Magazine article New Internationalist

Interview with Haunani-Kay Trask

Magazine article New Internationalist

Interview with Haunani-Kay Trask

Article excerpt

My mum was a native speaker but by the time she went to school the language had already been'banned. She had one of those terrible experiences where you speak English at school but Hawaiian at home. You know they had little rulers that rapped on the children's knuckles if they spoke Hawaiian and after a certain amount of time of course they didn't. By the time she left the island where she was born and raised for Oahu, where Honolulu is, she had lost the facility completely.

So in your household you all spoke English?

We only spoke English and in fact I never heard Hawaiian until it was officially made one of the two languages of the state of Hawai'i and they started teaching it to young children in immersion schools - something we learned, by the way, from the Maori [in New Zealand/Aotearoa]. And now all my nieces and nephews are fluent in Hawaiian. So the language came back very quickly.

So what revived the language?

A political movement, which was my generation's doing, which brought back into focus for the general public the overthrow in 1893 [the US military invasion] and the banning of the language. The movement went on for 10-15 years with land occupations and people being imprisoned - in fact we lost people through drownings, suicides - it was a very painful era. And out of that era came the joys that we now celebrate with the next generation, which is the consciousness that being Hawaiian is something to be proud of, that we know how to take care of our land and they don't, that we don't believe In making a profit at other people's expense. The cultural revival is wonderful... I never would have Imagined that my generation would have opened the door for that as we did.

Do you think differently from North Americans just because you speak different languages?

Absolutely, and that's the great gift of language. For example, my favourite quote for people Is that 'land' in the American language means 'real estate', that which produces profit, whereas in Hawaiian it is aina, that which feeds. Now that's a perfect example of the difference. One tells you about the production of profit and one about the production of food. Those are two very different things.

It's a kind of badge of imperialists that they ban the language. …

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