UH Hilo and UH Mānoa Hawaiian language programs receive grant from Ford Foundation

The $190,000 grant will fund three projects designed to advance Hawaiian language revitalization.

Group of 13 standing. Roberta Uno has a lei on; to her right is Keiki, director of the college, and to her left is Larry Kimura.
Roberta Uno (center with lei), Ford Foundation senior program officer, stands with faculty and students at Ka Haka ʻUla O Ke‘elikōlani College of Hawaiian Language at UH Hilo. To the left of Uno is Keiki Kawai‘ae‘a, and to the right is Larry Kimura.

The Ford Foundation has awarded $190,000 to the University of Hawai‘i Foundation to support the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo’s Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani College of Hawaiian Language and two other significant language projects.

The Ford Foundation generally does not support language programs, but they made a one-time opportunity grant, citing that UH Hilo’s language college is renowned for its language revitalization success at a time when indigenous languages are dying world-wide.  The college’s mission is to seek the revitalization of the Hawaiian language and culture and to aid other indigenous peoples who wish to revitalize their own endangered languages and cultures.

“While the college’s efforts have helped lead to the reestablishment of Hawaiian as a living language, the flourishing of Hawaiian arts forms, and an increase in cultural identity and pride, much more needs to be accomplished to increase the number of language and culture bearers for the 21st century,” says Roberta Uno, senior program officer for arts and culture at the Ford Foundation. “This grant recognizes best practice that can be helpful to others involved with language and culture revitalization.”

The grant will fund the editing of over 550 hours of audio recordings of Hawai‘i’s last fluent native Hawaiian speakers, collected over a sixteen-year period from 1972 to 1988 by Larry Kimura, associate professor of Hawaiian language and Hawaiian studies at UH Hilo. Kimura is considered the grandfather of the Hawaiian language revitalization movement in Hawai‘i and wants to develop a digital library of Native Hawaiian audio speech behavior samples to promote native-like language acquisition for Hawaiian second-language learners.

“The editing process renders a more pragmatic electronic library of audio selections regarding Hawaiian cultural knowledge on a wide range of subjects and a rich register of traditional Hawaiian first language behavior relevant to Hawaiian language and culture classes taught through the medium of Hawaiian,” he says. “The utilization of this invaluable audio documentation of Hawaiian voices reconnects and rejuvenates new fluent Hawaiian speakers to a higher level of Hawaiian language ability. With the regeneration of strong speakers of Hawaiian, a more vibrant Hawai‘i prospers rooted in its own unique language and way of life.”

Also receiving part of the grant is Mauiakama, a project of Kapā Oliveira of Kawaihuelani Center for Hawaiian Language at UH Mānoa, and Kahele Dukelow and Kaleikoa Kaʻeo of UH Maui College, to increase participants’ Hawaiian language proficiency and engagement by exposing them to traditional Hawaiian sustainability practices via hands-on place-based fishing, farming, and food preparation, engaging them in conversations with native speakers of Hawaiian, and teaching key Hawaiian studies concepts and the significance of Hawaiian Cultural sites throughout the island of Maui.

In addition, funding also goes to Niuolahiki, a collaborative UH Hilo project with ʻAlika McNicoll of ʻAha Pūnana Leo, that is creating content for 40 e-books in addition to designing and producing printed books for participating Ka Haka ʻUla students. The Niuolahiki program extends its culturally-rooted language program throughout the world via distance learning. Students of the program reside throughout Hawai‘i and the U.S. continent as well as South America, Europe and Asia.

“We are grateful to Roberta and the Ford Foundation for the opportunity to bring together significant work of three important colleagues in Hawai‘i,” says Keiki Kawai‘ae‘a, director of UH Hilo’s Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani college. “Saving languages is part of our knowledge pool. Language contains the way we see the world knowledge that has been created by that specific group, knowledge that is unique to any other place in the world. It connects us to our identity of who we are and where we come from.  Lose the language and you lose the culture, the knowledge pool, and that way of seeing and being in the world.”

-From a media release