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A Renewed Commitment to the Hawaiian Language

Thursday, December 30, 2010

I will be a more dedicated student of the Hawaiian language.

Here’s the scoop:

With 2010 drawing to a close, it seems everyone I know is talking about their New Year’s Resolutions.

I’ve heard more people than I can count tell me that they are going to be more committed to their physical health–watching their diet, joining a gym, etc. I have really tried to avoid conversations about what I wanted to do in 2011.

The truth is: I hate New Year’s Resolutions.


Because most of the time we start out strong and then the enthusiasm fades. And then we let them go. It’s an easy opportunity to set myself up for failure. And, truth be told, that’s usually how I feel about mid-February when my “GO GET ‘EM” attitude has given up.


With everyone so focused on it and talking about it, I couldn’t help but think about what I would want to change in 2011.

And the answer that continued to come up is that I want to be stronger in my Hawaiian language skills.

We are so lucky to have Kumu Manuwai Peters here in NYC at the moment. (You can read an article about him from the New York Times by clicking HERE) He’s here in the Big Apple as a graduate student of Columbia University getting another Master’s degree and he’s generously offered Hawaiian language classes to those of us who are interested. I’ve been especially blessed to work as his kōkua–his assistant–for these classes.

We met a while ago when he was still teaching on Molokai and let me tell you: he’s incredibly gifted as both a teacher and as a Hawaiian speaker. He studied Hawaiian as a college student–it wasn’t his first language. That helps him to understand the challenges that students like me face–those of us coming to Hawaiian as adults. He’s a true “man of letters”, understanding both the more modern “university-style” Hawaiian that’s being taught today as well as the poetic “old-school-style” Hawaiian that was spoken by the Hawaiian elders. It’s a joy to learn the HOWs and WHYs of the language and phrases from him. He’s a shining example of how the language is LIVING and THRIVING today.

And he is scheduled to complete his studies at Columbia University this year.

Auē! That means we could lose him as a resident teacher in NYC soon!


The last time I was back on Molokai, I had a long talk with Pops about what I really needed to concentrate on when it came to my Hawaiian studies. Pops isn’t a man who likes to give too many answers. He’s great at helping the student find the answer himself. While we talked, I thought about all of the things I needed to understand better.

And every one of them circled back to one thing.

Finally I said, “That’s it, Pops. I know what I need more than anything else–I need to have a deep understanding of the Hawaiian language. That’s where all of the answers lie. That’s the key to understanding all things Hawaiian.”

His eyes grew moist and he smiled at me and nodded.

That was all the confirmation I needed.

The language continued to be a HUGE part of the rest of my time there in November. We spoke it exclusively some days. (Or HE spoke it exclusively, I should say! On those days that meant that I needed to listen more and talk less!)

With Kumu Manuwai here for a little while longer and with the encouragement of Pops, I’m renewing my commitment to the Hawaiian language. It will be the key to unlocking the mysteries.

The more I study, the more I fall in love with it. And from a singer’s point of view, it’s made all the difference in the world. When I first fell in love with Hawaiian music, I was adept at “parroting” the sounds I’d heard on recordings. As I began my language studies, I learned the meanings of the words. Now, as my studies grow deeper, I’m beginning to understand the THOUGHTS BEHIND THE WORDS. It’s truly a multi-layered discipline. And instead of growing tired, I’m inspired to GROW more and more every day.

We’re on a short hiatus here in NYC with the language classes at the moment–a “winter break” of sorts. So it’s time for me to dig out the texts, again, and figure out where I still have pukas (holes) in my understanding. It’s time for me to make sure I have the basic building blocks in place so that I can grow in the language.

So I guess I’m joining the masses and declaring my New Year’s Resolution. I’m also joining a movement to keep a language alive and thriving.

What are YOUR New Year’s Resolutions?

5 Responses to “A Renewed Commitment to the Hawaiian Language”

  1. Kanani says:

    Bravo, Jason! Youʻre the kind of person (still young, with many years ahead!) who should be mastering this beautiful language. But my feelings are the same … the more I learn, the more entranced I am with it. Although there are more holes in my understanding than knowledge, I shall persevere, even in my “advanced” years. LOL

    My love and interest in this language also came from nā mele. I wanted to understand what I was singing. Weʻre so fortunate to find a few good kumu who guide us, and also a few wonderfully generous native speakers to kōkua.


  2. Stephanie says:

    1. I love that you are keeping a language alive and thriving. Keep up the good, important work!!!
    2. I also love how you framed your resolution as a “renewed commitment.” Thinking of it this way really resonates with me, and I hereby declare (and answer your question) to renew my commitment to a daily meditation practice :)
    Keep inspiring us, cuz!
    Steph ;)

  3. Jason Poole says:

    @ Kanani: It’s an honor to study it, for sure! And when I sit down and open my language books, I’ll remember that I’m sitting with you and all of the other Hawaiian language students out there. Mahalo for sharing about your studies, too!

  4. Jason Poole says:

    @ Stephanie: I get really nervous when I hear “resolutions.” I’m glad you like the “renewed commitment” phrase, too! And I LOVE that you’re renewing your commitment to a daily practice! Peace begins with the individual! Right on!

  5. [...] A Renewed Commitment to the Hawaiian Language (You can read an article about him from the New York Times by clicking HERE) He's here in the Big Apple as a graduate student of Columbia University getting another Master's degree and he's generously offered Hawaiian language classes . [...]