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Governor Abercrombie's scurrilous and unnecessary lie that an 1896 law made it illegal to teach IN Hawaiian language, or illegal to teach Hawaiian language itself

(c) Copyright 2011 Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights reserved

Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie said something false in his "State of the State" speech on January 24, 2011.

Yes, everyone makes mistakes. But this was not a mistake; it was intentional and dead serious. Yes, politicians routinely lie for political advantage; so what's the big deal? But this particular statement is scurrilous because it serves to promote racial hostility. It's always bad to stir up resentment and anger by one race against another, especially when the grievance has no basis in fact. At this particular time, following the Tucson political massacre, the media and our President have urged us all to choose our words more carefully, to sit down with others whose views we disagree with, and to speak and behave with greater civility. Apparently that does not apply to Hawaii, nor to the President's friend, Governor Abercrombie.

Below are six sentences alleging that in 1896 Hawaiian language was made entirely or partially illegal, or that children who spoke it were punished. The first five are false. They are ranked in order of offensiveness with the worst at the top. Number six is a half-truth -- what it literally says is true, but tells only one part of a much more complex story which is not nearly so pernicious as the sentence alone implies.

1. In 1896 Hawaiian language was made illegal.

2. In 1896 it was made illegal to speak Hawaiian language.

3. In 1896 it was made illegal to speak Hawaiian language in school.

4. In 1896 it was made illegal to teach the Hawaiian language.

5. In 1896 it was made illegal to teach in the Hawaiian language.

6. In 1896 children were punished for speaking Hawaiian language in school.

All six versions have been asserted at various times by various people. Some were innocently ignorant, believing they were telling the truth because they had heard it in the media or in a "Hawaiian Studies" class. Some professors and historians who asserted these falsehoods knew they were lying but wanted propaganda for their political agenda.

For numerous documented examples of these claims being asserted, see

For heavily documented disproof of versions #1-5, and mitigation of #6, see

Sentence #1 is the most scurrilous, and also the version most frequently asserted. It's usually mentioned in the middle of a long diatribe listing alleged historical grievances to show that Caucasians oppressed and abused ethnic Hawaiians, and Hawaiians are therefore entitled to apologies, repentance, and reparations from Caucasians.

When someone asserts #1 and is shown facts disproving it, a hasty retreat is usually made to assert #2 or #3. When those are disproved, the fallback might be #4, #5, or #6.

Abercrombie's written speech said #5, but he actually spoke #4. Both are false, and scurrilous. Abercrombie also correctly stated that the 1896 law was not officially repealed until ninety years later, in 1986; but that addendum had no purpose other than to magnify the outrage he was manufacturing. Abercrombie must take the blame for #4, which is what everyone heard. #4 is nastier than #5, which can be found only in the written version which few people will actually read. Speaking #4 was not merely a slip of the tongue, but due to Abercrombie's attitude -- excessive zealotry in pushing government programs and special "rights" for his most highly-favored racial group.

Abercrombie was praising an ethnic Hawaiian who earned a Ph.D. at UH Hilo in "Hawaiian and Indigenous Language and Culture Revitalization." Dr. Kauanoe Kamana, the wife of UH Hilo Professor of Hawaiian Language William "Pila" Wilson, was actually the second person to earn a Ph.D. in that field -- the first one, Katarina Edmonds, a Maori educator from New Zealand, completed her Ph.D. at Hilo in 2008 but waited to attend the graduation ceremony until December 2010 when Dr. Kamana was also ready to be conferred the degree, thus doing the politically correct thing of allowing the ethnic Hawaiian to go first. A detailed news report by Peter Sur about the UH Hilo graduation of Drs. Edmonds and Kamana was published in the Hilo Tribune-Herald on December 18, 2010 and is made available at the bottom of this webpage.

There was absolutely no need for Abercrombie to tell the lie about what happened in 1896. He could have simply congratulated Dr. Kamana (and should also have congratulated Dr. Edmonds). But Abercrombie was in the middle of telling the legislature that he intends to keep education affordable and reach out especially to "Native Hawaiians", so he got all excited and veered off script in his typical bombastic style. Abercrombie has a long history of favoring ethnic Hawaiians above all other races, as shown in his effort to push the Akaka bill through the House of Representatives, which succeeded on three occasions. On the first occasion in 2000, he said his stealth maneuver was the thing he was most proud of in his political career. In 2010 he timed his resignation from Congress to come at the end of the same week he rammed the Akaka bill through as his last official act.

What actually happened in 1896? There were tens of thousands of Japanese, Chinese, and Portuguese working on the sugar plantations. Their children, mostly born in Hawaii, could grow up as citizens with voting rights. The government decided there should be one language which everyone could share.

In 1892, the year before the monarchy was overthrown, English was already the language used for teaching all school subjects in 95% of the Kingdom's schools, because that's what the monarchs and parents wanted; so in 1896, with annexation to the U.S. coming soon, English was chosen.

The 1896 law said that all schools, to be certified as meeting the mandatory school attendance requirement, must use English as the language of instruction. The law did not single out Hawaiian; all languages other than English were affected. The law applied only to schools, not to society at large. It did not prohibit teaching Hawaiian or other languages; it only prohibited using other languages to teach subjects like science, math, history, etc. The law did not prohibit having after-school or weekend academies where kids could use other languages to learn whatever they wanted -- the Japanese did in fact create hundreds of such schools to perpetuate their culture and language; but Hawaiian parents chose not to do so (despite the fact that Hawaiians by law had higher wages than Japanese). All children were punished in school if they used any language other than English, the same way they would be punished for violating any other school rules. Most Hawaiian kids were already being additionally punished by their own parents for speaking Hawaiian at home, because the parents wanted their kids to adopt English as their primary language. For proof of all these points, see


Governor Abercrombie's written speech given to the media asserted #5. It was posted on the Governor's official website several hours after the speech, at

It was published during or immediately after the speech on several news blogs, obviously copying what the Governor's office distributed to the media. See Hawaii Reporter at
and Honolulu Civil Beat at

However, in delivering his speech Abercrombie actually spoke #4, which is much more inflammatory. A video and audio of Abercrombie's speech is available in the "On Demand Archive Media Library" on the 'Olelo TV website at

Both the audio and video have the same spoken content. The video is far better for documentation, because there's a time counter and also an option to see a "closed caption" transcript which was made as the speech was delivered and which flows along under the speech, just as it was available during the live broadcast on TV. The lie about the 1896 law is uttered in minute #43 of the 56-minute speech. Careful listening, and reading the closed captioning, both confirm that version #4 is what Abercrombie actually spoke. Very few people will read the written version. For those unable to download the "Silverlight" software to enable viewing the video, the audio podcast is at

Hawaii Tribune-Herald (Hilo), Saturday December 18, 2010

Big Islander makes history with her degree

by Peter Sur
Tribune-Herald Staff Writer

Woman first person of Hawaiian ancestry to earn doctorate in Hawaiian language

** Photo

** Photo caption
Kauanoe Kamana, seen with husband Pila Wilson, is the first person of Hawaiian ancestry to earn a doctorate in Hawaiian and indigenous language and culture revitalization from the University of Hawaii at Hilo. - William Ing/Tribune-Herald

Kauanoe Kamana is a pioneer in the Hawaiian community, even if she is too humble to admit it.

She's a founder and the president of the nonprofit Aha Punana Leo, which has revived the Hawaiian language with thousands of new, young speakers. She is an associate professor at the University of Hawaii at Hilo's Ka Haka Ula O Keelikolani College of Hawaiian Language, and principal of the Hawaiian immersion school Ke Kula O Nawahiokalaniopuu.

Today, at UH-Hilo's fall commencement ceremonies, Kamana will receive a new honor -- a hood, a diploma and a doctorate in Hawaiian and indigenous language and culture revitalization.

She will be the first person of Hawaiian ancestry so honored by the College of Hawaiian Language, and the second to earn the degree after Katarina Edmonds, a Maori educator from New Zealand, in 2008.

Kamana, 59, was born in Honolulu and raised in Kalihi, Oahu, and on Molokai. It was a time when the last native speakers of Hawaiian, outside of Niihau, were dwindling. The state of the language was "dismal," she recalls.

"Actual conversation in Hawaiian is not done in the home, which is typical of my generation," Kamana said.

She attended UH-Manoa in the 1970s, earning a bachelor of arts in Hawaiian studies and a master's degree in linguistics. It was there that Kamana learned conversational Hawaiian, and began helping its recovery.

"We were recording the last native speakers during that time," she said. "We were able to meet and talk and learn from those last native speakers during the 1970s."

In 1983, she became a board member of Aha Punana Leo, which brings together 3- and 4-year-olds in an immersive environment where the students are fed solely their native language and culture.

Kamana was among those pushing the state to change its laws and education policies to allow a Hawaiian language environment. The immersion schools graduated their first classes 1999.

Despite all her work in rescuing the language from obscurity, Kamana acknowledges that much remains to be done, and it can't all be done in her lifetime.

"It is a struggle. Doing this kind of work is a struggle," she said. But Kamana believes it's worth saving the linchpin of the Hawaiian culture.

"Within our language is our culture," she said. "Learning to speak Hawaiian first gives a person a worldview that is grounded in the Hawaiian language and culture."

Kamana's dissertation is titled "Mookiina Hooponopono: Ke O Oka Ike Kuuna Hawaii Ma Ke Kula O Nawahiokalaniopuu," with a focus on traditional Hawaiian conflict resolution practices at the Keaau school.

In 2009 she received a Mellon Hawaii fellowship for doctoral candidates that required a sabbatical from work to complete a dissertation within a year's time.

"The value of the knowledge lies in application," said Kalena Silva, the college's director. Hooponopono, he said, is useful in schools and in the wider Hawaiian community. It can be used in the school context, "but it comes from the home."

"We're very thankful that the university has allowed us to do this, encouraged us to do this," Silva said. "It's been groundbreaking in many ways, traditional in many ways."

Kamana lives in Hilo with husband Pila Wilson, who is another professor in the College of Hawaiian Language. They have two grown children, living in Hilo and Honolulu.

"The Ph.D. is our highest academic honor and investing these two students with doctoral degrees is highly significant," Chancellor Donald Straney said in a statement. "And as the first doctorate presented by the College of Hawaiian Language to a native Hawaiian student, this events marks a major milestone in the history of UH-Hilo and the island of Hawaii."

The commencement ceremony begins at 9 a.m. today in the college's new gymnasium. A total of 175 people will be honored, including 23 master's degree candidates. Kathryn Matayoshi, superintendent of the state Department of Education, is the keynote speaker. Edmonds, who earned the College of Hawaiian Language doctorate in 2008, was unable to participate in commencement ceremonies at the time and will be honored along with Kamana.


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