Native Intelligence: O‘ahu

Restart the Presses

Story by James Charisma.

Hau‘oli Elarco was a Hawaiian language and business management student at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa in 2012 when a supervisor gave him a book, Na Mele Welo: Songs of Our Heritage. It’s a collection of chants that Elarco discovered cost hundreds of dollars online because it
was out of print. “Most publishers in Hawai‘i only do a onetime print of a thou-sand or so books,” says Elarco. “Once they’re sold out, many of them never come back into print.”

When Elarco began working with Maile Meyer, owner of bookstore and Hawaiian cultural center Nā Mea Hawai‘i, he curated the “Queen’s Library,” a collection of rare and out-of-print materials in Nā Mea’s used books section. Elarco and Meyer began researching on-demand printing as an affordable way to reissue these books. Their goal was to produce a “short stack” of titles. “We didn’t need a thousand books,” says Meyer. “Just a few dozen or a hundred as needed.”

Publishers often own the rights to the form in which a book is published but not the content itself, so Elarco and Meyer negotiated directly with the authors. Many, like Jerry Walker, were thrilled. Walker had co-authored Kamehameha’s Children Today, the first genealogy to thoroughly trace the descendants of Kamehameha I and his court through modern times. It sold out as soon as it debuted in 2000. Elarco used Walker’s original files to create a new layout from scratch. It was a massive undertaking fueled by Elarco’s passion, but it was also strategic: Kamehameha’s Children Today topped Nā Mea’s list of the most wanted out-of-print materials. “By printing this book first, we were making a statement about what Short Stack could do,” says Elarco. “In the Hawaiian mindset, knowing where you come from lets you know where you’re going.”

After that success, Nā Mea republished From Then to Now: A Manual for Doing Things Hawaiian Style. Next came Nā Wāhine Kapu: Divine Hawaiian Women followed by Lei Momi o ‘Ewa. King Kalākaua’s 1889 Kumulipo came out last spring (accompanied by Queen Lili‘uokalani’s English translation). Nā Mea’s Short Stack reissues are giving old books a second life, but “no one’s getting rich off this,” laughs Meyer. “Our goal is simply not to lose money. Short Stack presents a great way to get knowledge to the community in an affordable way.”