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Puakea Nogelmeier holds his completed 495-page book, Hawaiian text he translated into English.
Hi‘iaka finds voice in English
Puakea Nogelmeier's translation of the tale was a 4-year journey
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Given the state of the newspaper industry, many consider it remarkable that Honolulu is still a two-newspaper town, but there was a time that many papers were published here -- and all in the Hawaiian language.
About 100 Hawaiian newspapers came and went over a period of more than a century, beginning in 1834 and continuing through the demise of Na Hoku on Hawaii in 1948, says Puakea Nogelmeier, professor of Hawaiian language at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Their business was not just news, Nogelmeier said, it was to preserve the culture.
"They were a center for dialogue in the broadest sense ... but they became a repository, an intentional repository, and that's really a critical difference (from English newspapers). It was done intentionally. It was done oft times with the statement, 'This is for those to come.'"
About 125,000 pages of those papers have been preserved, at full size, he said. Approximately 10 percent of their output -- covering everything from political commentary and world affairs to cultural information -- is available online as searchable text at www.nupepa.org.
Nogelmeier wanted to raise awareness of this vast cultural resource by making some small piece of it available in book form, in English. This led to his recently published book, "The Epic Tale of Hi'iakaikapoliopele."
The well-known story of Pele's younger sister, Hi'iaka, was first published in the weekly Hawaii Aloha, then in the daily Ka Na'i Aupuni, between July 1905 and November 1906.
It took four years to complete the translations, and the result is a hefty, 495-page book with color illustrations by Solomon Enos. It's an important resource which Nogelmeier says is already being used by many groups and individuals as a launching point for new projects in Hawaiian language, chant and dance.
But he says it is foremost a story, of romance and adventure. "The idea of opening this book is like opening the doors to a library," Nogelmeier said. "Just open the cover of the book and plunge in."
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Illustrator Solomon Enos used archival photos of 19th-century Hawaiians and modern shots of friends and family to create the faces of the six main characters in the the book. This scene shows the parting of Hi'iaka and Lohi'au.
The word "epic" barely does it justice. "Precedent-setting" is accurate, but there's much more to Puakea Nogelmeier's recently published book, "The Epic Tale of Hi'iakaikapoliopele," than that.
The story, originally published in two Hawaiian-language newspapers, is available in its full form for the first time in English, representing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Hawaiian literature and the Hawaiian-language press.
Translating the Hawaiian text into English was a four-year labor of love for Nogelmeier, a professor of Hawaiian language at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and a four-time Na Hoku Hanohano Award-winning lyricist.
His aim with the book was not just to chronicle the legend of Pele's sister, Hi'iaka, but to heighten public awareness of the significant cultural contribution of the Hawaiian-language newspapers in documenting the culture.
A $40 English version of the new book could be considered the entry-level edition. It is also available in Hawaiian, and two boxed sets are available -- the deluxe version going for $1,500 is already officially sold out.
Nogelmeier said he started with the story of Pele and Hi'iaka "because it's already so well known ... but it's well known from a very little keyhole of sources. There's 10 or 12 of these big tomes just on Hi'iaka published in Hawaiian, and none of them have ever come into English."
The ancient story tells of the mission imposed by the goddess Pele on her sister, Hi'iakaikapoliopele, to bring Pele's lover, Lohi'au, ruling chief of Kauai, to the Big Island. By story's end -- the English translation covers more than 400 pages -- it encompasses many a supernatural battle, along with themes of love, jealousy, betrayal and the importance of good manners and observing correct protocol.
"What everybody knows is mostly coming through the single English publication that came out in 1915 ... which was like a Reader's Digest version, sort of collapsing a number of different printed versions into one smaller English version," Nogelmeier said. "We wanted to make one of the original Hawaiian stories available."
Of the many versions published in Hawaiian newspapers, Nogelmeier chose the one credited to a writer known only as Ho'oulumahiehie. "It's about the biggest one that we could get all of." Some other versions are incomplete because individual issues of the newspapers can't be found. Others were never finished because the papers went out of business.
A core team of three -- Nogelmeier, Todd Sahoa Fukushima and Bryan Kamaoli Kuwada -- spent about four years translating the story. About 20 others read the text and provided feedback. The process included reading the entire book aloud several times in both languages, "Just to make sure that the flow, the accuracy, the connection between the Hawaiian and English -- that all of that was articulated."
Cultural references included as footnotes and in editorial notes, commentary and lists further explain the characters, animals, plants, winds, rains and chants.
Nogelmeier acknowledges that the first 70 pages can be a little hard to read; 11 pages consist of little more than a series of chants that give the names of various winds. "Once you hit the adventure, once you get Hi'iaka on the quest, it's a downhill roll. It goes fast, and I think it really keeps the audience running."
Christina Bacchilega, professor of English at UH-Manoa, describes it as a "wonder-filled story" that is an important link in a Hawaiian tradition of published literature. "I think it's wonderful that this particular text is out both in Hawaiian and English because there are so many Hawaiians who don't read olelo Hawaii."
Another English professor, Ku'ualoha Ho'omanawanui, published a dissertation last August on the Hi'iaka/Pele story as literary texts, Bacchilega said, further establishing its importance beyond a cultural resource.
At a recent Kamehameha Schools lecture, Nogelmeier explained the importance of the Hawaiian press and told a condensed version of the story. The audience was engaged from the beginning and remained so for the entire program. Nogelmeier was delighted by the response.
"I enjoy telling the story. I tell it in a very short form, but having that story back out and being spread around -- already there are wonderful ripples of response."
Nogelmeier demonstrated one of the "ripples" that night as he performed a hula song -- one of the 273 chants in the story to which he has added newly written music.
More ripples: At next month's Kamehameha Schools Song Competition and Ho'ike, the theme will be the revitalization of the Hawaiian language, and the story of Hi'iaka will be the topic. And although only the kumu hula and their halau know for sure, word is that some of the other chants in the book will be presented at the Merrie Monarch Festival, the annual hula competition in Hilo.
"It really speaks well for the need for resources," he said. "To facilitate, you gotta prime the pump, and you have to fuel the fire. You got to make the access to information better. ... You can't get deep Hawaiian culture on the Web. It just doesn't exist, so you have to produce some of the building blocks for that."
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Author and translator Puakea Nogelmeier, at far right, mingles with guests after his lecture about the book.
NOGELMEIER says that some members of the Hawaiian community have made it known that they feel that translating materials into English is a bad idea. "One point is that they can only be fully understood in Hawaiian, and, two, that people will learn Hawaiian to get at them. If you translate them, maybe people won't learn Hawaiian. I disagree on both points."
Providing access to the stories in English actually encourages readers to learn more Hawaiian, he said. "My motto is, 'Use the language as a bridge, not a wall!'"
Many of the translations made in the last 100 years are flawed, he added, so projects such as this one can improve upon the current body of work.
As for another argument -- that the "pearls" of Hawaiian culture should only be available to those fluent in the language -- Nogelmeier again responds directly.
"They were intended as building blocks, not as pearls," he said. "They're paving stones for a foundation. When (the writers) said, 'These are for those in the future,' they didn't say, 'These are in the future who speak Hawaiian.'"
"The Epic Tale of Hi'iakaikapoliopele" (Awaiaulu Press) is available at Native Books at Ward Warehouse. Order online: www.awaiaulu.org