Hale Pa’i

One hundred seventy-four years ago, Maui's first print shop published the first Hawaiian-language newspaper...and launched a small revolution.


It was launched on February 14, 1834. Ka Lama’s subject matter and circulation were Lahainaluna, but its aspirations were higher: to show how current events and opinions about them could be quickly and widely disseminated.

Hale Pa‘i printed twenty-five issues of Ka Lama that year, before other demands on the print shop necessitated the paper’s suspension. It reappeared in larger format in 1841, but only for two issues.

Despite its short life, Ka Lama achieved a seminal impact, says Nogelmeier, by introducing Hawaiians to the concept of newspapers.

“I think the interest in literacy was less about religion than the missionaries would like. Hawaiians embraced newspapers, but they didn’t embrace books. Books talk at you; newspapers talk with you. They allow for dialogue, for collective validation. The presence of newspapers [in nineteenth-century Hawai‘i] creates a sense of nation, of shared communication and dialogue, and Hale Pa‘i becomes the facilitating point. It’s where the missionaries trained the Hawaiians for the printing trade, so every other piece of the industry, of literacy, is fueled by Hale Pa‘i.

“Beginning in the late 1830s,” says Nogelmeier, “Hawaiian scholars like Samuel Kamakau begin making repeated requests for those who have knowledge to submit it in writing to the newspapers, ‘so this generation, and those to follow, will understand.’ This kicks off a giant discourse. In 114 years, Hawaiians generate 125,000 pages of newspapers—the equivalent of one million eight-and-a-half-by-eleven pages.

“Less than 1 percent has been translated into English. How does that affect what you know about Hawaiian history? This is where Hawaiians are talking to themselves, and no historian has bothered to look there.”

For now, that other 99 percent remains largely inaccessible. Over the course of more than a century, English almost entirely replaced the indigenous tongue, and native speakers died out. But if Nogelmeier and his colleagues have their way, the knowledge slumbering in those million pages will someday reawaken, and Hawaiians who have tried their best to reconstruct a decimated culture will once again have access to original source material. Since 2003, Nogelmeier has served as director of Awaiaulu, a nonprofit project that trains translators to interpret Hawaiian-language newspapers and other historical and cultural materials. He is also project scholar and advisor to Ho‘olaupa‘i, a collaborative effort led by the Bishop Museum’s Kau‘i Sai-Dudoit to digitize Hawaiian-language newspapers for the Internet.

It will take decades to translate that wealth of information; meanwhile, Nogelmeier sees hope in the generation of children who have been raised in Hawaiian-language immersion schools like Punana Leo. For them, voices long silent will speak much sooner—voices of a culture, preserved in the pages of newspapers that began here, at Hale Pa‘i.



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