Issue 8.3: June/July 2005

Indelible Ink

by Stu Dawrs

Kamaka Kanekoa's Mano is
among the artwork featured in
the latest issue of ‘Oiwi.

Back in 1861, J.H. Kanepuu published an editorial in the Hawaiian-language newspaper Ka Hoku O Ka Pakipika, in which he chastised editors of the day for trimming stories to save space. "If we cut short these stories," reads a portion of the translation, "how will the generations in 1870 and 1880 and 1890 and 1990 know the mana‘o and wisdom of the culture?"

Kanepuu was a man of vision. The Hawaiian papers flourished for more than a century, and helped to build what many modern scholars believe is one of the largest bodies of indigenous writing in the world. But by the early twentieth century, a variety of factors—among them the banning of Hawaiian language instruction in public schools—had caused virtually all of the papers to fold. (The last, Hilo’s Ka Hoku o Hawaii, held on until 1948.) Most were buried in archives, and many have only recently been rediscovered.

"When I first read Kanepuu’s article, I just cried," says Ku‘ualoha Ho‘omanawanui, an instructor specializing in Hawaiian literature at the University of Hawai‘i-Manoa. "He was talking about us—he was talking about preserving literature for those of us here today."

The idea of writing for future generations is one of the driving forces behind ‘Oiwi, a groundbreaking journal for which Ku‘ualoha serves as chief editor. Or, as she puts it, "We are trying to pick up on our literary genealogy and make it continuous, to bring it forward."

‘Oiwi does just that. In both concept and content, it is a true community project, with the only constraint being that contributors are limited to those of Hawaiian ancestry. There are chants and academic essays; poems and profiles of "notable Hawaiians"; artwork and interviews and excerpts from the early Hawaiian-language newspapers. Some of the eighty-two contributors write only in Hawaiian, others in English, others in Pidgin or a combination of all three. In short, the journal is a snapshot of what it means to be Hawaiian in the twenty-first century. Among other things, that picture shows a literary community that is not just surviving, but thriving.

‘Oiwi is available at bookstores throughout Hawai‘i or via the web.