Monday, December 10, 2012

I ka ʻōlelo nō ke ola: In speech there is life

“Hawaiʻi has perhaps the largest indigenous language archive in the U.S and the Pacific.”

     Aloha mai kākou. Thank you to Karen Tani, Dan Ernst and Clara Altman for inviting me to guest blog on the LHB. My current project looks at transformations in Hawaiian governance and law during the period of early encounter and foreign settlement in Hawaiʻi, from the late 1790s through the 1830s. Raising questions about early regimes of law in the proto-Hawaiian kingdom (the first constitution was promulgated in 1840), my project argues that Hawaiian aliʻi (chiefs) were not dependent upon foreigners to establish law as a means to introduce order into Hawaiian society; instead kānāwai (published laws) were introduced in the Hawaiian context in order to extend the rule of the aliʻi over an increasingly cosmopolitan mix of transient and settler foreigners. In my research I found that kapu (oral pronouncement, restriction, law) was not abolished, as many historians argue in 1819. Instead, examples of kapu persist, continuing to shape the behavior and morality of Hawaiian subjects, since this form of law applied foremost to Hawaiian subjects in the Hawaiian language, and many kapu were eventually enshrined in kānāwai during the Kingdom period. While my project reveals heretofore overlooked nuances in Hawaiian governance and rule, it also reveals the extent to which the creation of law emerged from the increasing interaction between Hawaiian people and foreigners on Hawaiian soil.

I ka ‘ōlelo nō ke ola

     Today this phrase is employed and understood in Hawaiʻi to relate to the importance of Hawaiian language to the perpetuation of Hawaiian culture and the health of ka lāhui Hawaiʻi, the Hawaiian people. It has been taken up as a motto by the Hawaiian language immersion schools to promote the project of preserving Hawaiian language through the education of Hawaiʻi’s youth. Although many immersion schools struggle day to day for continued support, it is now possible to obtain an education in Hawaiian language from preschool through the Ph.D. This is an important development for my work, since the infrastructure now exists to create scholars fluent in Hawaiian language who are capable of conducting research and begin the important work of interpreting the vast archive of Hawaiian language source material available to historians and legal scholars interested in pre-contact and nineteenth century Hawaiʻi and the U.S.

Ka palapala

     Hawaiʻi has perhaps the largest indigenous language archive in the United States and the Pacific, and yet, most of the histories written about Hawaiʻi have left out these incredible resources. The American missionaries who arrived in the archipelago in 1819 from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions brought printing presses with them, and the important mandate to give the Bible to Hawaiians in their own language. Hawaiians immediately took to learning the palapala (reading and writing) and began to write and publish in the Hawaiian language, a literary production that persisted well into the middle of the twentieth century. It is because of the introduction of New England print culture and the avid pursuit of publishing and writing among Hawaiians that this huge archive exists today.The information available through Hawaiian language publications and manuscript sources will assist scholars in radically rewriting the legal and political history of the Hawaiian Kingdom and its political, diplomatic, and legal relations with the United States and the world. Hawaiʻi can serve as an example of the kinds of histories that can be written when scholars approach indigenous language sources as authoritative and on par with those written in English or other languages of prestige in the academy.

     In the weeks that follow I hope to introduce interesting developments in legal history that make use of Hawaiian language source material. In the meantime, I hope that you enjoy this link to an important ongoing project which makes Hawaiian language newspapers available online.
Once you navigate to this page, you may click the upper right hand arrow for site instructions in English.

Me ke aloha,
Noelani Arista