HONOLULU (KHON2) – We all make use of our island roadways, but when was the last time you paid attention to their given names? 

Our weekly “Aloha Authentic” segment highlights various streets across the islands so we can dig into those names, and in turn, learn something new. 

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This week, we learn a bit of history on the Hawaiian language.

In the ahupuaʻa of Honouliuli, which lies in the moku of ʻEwa here on Oʻahu, stands a street named after the Hawaiian word for “to speak or converse.” 

We are talking about Walaʻau Pl.

Until the arrival of the Protestant missionaries in 1820, ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian language) was exclusively an oral language. 

The missionaries helped to transition Hawaiian to a written word. 

With the assistance of the printing press and printed material such as the Bible, Hawaiʻi became one of the most literate nations in the world. 

By the mid-1800s, during a time when most countries were pre-literate, Hawaiʻi’s literacy rate per capita jumped to 91%.

But after Queen Liliʻuokalani was illegally overthrown in 1893, the decline of ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi began, leading to near extinction.

In 1896, the newly formed Republic of Hawaiʻi passed a law that allowed English to displace Hawaiian in schools. 

They were threatened that if they continued to teach ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, they would not be acknowledged and funded.

Such mandates negatively impacted ʻŌlelo, leading to fewer than 50 fluent speakers under the age of 18 by the 1980s.

It was around that time, however, when more efforts were taken to reestablish Hawaiian. 

For example, in 1978, ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi became the official language of Hawaiʻi once again, and in 1984, the first Hawaiian immersion preschool opened.

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Since then, the number of Hawaiian language speakers and readers have significantly increased, leading to an estimated 18,000 according to a 2016 report published by the state of Hawaiʻi.

Did you know? Now you do!