By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer
Edith Kanaka'ole wrote the history of the Hawaiian renaissance in her native tongue.
She was born on the Big Island, and Hawaiian was her first language. Throughout her life, Kanaka'ole's well-spoken English was sprinkled with Hawaiian words, for that was the way she thought.
Kanaka'ole lived in Hilo and was a longtime Hawaiiana instructor at the University of Hawai'i-Hilo. For much of her life, she also taught hula, which she learned from her mother, and was well-versed in the uses of native plants and the legends, chants and stories of the Islands.
An authority on the language and culture of her people, she was an active participant during its 1970s revival. She served as a bridge for students who wanted to rescue aspects of Hawaiiana that were almost lost. When she died in 1979, her many students were said to be her legacy.
One of her specialties was the system of 'ohana, or family, in Hawaiian life. She was always eager to share what her family had taught about 'ohana.
Keeping traditions alive required use, Kanaka'ole once said. She lived and practiced what she taught.
"We need to take our traditions off the shelf and put them into practical use," she said. "One cannot say we have learned until we've done that."