Keola's portrait superimposed over a snow-covered Mauna Kea, with the name 'Keola Donaghy' in gold lettering

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‘Ōlelo Hawai'i - A Rich Oral Past; A Bright Digital Future - by Keola Donaghy

‘Ōlelo Hawai‘ii, the Hawaiian language, has an oral tradition as rich as any language on earth. Prior to the arrival of westerners in the late 1700s, it was the only language spoken in the Hawaiian archipelago. The language flourished in written form as well, after having been assigned Latin characters by Calvinist missionaries in the early 1800s. The Hawaiian nation was among the most literate in the world in the last half of the19th century. Children of Hawaiian parents, as well as western missionaries and business people, were all schooled through the medium of Hawaiian language.

Three years after the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in1893, Hawaiian was outlawed as a language of education in Hawai‘i. English quickly replaced Hawaiian as the language of education, government, and commerce throughout the islands. Attempts by parents to perpetuate the language in the home met with harsh resistance by authorities. Children were punished in school and parents were reprimanded for speaking Hawaiian to their children. This systematic oppression led to a steep decline in the number of Hawaiian speakers, as parents and grandparents reluctantly chose not to pass on their mother tongue to later generations.

In 1984, a group of Hawaiian language educators gathered because they were concerned with the dire state of the language. A survey had shown that there were less than 30 children under the age of 12 that could speak Hawaiian. Most were children of parents from Ni‘ihau, the smallest of the inhabited Hawaiian islands. These educators formed the ‘Aha Pūnana Leo schools in an effort to promote the Hawaiian language. The name 'Pūnana Leo' or 'Language Nest' was chosen because the schools function as a nest where the children are fed the Hawaiian language, much as a young bird would be fed by its mother.

In 1978, the State of Hawai'i Constitution was modified to recognize Hawaiian as equal to English in the eyes of the law. However, the ‘Aha Pūnana Leo's vision of establishing schools in which Hawaiian was the means of education faced an early hurdle: the 90 year old law banning the Hawaiian language as a medium of education had never been repealed. Two years of intense lobbying ended with the repeal of this law and the road was paved to reintroduce Hawaiian as a classroom language. There are now 11 Pūnana Leo preschools scattered throughout Hawai'i with several more being planned at this time.

The Papahana Kaiapuni Hawai'i (Hawaiian Language Immersion Program), a special program within the state's Department of Education, allows Pūnana Leo graduates and other children entering kindergarten to continue their education in Hawaiian.The graduates of the first Pūnana Leo class and their contemporaries are now in 11th grade, having received theirinstruction almost entirely in Hawaiian (English is introduced in the fifth grade and taught as a foreign language would betaught in other state public schools). There are approximately1,500 children throughout the state of Hawai'i, from preschool through 11th grade, who receive their education in Hawaiian.

Computers and Hawaiian

Although computers were used by teachers and support personnel in the early years of the Hawaiian language immersion program,they were little more than glorified typewriters, and even in that capacity, they had their limitations. Most computers and their system software provide a limited number of characters that can be represented on the screen and printed. These characters are stored in software resources called fonts. There are diacritical marks that are unique to Hawaiian and other Polynesian languages that do not appear in standard font sets provided with popular computer operating systems. There were a few customized font sets for Hawaiian available to teachers, but most were simply bitmap fonts intended to be used with dot-matrix printers and there was not a standardized system for generating these characters. Teachers had to memorize different keystroke combinations to use these various fonts, and a document typed using one kind of font often could not be printed using another Hawaiian font.

In 1989, the Hale Kuamo‘o was established by an act of the Hawai'i state legislature, and began operations at the University of Hawai'i at Hilo. It is the only state-sanctioned Hawaiian language center in Hawai'i and was to be the primary source of translated and original Hawaiian language course work and curriculum for the Hawaiian immersion schools. It became apparent to the staff of Hale Kuamo‘o that computers and networking would be a key to providing high quality materials to the immersion classroom. In 1992, Keiki Kawai'ae'a, one of thefounders of the Papahana Kaiapuni Hawai'i school in Pa'ia, Maui, was named director of curriculum development for the Hale Kuamo‘o. Joined by Keao NeSmith and myself, we began to explore how to best implement computer technology in the Hawaiian language immersion classroom.

Being able to display and print the Hawaiian characters was a great start, but we also wanted our students to be able to interact with the computer in Hawaiian as well. The premise of the Hawaiian language immersion program is to provide for the child's education through the Hawaiian language, and we did not feel that this should be compromised when it came to computers. However, this proved to be a more difficult task than simply modifying the fonts. Several months of experimentation led to the establishment of Hale Kuamo‘o's HI Font Standard. Although other Hawaiian organizations had developed Hawaiian font sets using different keystroke combinations, all were different and all had their limitations. Most did not allow for the easy transmission of the characters in a normal telecommunications program, many had very odd or difficult keystroke sequences for generating the Hawaiian characters and most could not be used with standard spell checkers. Standardizing HI Fonts addressed all of these problems, and had added benefits that were not discovered until later.

We also wanted to display the Hawaiian characters in the menus of the Macintosh OS. Several more months of experimentation led to the discovery of a system modification that allowed our modified fonts to be used in the menus. This enabled us to translate program menus, dialog boxes, and other elements of the Macintosh user interface into Hawaiian. During the summer of1997, we learned of a combination of a shareware control panel and a freeware extension that provided the same functionality. The Hale Kuamo‘o purchased a license for this that covers the entire Hawaiian language immersion community, as well as all University of Hawai'i offices that deal with Hawaiian language education.


The Papahana Kaiapuni Hawai'i and the Pūnana Leo schools operate on most major islands but because of their locations, it is often difficult for teachers and students at the various schools to communicate, interact, and share ideas and curriculum. In1992, we began to explore various options that would allow us to communicate electronically via a computer Bulletin Board System or 'BBS'. The State of Hawai'i ran a network system called Hawai'i FYI that provided various services to schools and libraries statewide using a proprietary desktop terminal and software that would have allowed us to display the Hawaiian language properly. At Hawai'i FYI's HINTS conference that year, we met Steve Cisler of the Apple Library of Tomorrow Program who demonstrated SoftArc's FirstClass BBS software. We quickly realized that the FirstClass software would provide a much richer, more user-friendly environment and would integrate well with our other computer and technological initiatives.FirstClass allows users to choose the fonts that are displayed in messages which is crucial for the proper use of the Hawaiian language on the system.

FirstClass provides private e-mail, public discussion areas, chat rooms, file transfers, and other features that FYI's system did not allow for. The loan of a computer that could function as a FirstClass server was arranged through Apple's Library of Tomorrow program, and Bank of Hawai'i provided a generous grant of $5,000 to purchase the necessary software and hardware to setup our system. With the blessing of SoftArc, we translated all of the visual resources in the FirstClass client into Hawaiian. All menus, dialogs, alerts, and all other items viewed by the user are now in Hawaiian.

Attempts to piggy-back this system, dubbed Leokī or 'powerful voice,' onto Hawai'i FYI's telecommunications network generated mixed results. Connections were unreliable and some features, such as file transfer, simply did not work. Because of the high cost of inter-island calls in Hawai'i (frequently more expensive than calls to the mainland US and even foreign countries), having the schools dial directly to Hilo was not an option.

Around this time we began to the see the crest of the giant wave called the Internet over the horizon. Though the Hale Kuamo‘o did have direct Internet access, most of the immersion schools did not. It became apparent to us that most schools would have direct access to the Internet in a year or two. Those that did not have access to the Internet could access Leokī through private Internet service providers (ISPs). Preparations were made and software was purchased to allow for access to Leokī via the Internet. Starting in late 1994, the staff members of Hale Kuamo‘o and instructors at the Hawaiian Studies department at the University of Hawai'i at Hilo began to use Leokī as the primary means of communication between these offices. Those schools that had either direct IP access or private PPP accounts began logging in as well. All communication on Leokī is in Hawaiian; English is forbidden except for private e-mail sent to or from Leokī via the Internet by non-Hawaiian speakers.

At the time of this writing, Leokī is in use at every Pūnana Leo preschool, most Papahana Kaiapuni Hawai'i schools, all Hawaiian immersion support offices, the University of Hawai'i at Manoa's Hawaiian Language department, the ‘Ahahui 'Olelo Hawai'i (an O'ahu-based private, non-profit organization founded to help inperpetuation of the Hawaiian language), and other offices. Leokī has provided a convenient, easy-to-use means of bridging the schools and offices that have previously been isolated by geography, expensive inter-island communications, and occasionally by philosophy and methodology. We have also invited some private individuals who speak Hawaiian to join the growing Leokī family. The number of users on Leokī at the beginning of September 1997 was 400, by the end of the month it stood at 500 with new users registering almost every day. We anticipatehaving 700 registered users by the end of 1997.

The popularity and necessity of Leokī becomes readily apparent during times that users cannot access the system for any numberof reasons, such as problems with LANS or private ISPs, modem problems, network problems and power outages at University of Hawai'i at Hilo, or the very infrequent crash of the Leokī server. Hale Kuamo‘o becomes flooded with calls and faxes from teachers and support personnel who cannot access the system and desperately want to get on-line.

Currently, we are preparing a third version of the Leokī software which will include access to several important database resources at Hale Kuamo‘o. The first, Mamaka Kaiao, is a database of new Hawaiian vocabulary coined by the Hawaiian Lexicon Committee. The 7,000+ words in this database include new terminology for items that do not appear in the standard Hawaiian dictionary: words for new technology, advanced math, science, sports, and other aspects of contemporary Hawaiian society that would be difficult to discuss without these words. The second database contains all Hawaiian language curriculum and books that are available to the immersion schools, what grade levels they are intended for, and where they can be ordered from. We are considering other databases to add to Leokī as well, including a calendar of events database containing events of interest to the Hawaiian and Hawaiian-speaking community.

Homesteading on the World Wide Web

At the time that we were establishing Leokī on the Internet, it became apparent that although Leokī was going to be used by Hawaiian language speakers, it was not going to be an appropriate forum for people just starting to learn the language. The first popular Internet browser software, NCSA Mosaic, was released and we realized that a world wide web server would be the ideal means of distributing information on the Hawaiian language to the rest of the world.

At first we faced the same problems in serving web documents that we faced in the early days of dealing with the Hawaiian diacritical marks: how to get them to properly display on the Internet. Fortunately we discovered that the system we had devised for generating these characters lent itself well to conversion to html using BBEdit, a popular text editor with powerful html tools. Currently, the entire 'Kualono' web site, approximately 300 individual pages, is maintained using Userland's Frontier software. Frontier allows us to easily maintain a very standard appearance throughout Kualono. Displaying accented characters that appear in Hawaiian and many other languages requires the use of escape sequences, a special string of characters that, when seen by a web browser, will display the desired character. This conversion of our Hawaiian characters to escape sequences is automatically handled by Frontier. Users wishing to properly view the Hawaiian characters must download and install Hawaiian fonts which are available to download free of charge from Kualono in both Macintosh andWindows format. These fonts can also be used in any word processing or page layout program as well.

We located a shareware web server called MacHTTP, formatted a few articles and brochures as html files, and 'Kualono' was born. Kualono grew quickly into the definitive resource fo rHawaiian language on the Internet. Colorful and culturally appropriate graphics were designed by a talented Hawaiian studies and art student, Mele McPherson. The prototype of Kualono, running on the same Macintosh as the Leokī server, was enthusiastically greeted by the professors at the University of Hawaii at Hilo's Hawaiian Studies department, as well as the board members of the‘Aha Pūnana Leo. Another Macintosh donatedby the Apple Library of Tomorrow program became the dedicated server for Kualono and was upgraded to run Starnine's WebStar www server.

One of the most interesting aspects of Kualono is that almost every page on the site is provided in both English and Hawaiian. At the top of every page is a small toggle bar that allows auser to view the same page in either English or Hawaiian. One area of Kualono that is not in both languages is Na Maka o Kana, a Hawaiian language newspaper published by the Hale Kuamo‘o that is not provided in English. The only area not translated into Hawaiian is the computer resources area, as our assumption is that people downloading these fonts and other resources do not have the fonts installed to view Hawaiian properly in their browser.

Kualono also provides access to the same databases that area ccessed through Leokī. These databases are also maintained via web browsers by the staff of Hale Kuamo‘o. One of the most valuable resources in the care of Hale Kuamo‘o is Ka Leo Hawai'i, a library of audio tapes from a radio series broadcast from 1972 through 1989. Ka Leo Hawai'i includes recorded interviews with many famous and influential native Hawaiian speakers who have since passed on. The contents of this series have been cataloged and will soon be searchable via the www. We are also considering digitizing some of the more significant tapes and allowing them to be listened to over the www using Progressive Network's Real Audio server.

Looking Ahead

There have been several exciting developments that allow us to extend the use of Hawaiian language beyond the Hawaiian language immersion schools and University of Hawai'i system. The discovery of the Control Panel/Extension combination that allows our translated programs to be easily used on any Macintosh have made it easier for us to provide access to Leokī to the general public. We have also been authorized by Microsoft to translate their popular Internet Explorer Internet browser into Hawaiian. This translation should be complete by the time version 4 of Microsoft Internet Explorer becomes available in late 1997.

Because of the popularity of the Windows 95 operating system, we have also begun providing resources that help users properly use Hawaiian on that platform. Along with the Hawaiian fonts for Windows, we have developed a custom keyboard for Windows 95 that allows users to easily type in Hawaiian. Previously, users have had to manually enter commands and a series of numbers to have the Hawaiian diacritical marks appear. We also have made Leokī accessible by the Windows version of the FirstClass client. This is being tested by several individuals, both within and outside of the Hawaiian language immersion program. We are currently contemplating the translation of the FirstClass client for Windows into Hawaiian as well.

Hale Kuamo‘o, under director Larry Kauanoe Kimura, functions as the secretariat of the Polynesian Languages Forum. The Forum has housed a database of new vocabulary in more than a dozen Polynesian languages. This database, called Te Re'o o Maui, has been cared for by the Maori members of the Forum, but will soon be transferred to the Hale Kuamo‘o. This database will be searchable via Kualono using the Butler database, and we hope to provide a searchable interface in English, French, and each ofthe languages represented in the database. It is a huge, complicated undertaking, but we are looking forward to the challenge.

The final, major project that we are hoping to undertake, is the development of CD-ROM and www-based instruction materials for learning the Hawaiian language. Hale Kuamo‘o publishes a popular Hawaiian language textbook, Na Kai ‘Ewalu, which is used at UH-Hilo, at many of the state's community colleges, high schools, and adult education classes.

We are committed to seeing that the children of our Hawaiian language program and anyone who chooses to speak the Hawaiian language have access to the tools allowing them to use Hawaiian on the computer as readily as they can in English. As computers and the Internet become larger parts of our everyday lives, we will strive to stay at the cutting edge of the technologies that lead us into the 21st century.

This article was published in the Winter 1998 edition of Cultural Survival Quarterly. CSQ is published by Cultural Survival, Inc.