Hawaiian newspapers will soon be on the Web
By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Staff Writer
A treasure trove of Hawaiian history sits in tens of thousands of pages from 125 different Hawaiian-language newspapers that were published from the early 1800s to the middle 1900s.
Rebecca Breyer The Honolulu Advertiser
Keiki Ka'opua, of Waimanalo, is the project lead operator of the Ho'olaupa'i Hawaiian Newspaper Resource in Manoa.
Rebecca Breyer The Honolulu Advertiser
The Bishop Museum's Hawaiian-language newspapers project, Ho'olaupa'i, is using optical character recognition software to convert the microfilm news-print pages to digital format, which will be placed on a Web site. A staff of 10 Hawaiian scholars, guided by Kau'i Goodhue, is checking the digital text against the originals.
The work builds on preliminary efforts by the University of Hawai'i's Hamilton Library and Alu Like, an education, vocational training and employment program for Native Hawaiians.
Some of the Hawaiian-language papers were weeklies published only for a month or two. Others continued for decades, sometimes incorporating other newspapers along the way. One of these was "Ka Nupepa Kuokoa," the longest-lived Hawaiian-language paper, which was in print from 1861 until 1927.
It and other papers carried social commentary, vigorous debates on public issues, ancient tales, discussions of land issues and much more. Historian and educator Samuel Manaiakalani Kamakau was a contributor to the paper. So were many Native Hawaiians who disagreed with some of his versions of Hawaiian history.
"Kamakau and (historian David) Malo had contemporaries that didn't necessarily agree with them. The result is a debate," said Guy Kaulukukui, Bishop Museum's vice president for cultural studies.
Hilo, Hawai'i-based cultural consultant Kepa Maly said the newspapers provide a much broader picture of what was going on in Hawai'i than history books do.
"I think it's an amazing project, and very important to further understand the wide range of the cultural landscape. I don't want to be insensitive, but the primary historical texts that have been translated to date have been significantly connected to the Kamehameha family," Maly said.
Other writers represented in the newspaper archives may represent alternative views to those of the ruling family, he said.
The newspapers also have significant information about land use, property rights, ownership, boundaries much of which has never been properly studied in property disputes, he said.
Another remarkable resource is a Hawaiian tradition of writing lyrical dirges called "kanikau," which can be poetic, descriptive and, in some cases, heartbreaking, Goodhue said. She recalls one in which a woman laments the death of her husband, who suffered from leprosy, in the arms of his new lover, namely the Hansen's disease colony of Kalaupapa on Moloka'i.
The newspaper project's staff is coming across a number of Hawaiian words not found in the major Hawaiian dictionaries, and is scheduling meetings with Hawaiian elders and scholars to figure out what they mean. In some cases, the meanings can be determined from context. In others, it's not so easy.
"In a society where there are all native speakers, they make up slang like we do today," Goodhue said.
One such word is printed "haleao," which probably would be written "hale a'o" today. It likely translates "house of learning." Its synonym today would be "hale kula," or school.
Another word is the descriptive term "palalauki." The project's staff says it may be related to the term for aging pandanus leaves, "pala lau hala." But "pala lau ki" would refer to something aged and yellowed like a ti leaf.
Between the new words, the new ideas and the wealth of stories, Ho'olaupa'i will provide scholars and anyone interested in Hawai'i with an unmatched new resource. Even nonspeakers will be able to search for a name, a place or a concept, and on finding references, to either puzzle out a meaning or take specific text to a speaker of the language for translation.
"This project allows access to a massive library of Hawaiian writings that have never been available to most people," Goodhue said.
The digitization project will take years to complete, Goodhue said. It is now supported by private donations and grants from the U.S. Departments of Labor and Interior, but more money is needed. Kaulukukui said it will take about $500,000 a year for five years to accomplish the task.
There are about 125,000 pages of newsprint, each of which equals seven to eight pages of text. That approaches 1 million pages of text.
"The opportunity we have here is remarkable. It will provide us with historical perspectives that do not currently exist," Kaulukukui said.
Some work already has been done to make the early Hawaiian-language papers available. At the Web site libweb.hawaii.edu/hnp/newspapers.htm, nonsearchable images taken from microfilm copies of newspapers are available. These were part of a 1997 Hamilton Library project.
Further work on the newspapers is available at nupepa.olelo.hawaii.edu/cgi-bin/npepa. This site includes searchable and nonsearchable data, from a project operated by Alu Like's Native Hawaiian Library and Hawaiian Language Legacy Program.
Reach Jan TenBruggencate at email@example.com or (808) 245-3074.