Hawai‘i Island Legends: Pele Pīkoi and Others

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Some of the material that follows is excerpted directly from a manuscript in progress. Much of it traces to archival sources. As they all have affirmed by their work, in our effort to understand ourselves, we must look to our past. In most ways our past begins with Pauahi. Unfortunately, they thought this was possible only by leaving behind the Hawaiian language and culture. If they were alive today, they would feel differently. To be sure, in many native families of that time, there was a growing recognition, resignation perhaps, that English was a necessary condition for success in a changing Hawaiian world.

And yet Pauahi, in her day, was praised as a woman who took the best of both worlds, a woman of the highest Hawaiian stature, a woman quite perfectly bi-lingual and bi-cultural. What I am getting at here is that I find it very difficult to accept the notion that Pauahi would have looked on in any way approvingly at what was happening to Hawaiian language and culture at Kamehameha in those first years of her schools. That violence against the Hawaiian world strikes us today as unpardonable.

Yet both Pauahi and the will remain silent on these matters: she left no guidelines for the fledgling school.

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She died before she could know. Standing near him and giving the formal prayer that day was Reverend Sereno E. Bishop, no relation to Charles Bishop, but the annexationist son of a missionary. Sereno Bishop was a haole who could speak Hawaiian. He prayed for the Kamehameha boys in their language. So from the very start, standing side by side at that opening ceremony, were profoundly opposing views of something so quintessentially Hawaiian as the hula. Confusion, conflict of cultural identity from day one at Kamehameha School.

And the issue of hula will run like a jolting live wire through the Kamehameha story. Today, as we know, the Bishop Museum is located on this site. In the early years of Kamehameha Schools, another battle was to be fought at this site, this one a quiet clash of cultures where teachers and staff of the young school purposely and relentlessly sought to stamp out the native language and all aspects of Hawaiian ways.

The first principal at Kamehameha was a man named William Oleson. This was the Bayonet Constitution.

Archive for August, 2010

One of the first orders William Oleson gave at Kamehameha was to ban the Hawaiian language. Hawaiian was forbidden in the classroom and on the playing fields, and the boys were punished if they were heard speaking the language of their families. For decades. Every teacher was to be a teacher of English.

Within three years, student compliance was showing in school statistics. In , William Oleson co-wrote a book with a title that said much about this man who had led Kamehameha Schools. Stevens wanted nothing more or less than annexation, and Oleson was with him all the way.

Let us be clear: The boys under Oleson at Kamehameha were not American annexationists. As George Kanahele relates, following the overthrow of the kingdom, the boys voted with their feet against this school that was run by annexationists. So many boys left and did not come back that enrollment went down by almost half and stayed down for the next two years.

Newly appointed principal Theodore Richards replaced William Oleson. He had a good feel for working with Kamehameha boys, and he had a great appreciation of Hawaiian music and language. He put Hawaiian songs on the glee club program alongside Western classical songs, to great success in performance. That was really the only time in the first decades at Kamehameha when the Hawaiian language was given fuller voice.

Hawaiian music flourished at Kamehameha. Hawaiian dance did not. This attitude, though more mildly expressed, endured until No right-minded principal at Kamehameha would want foul florescence and moral leprosy on his campus. No right-minded Bishop Estate trustee would want it on estate lands either. There were early leases that banned hula along with liquor.

Not true.

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Kamehameha Schools Enrollments dropped by almost half as the boys voted with their feet against this school run by annexationists. Then it was necessary for him to employ his excellent knowledge of the native tongue to make himself understood. After this interval, in which he has seen little of the boys, he comes back to preach to them and naturally he chooses the Hawaiian language in which to address them, and for the same reasons as before. We should not be surprised by the success of Kamehameha at dismembering Hawaiian.


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Early Kamehameha was essentially an English immersion school. Since most of the students were boarders, the influence of the Hawaiian home was thoroughly lessened and the opportunity to immerse students in English optimal. Though the prohibition against Hawaiian was in place for many years to come, its existence grew increasingly irrelevant as the language vanished in the children.

But—and perhaps this reflects something of that same confusion we noted from day one at Kamehameha regarding attitudes towards hula—though Hawaiian language was officially banned at Kamehameha, it was never completely rejected. The word tokenism creeps into our vocabulary when speaking of these years. By , for example, students were permitted, even encouraged to participate in non-and extra-curricular opportunities to learn and practice their native heritage.

They won the grand prize for Best Decorated Float. Well-known composer and alumnus, Charles E.

Hawaiʻi Island Legends

King, taught music at the schools from through In his teaching, he placed special emphasis on Hawaiian songs and melodies. Guest speakers usually not Hawaiian addressed the students, encouraging them to practice their culture and language. Frank Archer of Pearl City delivered a fine address to the girls in Hawaiian. Gulick was held in our Assembly Hall. He told us of the missionary work that is being done among the Japanese on these Islands and also about some of the customs and characteristics of the Japanese. He spoke first in English and, at the close, in Hawaiian. He reminded us of the beauty of the Hawaiian language and that we must not forget our mother tongue.

He closed once again by reminding the children of the beauty of the Hawaiian language, and that they must not forget their mother tongue. The comment to me almost gratuitously belies the horrific reality of the context of the day. One kupuna and keiki of those days, Gladys Brandt, in interview late in life, remembered bitterly the sense of shame she felt at being Hawaiian. As a young girl observing the students, Gladys noticed that they were using lemon juice to rub out the stains from their white dresses, the uniform of their day. The impressionable Gladys sneaked a couple of lemons and, in her hiding place, rubbed the juice hard into her skin.

To lighten it. To whiten it. Her shame was not just skin deep. It dug bone deep. It dug down Hawaiian soul deep. In the early s, the advent of Song Contest provided two or more Hawaiian songs per student per year. Thus begins a long tradition at Kamehameha of native children singing beautiful Hawaiian songs of which they have little or no understanding.

A tradition that extends through most of the schooling years of those seated here tonight, and, to a certain extent, continues today. Publicly, attitudes toward Hawaiian were often tolerant: one-time principal and teacher at Kamehameha School for Boys, Uldrick Thompson, in a campus presentation, reminded the students of the beauty and intelligence of the Hawaiian language, culture, and people.

Privately, back in the dorms, attitudes were hardly so upbeat: Zena Schuman in interview some ten years ago, described how Hawaiian language was allowed only in the laundry room on laundry days at KSG. The coast clear, they would whisper their songs and dance gently as they stood on the dark wood stairs. But there was to be change. In Lydia K. A torch is lit in a culturally darkened school!