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Clip from E Ola Ka Olelo Hawaii
produced by Aha Punana Leo
directed by Na Maka o ka Aina
NARRATOR: What had happened to our mother tongue?
Up until the turn of the last century it had been a strong and flourishing language. When missionaries came and the language began to be written down, there developed a vast written literature.
Over a hundred Hawaiian language newspapers were established. They printed both stories of these islands and those of other lands.
Complete school curricula were taught in Hawaiian, in subjects from geography to mathematics.
Hawaii in the mid-1800's had one of the highest literacy rates in the world.
What had happened to our mother tongue?
A law was enacted in 1896 by a mostly American group of businessmen who had overthrown our Kingdom three years earlier and set themselves up as the Republic of Hawaii.
The law stated: The English language shall be the medium and basis of instruction in all public and private schools.
With that sentence, all Hawaiian language schools were closed and the culture was dealt a severe blow.
JOE MAKAI: Lots of foreigners come and say to us "Too bad you folks cannot keep your language." Then we tell them "Because it was forbidden." We were not allowed to speak Hawaiian in school. Only English.
ELIZABETH KAUAHIPAULA: When I was young, we couldn't speak Hawaiian in school. It was forbidden. If you even said one word, you were punished. And if you did it again, you had to open that hand and get whacked.
LARRY KIMURA: We wanted the Hawaiian language to be returned to the home. But how would we start this big idea? By establishing a children's school where they would only hear Hawaiian. And so that's how the Punana Leo began.
NARRATOR: In 1987, the Hawaiian language was once again brought into public schools with the opening of the first immersion classes at the elementary school level. Now there are 23 Punana Leo and immersion schools. And many more communities are planning to open new schools.
KAUANOE KAMANA: It amounts to over a thousand students that are presently being taught in Hawaiian.
LARRY KIMURA: The work is not finished. It's only just begun. It's been eleven years now and it's only just begun.