The Hawaiian language is an Austronesian (or Polynesian) language that is the ancestral tongue of the Hawaiian Islands, which lie in the Pacific Ocean. The Hawaiian language is the official language of the State of Hawaii. It is an endangered language, meaning that it is no longer spoken officially on any of the populated Hawaiian Islands. The native language was supplanted by English many years ago. There is one Hawaiian Island, Ni’ihau, where the Hawaiian language is still predominantly spoken. This island is privately owned, and tourism there is rejected in favor of a traditional way of life for its inhabitants. Though English is spoken by Hawaiians in order to conduct business and for political and educational purposes, the Hawaiian language remains in the souls and memories of all native Hawaiians, and connects them to their heritage.
Thousands of people travel to the island paradise of Hawaii every year. It’s beautiful beaches, terrific surfing, and breathtaking vistas make Hawaii one of the most common vacation spots on the Earth. The residents of the islands share a real sense of history and community, and consider themselves to be ‘ohana, or family, with one another. Hawaiians love to share their interesting history, vibrant culture, and the beautiful poetry of the Hawaiian language with visitors. When visitors arrive on the Islands, they are often greeted by native Hawaiian ladies who present new guests with a kiss on each cheek, a friendly “aloha!” and a beautiful and fragrant lei, or garland of indigenous flowers from the Islands.
Today, there are many words from the Hawaiian language that are still used conversationally and informally by the Islands’ inhabitants. We all know the word “aloha”, which has a myriad of meanings including hello, goodbye, and love. There is also hula, which is a very common Hawaiian dance that you often see at lu’aus, or traditional Hawaiian feasts, where ukulele music is played along to meles (traditional songs and chants), and tradition Hawaiian foods such as poi are served.
Today, the Hawaiian language is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Native Hawaiians looking to reconnect with their ancestral pasts are learning the traditional native tongue. And children are also being educated in the Hawaiian language, as a means of teaching them the history and legacy of their people. The Hawaiian language is being taught in public schools on the Islands as a second language alongside English.
For tourists, there are Hawaiian language books available that can provide lessons in the basic Hawaiian language. Also, computer software can provide a fun and interactive experience for a person who is interested in learning the native tongue of the Hawaiian Islands before embarking on a vacation there. There are also websites available that offer free, accelerated lessons in Hawaiian. Learning the basics of a language like Hawaiian will provide tourists with an opportunity to gain more understanding of a fascinating culture that thrives still today. Though there will not be any real language barriers for tourists when they visit Hawaii, learning some of the ancestral language will also serve as a history lesson, which will allow tourists to appreciate the culture that they are being exposed to so much more.
Traveling to the tropical paradise that is the Hawaiian Islands is a chance of a lifetime. Experiencing the sights, the sounds, the people, and the exotic surroundings is likely to broaden anyone’s scope of the world.
Though the Hawaiian language is not widely spoken any longer, its concepts remain in the hearts and souls of the people who inhabit the idyllic and ancient oasis, and they relish the opportunity to welcome their visitors in the true spirit of ‘ohana.