut.

In 1834, the first Hawaiian-language newspapers were published by Missionaries working with locals. Those same Missionaries, which people today say tried to kill the Hawaiian language, also played a significant role in publishing a vocabulary (1836), grammar (1854), and a dictionary (1865) of the Hawaiian language.

The use of the Hawaiian language among the general population might have peaked around 1881. Even so, some Americans worried, as early as 1854, that the Hawaiian language was "soon destined to extinction." Because of their concern, it is a fact that early Missionaries tried to keep Hawaiian from being an extinct language.

Now as for the Hawaiian Language being made "Illegal"?

While it is true that in Hawaii there was a law pertaining to the "English Language" being the language of choice used to teach in schools there. that law does not mention the Hawaiian language specifically in any way shape or form.

The 1896 law does not declare the Hawaiian language "illegal" to teach in schools. And no, the 1886 law does not "ban" the Hawaiian language. The fact is, the word "Hawaiian" does not appear in that law.

The law cited as banning the Hawaiian language is identified as Act 57, sec. 30 of the 1896 Laws of the Republic of Hawaii:

"The English Language shall be the medium and basis of instruction in all public and private schools, provided that where it is desired that another language shall be taught in addition to the English language, such instruction may be authorized by the Department, either by its rules, the curriculum of the school, or by direct order in any particular instance. Any schools that shall not conform to the provisions of this section shall not be recognized by the Department.

[signed] June 8, 1896 Sanford B. Dole, President of the Republic of Hawaii" 

That's right, nowhere in the law was the Hawaiian language ever mentioned. This law established English as "the medium of instruction" for the government-recognized schools both "public and private". And frankly, it seems that's all it did.

Where does it say that the Hawaiian language was "banned" or was "illegal" to teach? Reading the law, I didn't see a supposed "ban" on any language. In fact, like you, I don't see Hawaiian mentioned at all. It simply made English "the medium and basis of instruction".

People against the annexation of Hawaii into the United States argue that the Hawaiian language was made illegal by the 1896 law. But then when you point out that Hawaiian was not even mentioned in the law, those same people argue that while it did not make the Hawaiian language illegal -- they say the implementation of such a law in the schools helped those who had been pushing for English-only schools.

OK, I'll go with that. I can see how the Republic of Hawaii wanted only English to be used as a mainstay in Hawaii for classroom instruction in schools. But again, let's be fair, by the 1870s, the Hawaiian language was out and English was the predominant language of the land.

Besides, having teachers teach in a language that "everyone" understands, or is being made to understand, creates assimilation as well as cohesion and a sense of family. No, I don't see that as a bad thing at all.

I cannot imagine trying to give a class that someone says should be taught in multiple languages. We should remember that while the 1896 law did not specifically make Hawaiian illegal, it also did not make Portuguese, Japanese, Spanish, French, German, Russian, Korean, Chinese, and several other languages illegal.

All of those languages were common languages in Hawaii at the time due to the Kingdom of Hawaii bringing in immigrants who could not speak Hawaiian or English.

No, the law simply said, "The English Language shall be the medium and basis of instruction in all public and private schools, provided that where it is desired that another language shall be taught in addition to the English language."

But there is another point to the law, which by the way my Native American Indian friend up in Montana brought to my attention when I spoke with him about this.

He pointed out the provision in the Republic of Hawaii 1896 law that stated, "... where it is desired that another language shall be taught in addition to the English language, such instruction may be authorized by the Department, either by its rules, the curriculum of the school, or by direct order in any particular instance."

He asked me, "Why wasn't that provision used in schools in classes specifically to teach the Hawaiian language?" He said they did that on the Reservations later.

Friends, this started me thinking about my own upbringing in Hawaii during the 1960s and early 1970s, and the fact that I was taught French and Latin in the First and Second Grades at St. Patrick School in Kaimuki on Oahu.

Established in 1930, St. Patrick School in Hawaii was a private Catholic School that taught French and Latin simply because it is a French Order and Latin was spoken at Mass those days.

So, if a private elementary school in Kaimuki could teach French and Latin starting in the 1930s, why wasn't the Hawaiian language taught in the all-Hawaiian private Kamehameha School?

From the information I can find, it is apparent that Kamehameha School made the conscious choice not to teach Hawaiian to Hawaiians when they could have.

Fact is, I believe it was a conscious choice on the part of Kamehameha Schools which was founded in 1887, the Hawaiian language was already being replaced by Pidgin English as the common language of the Hawaiian islands even in the homes of native Hawaiians.

Kamehameha Schools was opened nine years before the 1896 law went into effect, but Hawaiian was not taught there even before the law went into effect. Kamehameha School did not have to wait until 1978 to teach the Hawaiian language. That was their decision since no one forbade it from being taught.

While there are stories about people being "punished" for speaking Hawaiian at Kamehameha School, none of those instances had to do with teachers teaching subjects such as Mathematics, Science, English, or History using the Hawaiian language and actually breaking the 1896 law.

So why were people supposedly disciplined for just speaking Hawaiian when they were not using Hawaiian as "the medium and basis of instruction"? I simply don't understand those claims.

While there are stories of the law stopping children who spoke Hawaiian at school on the playground, who were supposedly disciplined, it is just too hard to understand why? I simply can't understand why anyone would have been punished at all since the law talked about classroom instruction and not playgrounds.

For me, it is very hard to believe that took place. And frankly, there can be only one answer as to why this took place if indeed it did. I contend that if these stories of punishment are true, then the school officials and teachers at the time were responsible for that sort of injustice taking place.

Remember, once the law was enacted, school officials and teachers took it upon themselves to enforce the 1896 law, I can't help but wonder if the law was used for personal agendas against ALL languages spoken in Hawaii and not just Hawaiian.

We should remember that while there are examples of people being reprimanded for speaking Hawaiian in Hawaii's schools, in all fairness it should be noted that speaking Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Tagalog, Samoan, Tongan, Fijian, Portuguese, Spanish, French, and German, were not tolerated either.

It is interesting to note that while there have been British and American influences in places like Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji for over 200 years, those islands have kept their languages intact and in use today even with the advent of European and American involvement in their islands. If we take this fact alone, and compare it to Hawaii, we have to ask if Hawaiians simply lost interest in their own language?

Did Hawaiians simply lose interest in their own language?

I believe the Hawaiian language lost favor with the Hawaiian people and that's why it almost died. I believe Hawaiians became complacent and stopped using their own language. Unlike Samoans, Tongans, and Fijians, I believe Hawaiians simply lose interest in speaking Hawaiian. As a matter of fact, I believe Hawaiians also lost interest in reading the Hawaiian language as shown by the demiss of Hawaiian language newspapers.

Remember, Hawaiian-language newspapers were published for over a hundred years, but very few survived. The longest-running Hawaiian-language newspaper ran from 1861 to 1927. The last one ceased publication in 1948. All stopped because of a lack of circulation.

In 1949, the legislature of the Territory of Hawaii commissioned two experts on the Hawaiian language to write a new dictionary of Hawaiian. Today, there are efforts underway to promote the Hawaiian language including what are called Hawaiian language "immersion" schools now open to children whose families want to reintroduce Hawaiian language for future generations.

As it has been the case for over 100 years, today the Hawaiian language has been displaced by English. With less than 25,000 people who can speak Hawaiian, up from 1,000 in 1999, the number of native speakers of Hawaiian is still under 0.1% of the state-wide population.

To answer the question put to me by one of my readers, "Was there an attempt to kill the Hawaiian language?" 

No, I don't. I believe the Hawaiian language was not the only language targeted by the 1896 law establishing English as "the medium and basis of instruction in all public and private schools".

We all should remember that English was already the predominant language in the islands. To me, the Republic of Hawaii's 1896 law was just stating the obvious of what was taking place there at the time.

I don't believe the 1896 law was created to address the Hawaiian language or any other of the many languages spoken there at the time. And frankly, I don't see how anyone can say it did when the 1886 law only mentions English and no other language.

I believe the Republic of Hawaii wanted their children to get a good education. Many of these children spoke several other languages. Hawaiian was only one of many and not the primary language of the islands by that time.

We should also remember that the common language of Hawaii was evolving. With that, we need to recognize that the status quo was that American English was the predominant language for business and commerce throughout the islands by the mid-1800s.

Because of that, I believe those in power at the time simply decided to go with the existing state of affairs, especially regarding the social and political status of the islands, and have teachers speak the predominant language when giving classroom instruction. 

I honestly believe the people who are trying to read more into the 1886 law are trying to make that law mean more than it did.

That's just the way I see it.

Tom Correa


  1. Yes, what you have said about the exact written law of no language but English could be spoken in schools in Hawaii is true, but many Hawaiians were told by non-Hawaiians that you could not speak Hawaiian at all, whether you were in school or not. White people in Hawaii at that time were considered to be the smart ones and were not questioned when it came to interpreting the laws. So when a white person told you it was against the law to speak the Hawaiian language you shut your mouth and went home and told everyone the same thing. The Hawaiian people may have continued repeating that lie over the years but you can bet it all started from one smart white guy who interpreted this particular Hawaii law to suit his views. My grandparents were told by school officials to stop speaking Hawaiian to their children because it hampered their learning. Yes there were papers written in the Hawaiian language but the only ones who coukd read these papers were those who were taught the written Hawaiian language before this school law was in effect. You must know Hawaiian language was only spoken and never written down until the missionarys came and invented it (with the help of native Hawaiians). When this law of speaking only English in school was enforced, the Hawaiian language was wiped out. Yes, this law killed the Hawaiian language because it was a spoken one. How soon this truth is forgotten whenever this law is explained. Yet this truth has also been frowned upon by non-Hawaiians because it is some kind of fact that nothing could be learned if it is not written down. Well our ancestors got to this islands without a written language and our genealogy was only known by the spoken word and memory.This written law did not ban the Hawaiian language but it discouraged the use of the spoken words, which was the basis of Hawaiian language and culture. So the written words of this law may not seemed to destroy Hawaiian language but the interpretation or spoken words did.

  2. I don't normally discuss my ancestry because there aren't any documents in my family that can confirm what heritage I have. I was always told that I was Irish, Italian, Cherokee, Mexican, and probably Dutch. I was also told that at one time we celebrated the Jewish faith for a short period of time. Now mind you, I am not a Jew but our family WAS temporarily Jewish. I do a lot of acting where I play many different characters of many different backgrounds. No, I have not done any work in Hollywood nor have I been in any major movies or TV shows. Instead I appeared in plays with mostly lead roles. I was Romeo in "Romeo and Juliet", Othello in "Othello", Henry Higgins in "My Fair Lady", George in "Mice And Men", Lennie in "Mice And Men", (I pulled double duty on this play), Reverend Parris in "The Crucible", and Otto Frank in "The Diary Of Anne Frank". Like I said, I don't discuss my ancestry. But I WILL say that I am related to the Hatfield-McCoy feud and my ancestor was Charles Morehead. So if anybody wants to know my heritage, that's what I tell them. I hope that helps. Thank you.


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