A Brief Guide to Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) Poetry

Year

2004
Printer-friendly version
"Hawaiians for centuries were master orators and chanters, articulate historians, prolific songwriters, and eloquent storytellers. . . . But the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, the banning of the Hawaiian language from all public schools, the systematic disenfranchisement of Hawaiians from our land, and the decimation of the Hawaiian population through foreign disease nearly put an end to the Hawaiian people and culture. ‘Ōiwi: A Native Hawaiian Journal is dedicated to the mana'o (thoughts) and hana no'eau (works) of Hawaiians, a historical landmark in the revival of the rich and ancient literary heritage of na 'oiwi o Hawai‘i nei - the native people of Hawai‘i.”
—Mission statement, ‘Ōiwi: A Native Hawaiian Journal
 

As the cross-cultural crossroads of the Pacific, Hawaii has experienced a thriving literary renaissance since the 1970s when poets and writers began challenging the complex issues of representation and language that have surrounded literary expression in Hawaii. As the mission statement of ‘Ōiwi makes clear, the status of the Hawaiian language and culture has not always been secure, much less celebrated as authentic and beautiful.

"Kanaka Maoli" is a term that native Hawaiians use to refer to themselves and their culture. It has become associated with poets who attempt to honor the use of native Hawaiian language in their work, either exclusively or as a rich hybrid of vernacular, pidgin, and native words.

In 1978, poets Darrell Lum and Eric Chock founded Bamboo Ridge Press to publish literature by and about Hawaii's people. It currently publishes two volumes a year: a literary journal of poetry and fiction featuring work by both emerging and established writers, and a book by a single author or an anthology focused on a special theme. In addition to Bamboo Ridge and 'Oiwi, other literary magazines that have emerged are Tinfish, a journal of experimental poetry with an emphasis on work from the Pacific region, and Hybolics, co-edited by Normie Salvador, Lee A. Tonouchi, and Carrie Y. Takahata. Tonouchi proclaims himself as "da notorious 'Pidgin Guerrilla,' one guy dedicated to promoting da powah of Pidgin as one legitimate language and as one literature."

In 1998, the first Hawai‘i Fall Celebration of Island Writing was held at the University of Hawaii, Mānoa, with subsequent festivals in 1999, 2000, and 2002. Organized by local writers and faculty at UH-Mānoa, including Susan Schultz, Robert Shapard, Juliana Spahr, and John Zuern, the festival has produced Try Listen, an audio archive of its participants, including poets such as Ku`ualoha Meyer Ho`omanawanui, Vilsoni Hereniko, Eric Gamalinda, Kathy Dee Kaleokealoha Kaloloahilani Banggo, and Albert Wendt, among many others.