In my heart of hearts, I'm a wannabe linguist. If I had to choose a super power, speaking all languages would be in my top three list (right up there next to being able to eat anything and still be skinny and flying). Growing up in Hawai'i, I heard people speaking different languages on a daily basis-Japanese, Mandarin, Samoan, Vietnamese, Tongan, Laotian, Ilocano, Tagalog, Korean. The one thing I didn't hear was 'olelo Hawai'i, my own native Hawaiian language. That means I wasn't raised speaking or understanding my native tongue. Something I have always regretted.
My grandparents on both sides spoke Hawaiian, but given the pressure to assimilate into the American culture and the desire for their children to thrive in Western society, the language was not passed onto my parent's generation. This resulted in what I consider a devastating blow to our people and culture, for the life of a culture lives on in the language. In one generation, the lifeblood of our people, the words which were spoken on a daily basis for hundreds of years, were virtually. . .gone, at least from general everyday usage.
Now this is the part of the story where I mention that I was attracted to Samoan boys growing up. What does one thing have to do with the other you may ask (as well you should)? Well, besides the fact that I like big, brown men, I just really dug the fact that they spoke their mother language! Yes, I know, I was raised with Filipinos and Chinese and their conversing in their native tongue didn't quite have the same effect on me, but that's not really important to this story, lol. It resonated with me that my Polynesian friends who were my age could speak and understand the language of their ancestors. As a Hawaiian, I both admired and envied their ability to do so.
I admired the fact that they had a connection with any other Samoan person they came across, that they would address one another as 'uso' (brother/sister) upon meeting for the first time. Along with the language were embedded cultural nuances that just didn't translate into English, things that you would only get if you were Samoan or spoke the language or raised in the culture. And what I loved was that this carried on whether they were in Samoa or California or Hawai'i. As a native person in my own land, I felt disconnected from my culture growing up and thirsty for the knowledge of my people. It was a desire that would lead me to explore my own cultural identity in college and grad school, studying Hawaiian history, culture, language and law. My Hawaiian language skills remain poor and I will never be a native speaker, but I'm thrilled to see the increase of interest and work to preserve and expand our culture, particularly with the growth of native language speakers amongst our little ones in Hawaiian immersion schools (E ola mau ka 'olelo Hawai'i!!!).
So it is no surprise that I eventually ended up marrying a Samoan boy and yes he speaks Samoan and yes I think its incredibly sexy and oh so HOT! I love the fact that he only speaks to his parents in their language (I know this because they live with us, lol) and that even though he's been in Hawai'i since he was five years old and by all other accounts, a 'local boy', he still dreams in Samoan. When he first started this practice during our early married life, I would shake him awake and ask him, "What are you saying?!?". I guess you can take the boy out of Samoa. . .
I'm passionately writing this blog after my 100th exhortation to my husband to speak to my son in Samoan. Hello! He lives in a house with his Samoan-speaking grandparents and father! "Don't let HIS be the generation where the language comes to a halt", I say to Hubby. This results in a minute or two of, "sau loa" and "fia 'ai" and I'm like, "even I know those, speak to him like you do to mom and dad!". Alas, the battle continues on the home front for both myself as a Hawaiian to learn and speak more and for Hubby to pass on the precious language of his ancestors (to his son AND to me).
For all those who speak or understand your native tongue, don't take it for granted and don't miss the opportunity to pass it on to your children. For those, like myself, who will never be native speakers, we have the rest of our lives to do something about it-take a language class, learn from our elders, practice with friends, take hula, do something today. Do it for yourself, for your ancestors, for our future generations and if for nothing else, because I think its just freakin' HOT!
I ka ‘ōlelo no ke ola, i ka ‘ōlelo nō ka make.
In the language is life. In the language is death.
[Words can heal; words can destroy. A contemporary translation for this proverb is, in the Hawaiian language we find the life of our race, without it (the Hawaiian language) we shall perish.]