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Vol. 10, No. 6
December/January 2007

  >>   Going Under the Flow
  >>   Motu Football
  >>   Worlds Apart

Nupepa News 

story by Jennifer Crites
photo by Ann Cecil


You’ve heard the old riddle: What’s black and white and read all over? New answer: searchable Hawaiian-language newspapers, or nupepa, on the Web. Over the past five years, Bishop Museum’s Kau‘i Sai-Dudoit, her colleagues and staff have digitized, painstakingly restored and uploaded 9,000 of these often-crumbling news pages through a program called Ho‘olaupa‘i. Modeled after a similar program to digitize Maori-language newspapers in New Zealand, Ho‘olaupa‘i “represents the purest record of Hawaiian culture in existence,” says Sai-Dudoit.

The first of more than 100 different Hawaiian-language newspapers rolled off an old, patched-up press at Maui’s Lahaina Luna Seminary in 1834. Readers contributed entries recording the names of wind and places, and detailing moon cycles, fishing practices and other natural and human phenomena. The entries were then corrected and expanded in future issues—think Wikipedia, Hawaiian-style. Translations of books such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Beauty and the Beast were serialized weekly. No subject, it seems, was off-limits to the press, including the names and questionable practices of medical charlatans. Or divorce notices, complete with the reason for the breakup (most frequently cited: moekolohe—fooling around). They even printed the offending homewrecker’s name and address, notes Sai-Dudoit.

Other topics reflected the times’ political unrest. The story of Ko‘olau—a Kaua‘i cowboy who contracted leprosy and defied authorities by fleeing into remote Kalalau Valley with his wife and child rather than submit to imprisonment at Kalaupapa’s leper colony—polarized newspapers in 1896. English-language papers called for the fugitive’s capture, dead or alive. But, Sai-Dudoit says, for many Hawaiians his flight symbolized their struggle against injustice following the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy three years earlier.

Poignant oli (chants) and mele (songs) also found their way into print, inspiring Sai-Dudoit to organize Pa Kaleo—a performance of these never-before-heard oli. It was so well-received that the Mamiya Theatre will host a second Pa Kaleo in 2008, and the Maui Arts & Cultural Center plans a Maui version.

Although used primarily by Hawaiian studies scholars, linguists and historians, anyone can surf Ho‘olaupa‘i’s free site. The scans of the newspapers are fully searchable by plugging a word into a search engine powered by Optical Character Recognition software, which identifies type fonts from the old newspapers. For those who don’t want to get lost in translation, there’s a digital version of Pukui’s and Elbert’s Hawaiian-English dictionary at host site, www.ulukau.org.

With 116,000 pages yet to restore and an ever-pressing need for funding, Ho‘olaupa‘i won’t be completed any time soon. “Not in my lifetime,” says Sai-Dudoit. It’s a legacy in progress. HH

Ho‘olaupa‘i Newspaper Project