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Ka Wā Ma Mua, Ka Wā Ma Hope

Using the Past to Inform the Future: English Translation of Hawaiian Language Newspaper Accounts of Fisheries Practices and Management

In ancient times Hawaiians passed down stories, songs, and cultural traditions orally from generation to generation. With the establishment of the written language in the 1820’s and the introduction of the printing press in the mid-1830’s, Hawai`i rose to have one of the most literate indigenous populations in the world at that time. Amazingly, the literacy rate had climbed from close to zero in 1820 to nearly 95 percent by the 1860’s.

With the rise in literacy, Hawaiians began chronicling their discussions, events, literature and poetry, and news in the form of Hawaiian language newspapers. Starting in 1834 and running for 114 years, more than 100 different newspapers published approximately 125,000 pages (equal to a million or more pages of letter-sized text) in the native Hawaiian language. These publications served as venues of traditional, cultural, historical, and political discussions of those times, and allowed people that lived far apart geographically to communicate.

Of particular interest to the University of Hawai‘i Sea Grant College Program (UH Sea Grant) are articles touching on marine ecosystem management in Hawai‘i and traditional and introduced fishing practices. While the stories and conversations occurred more than a century ago, some of the struggles with sustainable resource management are still as prevalent today as they were then. In addition, the detailed conversations chronicled in the newspapers provide a unique window into the issues the communities faced, and can be used to help inform today’s management decisions.

Over 10 years ago, former UH Sea Grant extension leader Dr. Richard Brock and Elizabeth Kumabe Maynard, UH Sea Grant’s environmental education extension agent, initiated a pilot project to investigate the accessibility of fisheries-related articles in the Hawaiian language newspaper archive. Unfortunately, this archive was virtually inaccessible due to the storage media (paper, microfilm, and microfiche), the lack of funding, and most importantly, the scarcity of qualified translators. As the need to develop capacity in Hawaiian language proficiency became clear, UH Sea Grant developed a close partnership with Dr. Puakea Nogelmeier, a professor of Hawaiian language at the Hawai‘inuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge and Director of Awaiaulu, to provide the Hawaiian language expertise and train the next  generation of translators. Scores of articles related to fisheries have since been found and translated.

In an effort to make this invaluable resource available and accessible to the general public, UH Sea Grant is developing and housing a website which will display the original Hawaiian newspaper article and also the English language transcription. These initial selected articles are focused on fisheries and indications of changing climate in the islands. There is no other repository of information which includes both the Hawaiian language text and the English transcription, so UH Sea Grant, Dr. Puakea Nogelmeier, and the graduate students who are training to be tomorrow’s expert translators are very proud to be making such a highly sought after resource public.  

Visit our website to learn more about the Hawaiian newspaper translation project and access the translated Hawaiian language newspaper articles. 

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