Issue 14.4: August/September 2011

Read All About It!

Story by Ron Williams, Jr.


Photo: Elyse Butler

New Year’s Day, 1862, downtown Honolulu. In an expansive, crowded print room on a section of Merchant Street nicknamed “Printers’ Row,” Native Hawaiian typesetters, engravers and printers are producing a weekly newspaper. This particular morning, though, there’s an added significance to the work. On the front page, the paper’s editors explain that this issue is being created at extra expense and labor, “e ko makou aloha nui i ko kakou Moi, a me ka Moiwahine, a me ka Haku o Hawaii, ka laua keiki, a me ke Aupuni hoi o kakou” (“because of our great aloha for our King, Queen, their child the Prince Royal, and our Government”). This edition of Ka Nupepa Kuokoa (The Independent Newspaper) is hardly the first Hawaiian-language newspaper—that had rolled off a press in 1834—but these workers are well aware that they’re taking part in a historic first: Centered on the front page is an image of the flag of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i—in red, white and blue.


Color had only recently appeared for the first time in a newspaper anywhere— the Illustrated London News published color illustrations in its Christmas 1855 issue—and it would not appear in US papers until 1891, when the Milwaukee Journal printed red and blue stripes across its front page to celebrate the new Wisconsin governor’s inauguration. But in Honolulu thirty years before, a Hawaiianlanguage newspaper published the first color image of a nation’s flag. In a column below the emblem titled “Ka Hae Hawaii” (“The Hawaiian Flag”), the editors wrote, “He mea hou ke pai ana i ka Hae ma na Nupepa, me ka hoike pu i ka wai hooluu. He mea i hana oleia maanei i ka wa mamua ’ku, a pela no ma kekahi mau aina haole” (“This is a new thing to print a flag in colors in a newspaper. It is something that has never been done here before, or in foreign lands”). Printing that single page with the image of Hawai‘i’s flag involved three separate pressings by hand: first stamping the red block, then the blue and finally the black—a laborious process repeated more than three thousand times that morning.


The editors at Ka Nupepa Kuokoa took the opportunity to draw attention to the skill of its Native Hawaiian pressmen. In the column accompanying the flag, they wrote, “He poe Hawaii nei ka poe nana i hana, he kamaaina o keia Pae Aina, a ua aoia e hana i keia mea ma ko makou Hale Paipalapala. Oia ke akamai o kanaka maoli” (“It is Hawaiians who have done this, natives of this archipelago, who have learned this trade in our printing office. This is the skill of the Native Hawaiians”).


Though obscure and by itself perhaps minor, this achievement is a pixel in the larger picture of a progressive nineteenthcentury Hawaiian Kingdom, a picture that stands in stark contrast to the popular image of a backward island outpost. It is a snapshot of a society adopting a technology in order to record its rich past, document its endangered present and look to its uncertain future.



Photo: Elyse Butler

The American Protestant mission, well aware of the proselytizing power of the written word, brought the first printing press to Hawai‘i in 1820. A Ramage press accompanied the first group of New England missionaries aboard the Thaddeus on its 18,000 mile, 164-day sail from Boston to the “Sandwich Islands.” It was installed in a thatched-roof building on the mission grounds— today the site of the Mission Houses Museum— in Honolulu. On January 7, 1822, the ali‘i nui (high chief) Ke‘eaumoku would pull the arm of that press and stamp inked letters to paper for the first time in the Islands, helping create the first spelling book in Hawai‘i.


Elisha Loomis, a 19-year-old New Yorker who had been a printer’s apprentice before joining the Sandwich Islands Mission, directed the early printing work. New presses eventually arrived from New England, and the original Ramage was shipped to Lahainaluna School on Maui, where in 1834 students under the Rev. Lorrin Andrews used it to produce two hundred copies of the first Hawaiianlanguage newspaper— also the first newspaper west of the Rocky Mountains—Ka Lama Hawaii (The Hawaiian Torch). It contained, among other things, Hawaiian language essays written by the Native Hawaiian students. (A replica of the original Ramage press is on display today at the Hale Pa‘i (Printing House) museum at Lahainaluna School.)


Native Hawaiians learned to read quickly. Biblical texts, school readers and newspapers were valued and shared throughout extended families. By the 1860s the Kingdom of Hawai‘i was one of the most literate nations in the world, surpassing literacy rates in the United States, the home country of the missionaries themselves. While the missionaries saw literacy as a vehicle for religious teaching, Hawaiians adapted it for their own purposes, including recording what had been up to then an oral literary tradition of chants, stories, histories and genealogies.


Native Hawaiians also rapidly learned the publishing trade, and they staffed the early mission and government newspapers. Print production exploded: By 1858 the Protestant mission had produced more than one hundred million pages of Hawaiianlanguage biblical material, hymnals, textbooks and other religious tracts. Assisting this proliferation was the kingdom’s 1852 constitution enacted by Lot Kapuaiwa (King Kamehameha V), which guaranteed freedom of the press: “E hiki no i na kanaka a pau ke olelo, a ke palapala, a ke hoike wale aku paha, i ko lakou manao no na mea a pau, a na ke Kanawai wale no lakou e hooponopono. Aole loa e kaulia kekahi Kanawai e hoopilikia ana, a e keakea ana paha i ka olelo, a me ke paipalapala” (“All men may freely speak, write and publish their sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that right; and no law shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech, or of the press”).


While the vast majority of early print materials were mission and government texts, in 1861— a mere three decades after the introduction of literacy and print technology—an independent press was born with the founding of two papers: Ka Hoku o ka Pakipika (The Star of the Pacific), the first Hawaiian-language newspaper owned, edited (by King David Kalakaua) and operated by Native Hawaiians, and Ka Nupepa Kuokoa. Native editors such as Joseph Kawainui, J.K. Kaunamano, Joseph M. Poepoe, William Punohu White, David Keku, the husband/wife team of Joseph and Emma Nawahi and others, would fill dozens of newspapers over the next seven-plus decades with ‘oli (chants), mo‘olelo ka‘ao (famous tales), mo‘oku ‘auhau (genealogies) and quite simply, native voices. They did not neglect, however, to introduce their readers to other cultures by serializing literary works (translated into Hawaiian) from around the world: Moolelo o Juliusa Kaisara (Shakespeare’s tale of Julius Caesar); He Iwakalua Tausani Legue Malalo o ke Kai (Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea); “Ke Koraka” (Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven”); Ali Baba ame Na Powa (Tales from the Arabian Nights); “Kanani Hiolanikanahele” and “Kahaunani” (The Brothers Grimm’s “Sleeping Beauty” and “Snow White”).


The Hawaiian-language newspapers also served as sites of political dialogue and organization, most notably in the period surrounding the 1893 overthrow and later attempts at annexation. Leaders of the two main Native Hawaiian patriotic organizations, Hui Aloha Aina and Hui Kalaiaina, founded newspapers—Ka Makaainana (1894), Ke Aloha Aina (1895), Ahailono O Hawai‘i (1897) and Ka Loea Kalaiaina (1897)—that fiercely and incessantly challenged the legitimacy of the new government, despite new censorship laws and the intimidation and arrest of newspaper editors. The Hawaiianlanguage newspapers were not, however, unified in their opinions. Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, edited by the missionary son Henry Whitney, took a pro-American stance and strongly supported annexation.


The newspapers also provided interactive forums where readers corresponded, often correcting perceived errors. They wrote of daily events and cherished places, celebrated new births and mourned deaths. After the mid-nineteenth century the newspapers became a critical tool in a larger project: the preservation of a culture.


As introduced epidemic diseases took more and more native lives, Hawaiians in the mid-nineteenth century grew increasingly aware that their link to a vibrant and broad past body of knowledge was in danger. Newspaper contributors understood the power of this medium to chronicle vital information, and they encouraged expert genealogists, cultural specialists and historians to record and submit the knowledge of their ancestors. In 1862 native schoolteacher Joseph Kanepu‘u wrote a prescient letter to the editor of Ka Hoku o ka Pakipika concerning the newspaper’s task of carrying traditional knowledge forward: “E makemake ana ka hanauana Hawaii o na la A.D. 1870, a me A.D. 1880, a me A.D. 1890, a me A.D. 1990” (“The Hawaiian generations of 1870 and 1880 and 1890 and 1990 will be wanting this”).



Young paper boys outside the office of Ke Aloha Aina, an important Hawaiian-language newspaper. Like many native newspapers in the late nineteenth century, Ke Aloha Aina engaged in vigorous debate about Hawaiian sovereignty and served as a repository for cultural knowledge that was being rapidly lost.
(Photo: Hawai'i State Archives)
The late nineteenth century was a time of cultural upheaval for Hawaiians. Some in the Islands, hoping to assure American dominance, considered “things Hawaiian” as impediments to progress. When King David Kalakaua conspicuously had hula performed at his 1883 coronation, for example, the coronation program listed the Hawaiian text of the chants accompanying the dance. The printer was subsequently arrested for publishing “obscene materials.” In 1896 those who had overthrown the Hawaiian monarchy passed a law mandating that all schools public and private use English as the medium of instruction. During the early part of the twentieth century, a desire to adapt to the economic and social demands brought about by the Americanization of the Islands continued the decline in the number of Hawaiian-language speakers so that by the mid-twentieth century, only a few thousand people could speak Hawaiian. In August 1948 Ka Hoku o Hawai‘i (The Star of Hawai‘i), a Hilo-based newspaper begun in 1906, printed its final issue, bringing to a close the more than onehundred- year continuous run of Hawaiianlanguage newspapers.


Taken together the Hawaiian-language newspapers comprise the largest collection of Hawaiian writing in existence: From 1834 to 1948 nearly one hundred individual papers were published; the approximately 125,000 densely printed broadsheets collected so far contain the equivalent of more than one million letter-size pages. Fortunately institutions like the Hawaiian Historical Society, Bishop Museum, the Hawai‘i State Archives and private families collected many early on. In the midtwentieth century Hawaiian scholar Mary Kawena Pukui did vital work to extract cultural information from the papers while Hawai‘i’s territorial librarian microfilmed part of the collection. Librarians and archivists collected, indexed and finished microfilming the papers in the late 1980s, which brought attention to this historical treasure.


A concurrent revival of interest in Hawaiian-language study created a demand for native language materials. Translating and distributing these nupepa (newspapers) is the aim of a passionate group of linguists, historians, students and laypeople, including the Ho‘olaupa‘i Hawaiianlanguage newspaper project. Started in 2001, Ho‘olaupa‘i has been scanning individual pages. Once scanned, the text is processed using a technology called Optical Character Recognition, which makes the text searchable. The digital text is then proofed by Hawaiian-language readers and uploaded to the Hawaiianlanguage repository Ulukau (wehewehe. org). The project’s Facebook page (www.!/Hoolaupai) offers visitors historical data and leads.


Much remains to be done. The project has uploaded approximately 75,000 of the 125,000 pages, and only about 10 percent has been made searchable; funding has been intermittent, and completion relies on the project’s ability to garner consistent financial support.


Today’s generation is eager to access this repository of narratives from a people speaking about their lives, land and lahui (nation) in their native tongue. Though not yet complete, the newspapers have already provided us with a more complex understanding of Hawai‘i’s past. Honored national figures are being rediscovered and long-dominant histories re-examined. The image that’s emerging is of a progressive nineteenth-century Hawai‘i, a nation filled with intellectuals, artists, statesmen and an engaged citizenry. We today are enjoying the fruits of the labors of the farsighted Joseph Kanepu‘u and others like him, receiving the wisdom of a people with one hundred generations of experience in these Islands.