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UH Mānoa releases free Hawaiian language resources to help enhance kūpuna care

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Two new free Hawaiian language resources have been compiled by University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa researchers. Photo Courtesy: University of Hawai‘i

Two new free Hawaiian language resources that aim to highlight the essence of Hawaiian wisdom for enriching kūpuna (elder) care have been compiled by University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa researchers.

The collections comprise a glossary of words and definitions, and ʻōlelo noʻeau (sayings) and nane (riddles) related to ancestors, elders and aging.

The collections were developed by Hā Kūpuna, the National Resource Center for Native Hawaiian Elders, a program of the Thompson School of Social Work & Public Health, with the assistance of Kumu Kapali Lyon who provided guidance on technical aspects of conducting ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi research.

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These resources were compiled as part of a bigger effort to explore the large repository of digitized Hawaiian language newspapers for Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) perspectives on elderhood. 

E Ola ā Kau ā Kanikoʻo is a glossary of words and terms that contain 231 selected definitions and includes an index that is divided into 33 themes. They include aging and stages of life, familial terms, gendered terms, hair color, physical strength and state and more. The ʻŌlelo Noʻeau collection, E Ola ā Kau Kō Kea, contains 109 sayings and riddles.

“It is our hope that these collections increase accessibility to Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) insights and perspectives pertaining to elders to facilitate responsible and thoughtful care for Kanaka Maoli elders today,” said Shelley Muneoka, Hā Kūpuna program coordinator. “These resources are bridges between generations, connecting the wisdom of the past with the responsibilities of the present.”

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The glossary collection is derived from the Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel Elbertʻs Hawaiian Dictionary (1986) and the 1865 dictionary created by Reverend Lorrin Andrews. The ʻŌlelo Noʻeau collection is derived from Mary Kawena Pukui’s ʻŌlelo Noʻeau (1997), Hawaiian Proverbs and Poetical Sayings by Henry P. Judd (1978) and Handy and Pukui’s The Polynesian Family System in Kaʻū (1998). 

Complexity of language

The need to develop these resources emerged during the team’s research. They discovered seemingly unflattering epithets had a deeper resonance in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, which reflect desirable qualities that mark longevity and often appear in prayers for long life. Examples include common phrases like kanikoʻo (the sound of a cane), palalauhala (skin soft and yellowed as a pandanus leaf) and haumakaʻiole (blurred eyes of a rat).

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Additionally, the researchers realized that the most commonly used word pertaining to elders, kupuna, has shifted in use over time. Originally, the word kūpuna applied specifically to elders with a familial relation to the speaker, whereas today it is used interchangeably to apply to any elderly person, even those who may not be related.

“This linguistic shift reflects the evolving tapestry of community relationships and the dynamic nature of ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi,” said Kepoʻo Keliʻipaʻakaua, Hā Kūpuna’s graduate assistant who took the lead on the glossary. 

These resources are free to download on the Hā Kūpuna website. A limited number of hard copies are also available. Contact Shelley Muneoka at [email protected].  

Hā Kūpuna is one of three National Resource Centers for Native Elders funded by the U.S. Administration on Aging, Department of Health and Human Services. 

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