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What Is Hawaiian Literature

As Told from a Non-local Girl

What is Hawaiian Literature? Being someone who has very little background on the topic, I entered my Hawaiian literature class with little to no knowledge on the topic. I didn't even know the English class I had enrolled in was for Hawaiian lit. But curious to learn, I thought about what constitutes as literature. The dictionary defines literature as “written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit.” But in the beginning, Hawaiian literature is mostly verbal stories. The stories tell a history of the land, the people, and the culture. Stories are an important part of the culture. Highly educated writer Thomas King discusses the importance and intimacy of a story, and how once you hear a story it becomes yours to tell. The way you tell it will never be the same as how you heard it before. Sometimes the details will changed or be seen differently. However with Hawaiian literature, they tell their stories with the same details as the person before them. It's a part of their culture and history. They started their literature off orally, which is why it is so important that the facts stay the same way, to preserve their history. Later when the missionaries came, written Hawaiian literature started to become more prevalent. They had many newspapers that were made to teach the Hawaiian people of stories. But what is the importance of Hawaiian literature, and who has the authority to create Hawaiian literature, or deem it to be proper and authentic Hawaiian literature?

Ku‘ualoha ho‘omanawanui discusses what Hawaiian literature is about, why it’s important to study, and how its developed. There are many ways the missionaries and people from other countries try and change or oppress the language and the culture. Hawaiian stories that become translated into English lose some of their meaning or the story becomes altered in a way. Things get lost in translation and every translation of a story is different depending on the translator. For example in class we discussed how in the Grimm version of the fairy tale story Cinderella, in the very end of the story Cinderella forgives her nasty step sisters and gave them to well off men to be their lover. However in the Hawaiian version of the story Cinderella was not so forgiving and did not want anything to do with the step sisters who treated her so poorly. This shows that depending on the person depicting a story it’ll always differ from the original story. Just as Thomas King had mentioned previously in his article "The Truth About Stories," once you hear a story it’s yours to tell. “Stories are a wonderous thing. And they are dangerous” (King pg.9). So with translation they can be great for helping people understand and relate to a story, but can also upset others for not being how the translation should look in someone else's perspective.

Ku‘ualoha ho‘omanawanui discusses how Hawaiian literature is important and what counts as actual Hawaiian lit.


Lui, Jennifer. “Literature in Hawaii: Who Gets to Write It?” University of Hawaii at West Oahu, 2008, pp. 41–43.

King, Thomas. The Truth About Stories: a Native Narrative. House of Anansi Press, 2011.

Ku‘ualoha, Ku‘ualoha. “He Ahu Mo‘Olelo: E Ho‘Okahua i Ka Paepae Mo‘Olelo Palapala Hawai‘i .” University of Hawaii at Manoa, University of Hawaii Press, 2017, pp. 51–100.

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