Hiapo Perreira to receive first MA at UH Hilo; field of study also first in the nation

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Date: Monday, May 6, 2002
Contact: Dr. Kalena Silva (808) 974-7342

For Immediate Release

Hiapo Perreira 1st Master of Arts graduate for UH Hilo

Hiapo Perreira will become the first student to receive a Master of Arts from the University of Hawai`i at Hilo at the Spring Commencement ceremony on May 18, 2002. Perreira is the first candidate for graduation from the Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani College of Hawaiian Language eligible for an MA degree in Hawaiian Language and Literature. This accomplishment also makes him the first student in the nation to receive an MA degree in a Hawaiian studies field or in any Native American language.

"I have dedicated my life to the preservation and revitalization of the Hawaiian language and culture," said Perreira. "My interests stem from early high school days when I would seek out kupuna to strengthen my knowledge of Hawaiian language values."

Perreira graduated from Kamehameha Schools in 1992 and continued on to receive a Bachelor of Arts in Hawaiian Studies from UH Hilo in 1996. In addition to his full-time course load, he also worked full-time throughout his college and graduate years. His jobs ranged from program director and curriculum developer to lecturer and graduate assistant for such Hawaiian development programs as: `Aha Punana Leo; Hale Kuamo`o Hawaiian Language Center; and Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani College of Hawaiian Language.

After receiving his BA from UH Hilo, Perreira pursued the Kahuawaiola Teaching license in Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani College of Hawaiian Language. He wanted to continue studying Hawaiian literature and culture but at that time the MA program was still in development. Perreira helped to bring the MA program to life. When the program was established, he became part of the first cohort.

"The entire program was outstanding," Perreira said. "It was a great learning opportunity because my cohort was at the tip of the spear, because what we were doing had never been done before.

"The worst part of the program was working two jobs while going to school full-time. I would have liked to have had more time for research."

The MA in Hawaiian Language and Literature program requires that the student travel to a foreign country to study the history, legal and social status of a minority language in that country. Perreira and his cohort traveled to Europe to study the status of the Catalan and Basque languages in northern Spain. The group met with Spanish government officials, education administration, and teachers at a K-12 school and at a university. The cohort also visited the Basque Culture Center, where the Basque language is being researched and the lexicon department is studying the language in order to create new words for the language.

"I was really interested in the research that was going on at the culture center because I have been involved with the same type of research with the Hawaiian language," Perreira said. "Creating new words in the Hawaiian language allows teachers in immersion schools to speak completely in Hawaiian, even when teaching subjects such as mathematics."

Perreira's master's thesis is a cultural analysis of the ancient Hawaiian literary epic about the mystical hero, Kawelo, serialized in a Hawaiian language newspaper in 1905-1906.

"I wanted to look at what makes Hawaiian culture Hawaiian, versus a universal practice," he noted. "For example, the word 'aloha' is used universally but is considered Hawaiian. I think it is important to know what it is that makes the meaning and use of the word Hawaiian."

Perreira's thesis is 438 pages long and is written entirely in Hawaiian. "It was important for me to write my thesis in Hawaiian to show that scholarly work can be done in Hawaiian," he said.

After graduation, Perreira plans to continue teaching. He would also like to help bring a PhD program to UH Hilo so he can continue his studies. The spring commencement ceremony begins at 9 a.m. in the UH Hilo New Gym. UH President Evan Dobelle will provide the keynote address. For more information about the MA in Hawaiian Language and Literature program, please contact Dr. Kalena Silva at (808) 974-7342.

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