Criminalized for Speaking Hawaiian

Hawaiian language is more than an exotic flair adding color to life in Hawai‘i. More than using Aloha in names of businesses and restaurants. More than figuring out how to pronounce Likelike and Humuhumunukunukuapuaʻa. Sometimes the only Hawaiian language people see is Mahalo on trash cans and kamaʻāina discounts. Sometimes we see so little Hawaiian in our daily lives that even longtime residents imagine our language is disappearing. But if you take a look at a case like this, you’ll see that the truth is something quite different.

ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi is at the core of our being. A gateway to our naʻau. It is the lifeblood that connects us to our ancestors and to future generations. It informs the very way we think about the people and ʻāina and the world around us. The street names and place names that trip people up connect us to our moʻolelo and our traditions. Our word for “word,” also means seed and fruit, recognizing that every time we speak our language, we are causing growth and feeding our people.

It makes sense then, because some of us are only used to seeing Hawaiian disconnected from its true depth, that people might see Kaleikoa Kāʻeo’s stance as being about refusing to speak English. But truly, if you understand the place ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has in our lives, you would see that his stance is actually about insisting on speaking Hawaiian, thinking Hawaiian, being Hawaiian.

It is about choosing to live as a Hawaiian when some people would rather see us relegated to the past; our images only adorning ads for commercial lūʻau; our language only on bathroom signs or plate lunches. It is about speaking up when so many want us only to be silent. It is also about giving ourselves and others a chance to learn. Even if you don’t understand the words, we are saying something to you. We are reminding you: Eia nō mākou e kū nei i mua ou. Here we are standing before you, speaking our language and never going away.

“If there’s any reason for me, Kaleikoa Kāʻeo, to go to jail, it would be to defend our right as a people to speak our language in our own homeland.”

Kaleikoa Kāʻeo