He Hōʻiliʻili Hawaiʻi: A Brief History of Hawaiian Language Newspapers

30 April 2019

Ethnic Studies | History | Literature

This is a special guest blog by J. Hauʻoli Lorenzo-Elarco and includes temporary access to two historic Hawaiian language newspapers. Click to access Ka Nonanona and Hoiliili Havaii free for 35 days.


Prior to foreign arrival, ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian language) was a completely oral language. From the advent of the birth of the islands to our kūpuna (ancestors) who first called Hawaiʻi home, and from the volcanic deities’ love escapades to campaigns of warring chiefs staking claim over ʻāina (land), what we as Hawaiians know about ourselves and our collective histories was memorized and passed down from generation to generation via the spoken word. A formal writing system was created and literacy throughout Hawaiʻi peaked in the 19th century at over 90% of the population. Our kūpuna recognized these publications as a special repository that kept important ʻike (knowledge) safe; newspapers were bound as keepsakes for future generations.

Ka Nonanona, February 14, 1843. © The Newberry Library
Ka Nonanona, February 14, 1843. © The Newberry Library. Click the image to view the issue for free until June 8th 2019.

ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi publications of the 19th and early 20th century formed a space of cultural and political discourse. Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) and haole (foreigners) alike engaged with each other through publishing moʻolelo (histories and stories), documenting loina (traditions and practices), recording moʻokūʻauhau (genealogies), sharing personal manaʻo (thoughts and opinions), and of course, printing the daily nūhou (current events). Through these publications, we as Kānaka Maoli remain connected to, enlightened by, and continually engage with the past and those who painstakingly left this ʻike for us.   

Between 1834-1948, Hawaiʻi saw the publication of over 100 different Hawaiian language newspapers. Approximately 125,000 pages were published, equating to roughly 1.5 million pages of ‘ike if transferred to A4 typescript. With only about 2% of this cache available in English translations, Hawaiian publications are one of the largest repositories of indigenous language material. American Indian Newspapers, released last year, digitised several of these titles. Alemanaka Keristiano (The Christian Almanac), Haimanava (Chronology), Hoiliili Havaii (Hawaiian Collection), Ka Moolelo o ka Halawai Makahiki o ka Ahahui Euanelio Hawaii (Minutes from the Annual Meeting of the Hawaiian Evangelical Association), Ka Nonanona (The Ant), Na Helu Kalavina (The Protestant Numbers), and O Ka Hae Kiritiano (The Christian Flag) were among some of the earlier instances of Hawaiian intelligence, resilience, ingenuity, and adaptability to new printing technologies. Though the publications listed above, and their contents, were largely controlled by foreign missionary editors, many Kānaka Maoli assumed the roles of contributing authors, with some prolifically recording oral moʻolelo for the first time. Scholars of religious history in Hawaiʻi may find these prints particularly insightful, however, I elect here to highlight a few of these Kānaka Maoli authors and their important contributions.

Ka Nonanona was the third newspaper to be printed in the Hawaiian language. It was edited by Richard Armstrong (Limaikaika), the reverend of Kawaihaʻo Church, and focussed on spreading the word of God. Specific Hawaiian knowledge was included; a lengthy genealogy of Kamehameha (supreme chief who unified the archipelago under one rule), a timeline of important events including arrivals, births, and deaths in Hawaiian history, and even biographies of chiefs. One of the most important features took the form of a discourse between a Hawaiian of traditional values named Unauna and Samuel Kamakau – a well-known Hawaiian academic educated in the western style. They debated Hawaiian genealogies in the pages of Ka Nonanona, yet special note should be given to the beauty and mastery of the language as the two took poetic jabs at each other in what can be summarized as one of the first displays of written hoʻopaʻapaʻa, or, an intense contest of words. This piece of public debate and ridicule, especially Kamakau’s response on February 14, 1843, stands as an example of how Hawaiians skilfully adapted oral language to script.        

Hooiliili Havaii, January 1860. © The Newberry Library
Hooiliili Havaii, January 1860. © The Newberry Library. Click the image to view the issue for free until June 8th 2019.

I also wish to commend the author Kepelino, who was born of chiefly ancestry. He authored Hoiliili Havaii, a collection of ʻike. The publication from August 1858 records traditional knowledge including life in Hawaiʻi, Hawaiian deities, and cultural practices such as kapu (taboo), and ʻanāʻanā (divination). The remaining instalments provide an extended list of native bird names with detailed descriptions. One of the most interesting things about his writing is his use of the letters “t” and “v” in place of the normal “k” and “w”. This evidences slight dialect differences and changes in the language.

Hawaiian language periodicals continue to shed light on not only the content, but the content producers, demonstrating our long history of Hawaiian intellectualism. The physical papers also act as a conduit of ʻike that connects us to our past and allows us to communicate with our ancestors. Many of these papers are missing. The bound issues that remain are aging, brittle, fragile, stained, and some are torn and illegible. These are kept safe in vaults across the world. Through the development of new technologies, digitisation projects like American Indian Newspapers, and the desires and drive of many people, the writings of Hawaiian authors such as Unauna, Samuel Kamakau, and Kepelino continue to teach us about who we are and how we as Kānaka Maoli understand the world.   

Available now, American Indian Newspapers includes over one million articles published across 45 unique titles between 1828 and 2016. This resource has been developed with, and has only been made possible by, the permission and contribution of the newspaper publishers and Tribal Councils concerned. Free access will be offered to registered Tribal Colleges and Universities - contact us to find out more.

To learn more about this collection, watch a webinar here. For more information or enquiries, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

About the Author

J. Hauʻoli Lorenzo-Elarco

J. Hauʻoli Lorenzo-Elarco

Hauʻoli works at Honolulu Community College as the culture & place-based learning coordinator. He has a B.B.A degree in Business Administration and a B.A. degree in Hawaiian Language, and is currently pursuing a Master's degree in Hawaiian language at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. His research explores Hawaiian intellectual history by analyzing the literary histories and personal lives of Hawaiian language newspaper authors of the 19th and early 20th century with the intent of (re)introducing them and their important works that exemplify Hawaiian excellence to the broader community. Hauʻoli is from Waimea, Kohala, Hawaiʻi but currently resides in Waiʻalua, Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi.