Aloha is Love

Linda Burton posting from Honolulu, Hawaii – “Aloha is love,” reads the first line of the children’s book entitled Let’s Learn the Hawaiian Alphabet (ISBN 1-59700-102-3, author Patricia Murray, illustrator Sharon Carter). We’ve asked everyone “What does “aloha” mean?” and every reply has been different. It could mean hello or goodbye, it could simply be a greeting, or it could mean “I love you.” Hmmm, a word to use with care! Every tour guide and every tourist spot has nudged the crowd to shout it out – A LOW HA! And we always fail the test. “Not very good!” they tell us, so we get a little louder. Still, a word has to have meaning to you when you say it, or it doesn’t sound like you really mean it, so ka-chung, the tour guide shakes his head and laughs. Kayla and I wanted to learn some real Hawaiian words, and use them properly. “Mahalo” we try to remember to say for “Thank you” and sometimes we get a smile in return. We’ve studied the street signs to get familiar with spelling, and Hawaiian names. “There are only twelve letters in the Hawaiian alphabet,” Kuka told us. Kuka was our soft-spoken driver on Saturday, delivering us safely to the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie. Kuka went through the vowel sounds with us as we rode north; Vanna’s Wheel of Fortune would sound different here though the letters look the same. “U” is not “You,” it is “Oo” – we know not to say “you-ka-lay-lee” any more! But back to the book.

It’s commonly stated that the Hawaiian alphabet has 12 letters; 5 vowels and 7 consonants. Vowels are A, E, I, O, U; consonants are H, K, L, M, N, P, W. The “Okina” is that backwards apostrophe you see in many Hawaiian words separating vowels; it is considered the 13th letter, used as a consonant; it changes both the sound and meaning of a word. An example is given in the book: Kui, to string, is pronounced “kooee.” But Ku’i, to hammer, is pronounced “koo-ee.”

The state of Hawaii is the only state of 50 to have two official languages. Using the Hawaiian language as a medium of education was outlawed in 1896, and legal constraints against its use were maintained by territorial and US state governments until 1986. The 1970’s brought a new focus to the revitalization and love of the Hawaiian language and Hawaiian became an official language by a state constitutional convention in 1978.

Section 4. English and Hawaiian shall be the official languages of Hawaii, except that Hawaiian shall be required for public acts and transactions only as provided by law. [Add Const Con 1978 and election Nov 7, 1978]

Today any state senator or representative may speak in either language when the state legislature is in session; there is no translation required from one to the other; it is recorded exactly as spoken. Although the teaching of Hawaiian is still a controversial issue within the state, and there is a scarcity of certified teachers of the language, in 2002 the Hilo campus of the University of Hawaii awarded the first master’s degree completed entirely in the Hawaiian language.

The motto of the state appears on the state seal in Hawaiian: “Ua mau ke ea o ka ‘aina i ka pono;” translated to English it is “the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.” It is interesting to note that 27 other states have a motto in a language other than English; California – Greek, Maryland – Italian, Minnesota – French, Montana – Spanish, Washington – Chinook, and 22 states have a motto in Latin. Some states officially designated a motto by an act of the legislature; others have their motto as an element of their state seal. The motto E Pluribus Unum, Latin for “One from many,” was approved for use on the Great Seal of the United States in 1782.