UH Hilo digitizing 40-year-old ʻōlelo radio show; public can “listen to another time”

Larry Kimura and colleagues at UH Hilo are working on a project Kimura considers one of his greatest achievements to date— online access to recordings from his 1970s radio show, Ka Leo Hawaiʻi, featuring Native Hawaiian speakers.

By Lara Hughes.

Larry Kimura with students in the language lab.
(l-r) Myoung-Ja Hwa, Justin Kalanialiʻi Stoleson, and Larry Kimura are part of a group of scholars digitizing Kimura’s 1970s radio show Ka Leo Hawai’i for online listening. Click photos to enlarge.

A radio project that has roots dating back to the 1960s and the beginning of the Hawaiian Renaissance is making its way to the public thanks to Larry Kimura, the internationally renowned “grandfather” of Hawaiian language revitalization. Kimura is now an associate professor of Hawaiian language and Hawaiian studies at Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani, the College of Hawaiian Language at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo. But his life’s work can be traced back to the conception of the foundational educational programs that launched the rebirth of the Hawaiian language 50 years ago.

A close up of the reels archived on the shelves.
The old 7-inch reels of the Ka Leo Hawaiʻi radio show are shown here archived in a temperature-controlled room inside the library at Haleʻōlelo, the College of Hawaiian Language. 417 shows are being transformed into digital files for online listening.

Kimura and colleagues are currently working on a project Kimura considers one of his greatest achievements to date— online access to recordings from his radio show, Ka Leo Hawaiʻi, that featured Native Hawaiian speakers. The program started in 1972 and continued for 16 years of broadcasts. The digitized recordings are being uploaded to Ulukau, an electronic library hosted by the Hilo Hawaiian language college that offers the public free access to books, newspapers, genealogies and a variety of other Hawaiian language media.

Cassette recordings of some Ka Leo Hawaiʻi programs have been available at UH libraries but this is the first time since their original broadcasting that episodes will be digitally available for online listening.

An important contributor to the project is the Center for Language and Technology at UH Mānoa. “The center’s director, Julio Rodriques, was gracious in sharing their digital files of the Ka Leo Hawaiʻi archive for the online Ulukau project,” says Kimura.

Myoung-Ja Hwa
Myoung-Ja Hwa holds a back-up reel of the Ka Leo Hawaiʻi radio show.

The ʻohana (family) of helpers working on the project includes Myoung-Ja Hwa, who received her master of arts in Hawaiian language and literature from UH Hilo in 2014, and Katherine “Loke” Roseguo, among others.

Recently, Simon “Kaliko” Trapp, a lecturer at the college, and Justin Kalanialiʻi Stoleson, a Hawaiian language student, also have helped contribute to the endeavor.

Stoleson, a junior majoring in Hawaiian language, hails from Waimea. He grew up in Florida but came to Hawaiʻi to reconnect with his Native Hawaiian roots. He is a student worker with the College of Hawaiian Language and helped evaluate the recordings for quality in the spring and summer of 2015.

“In the course of working with these files I was able to hear so much of the voices of the kūpuna mānaleo, the native speakers,” he says. “It helped me become more proficient in Hawaiian than I would have been otherwise. It’s a really wonderful project and such a valuable resource.”

Justin Kalanialiʻi Stoleson at computer with headphones on.
Hawaiian language student Justin Kalanialiʻi Stoleson works on converting old 7-inch reels of the Ka Leo Hawaii radio shows into digital files to be uploaded to the Ulukau website for public access.

Ka Leo Hawaiʻi

“One of my interests back in the 1960’s was to record Hawaiʻi’s rapidly disappearing Native Hawaiian speakers,” says Kimura.

While teaching at UH Mānoa, Kimura, encouraged by the interest of his students, was moved to produce and record a radio program named Ka Leo Hawaiʻi or The Hawaiian Voice. The program aired on Oʻahu on KCCN-AM from 1972 until 1988.

A grant from the Ford Foundation is helping to support the digital project through to completion. Kimura is estimating a launch date of the first few files at the end of May. The Ulukau website will eventually showcase an audio library of 417 recordings from the Ka Leo Hawaiʻi broadcasts.

Hwa, a past student of Kimura’s, returned from Japan in February of this year as a research specialist to assist him with the operation. She is currently working on transcribing the recordings. Hwa was among the first student workers to help with the project back in 2007 and is excited to see its conclusion.

Momi is a precious thing, because pearl in Hawaiian is momi,” says Hwa. “Ka Leo Hawaiʻi is certainly a momi for us. If you listen to Ka Leo Hawaiʻi you can go back and listen to another time.”

Ka Leo Hawaiʻi documents some of Hawaiʻi’s last fluent Native Hawaiian speakers who descended from an unbroken heritage of Hawaiian language as it was traditionally passed down from one generation to the next. According to research, there are less than 40 such native speakers residing outside of Niʻihau today.

“The KLH Collection of 550 plus hours, I believe, is the largest audio archive highlighting the Hawaiian language,” Kimura explains.

Public access through Ulukau

Ulukau logo with the word Ulukau.
Click logo to learn about the creation of the Ulukau website.

The Ulukau website’s main purpose is to provide a resource for the advancement of the Hawaiian language and cultural learning.

Kimura believes that a person’s deep connection to their native language brings about a sense of well-being. “The well-being of an indigenous people in their homeland can only be beneficial,” he says.

He also believes that the local and global community have a lot to gain from native languages and cultures.

The radio show will be a perfect addition to Ulukau, which features many different Hawaiian language dictionaries, easy for look-ups while listening to the recordings. A keyword search also will be available, allowing users to jump to specified sections of audio for streamlined listening.

Kimura says the Ulukau website is “another crucial resource that has yet to be used to its fullest potential.”

He feels that making the recordings available to others is the first step in their use for Hawaiian language and cultural revitalization, as well as providing possible insights for the fields of linguistics, anthropology, history and others.

Kimura is grateful for the sixteen years he spent working on the Ka Leo Hawaiʻi radio program.

“For many listeners, these voices of Ka Leo Hawaiʻi are pilikana, or family, who openly share in the spirit of aloha, valuable knowledge and lessons in the Hawaiian language so that we as mamo, descendants, can carry on the language and bind to a Hawaiian way of life,” he says.

About the author of this story: Lara Hughes (junior, business administration) is a public information intern in the Office of the Chancellor.

About the photographer: Claudia Hagan (part-time, marketing and digital photography) is as photographer for the Office of the Chancellor.

-UH Hilo Stories

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