The Hawaiian language is poetic and expressive with a vocabulary of some 25,000 words. Before the arrival of the “white” man, communication in Hawai’i consisted of the spoken word either through talking, singing, or chanting.
The Hawaiian Alphabet
The Hawaiian alphabet, as identified and put in writing by the early missionaries, consists of five vowels and seven consonants plus thehamzah or glottal stop (‘okina or ‘u’ina) which is usually typed as an apostrophe or a single initial quotation mark. The macron (kahako or mekona), a straight, horizontal line over certain vowels denotes the proper pronunciation and meaning of the words. Placed over a vowel, it causes the sound to be lengthened or stressed. This changes the meaning of the word as well as its pronunciation. A word is misspelled if either the ‘u’ina or kahako are omitted. (We apologize for any inconsistencies or missing ‘okinas or kahakos in this publication.)
Hawaiian as a World Language
The Hawaiian language is rich in words describing nature and family relationships. The Puku’i-Elbert English-Hawaiian gives, for example, 63 entries of Hawaiian words for the word palapala (document), for aha’aina (feast) 23 entrees, hale (house) 133 and for ua (rain) 64 entries. A prominent linguist has suggested that Hawaiian would be preferable to Esperanto or English as a world language because of its simple sound system, simple grammar, yet rich vocabulary.
Without a written language, messages sent by the chiefs were carried by swift runners along the trails between villages and districts, and by canoe to the other islands. The messages were carried orally or sometimes by means of symbolic objects, and these couriers of ancient times traveled with great speed.
The women also had their means of sending messages by pounding the tapa using wooden mallets on a log. These messages could carry a distance of several miles, or even around the island by relay.
The sounds of the temple drum informed the listeners about temple activities. Different sound effects, thus different messages, were produced according to the manner in which the drum was struck with the hands. The arrival of visitors, whether coming over land or sea, was heralded by the blowing of the conch shell.