The History of Hawaiian Language and Culture may well have begun with the first settlers in Hawaii who arrived from Hiva in the southern Marquesas Islands around 400 A.D. These settlers brought with them their gods, plants, culture and their language. The Olelo Hawaii, (the Hawaiian Language) belongs to a family of languages from central and eastern Polynesia, which includes Hawaiian, Tahitian, Tumotuan, Rarotongan and Maori.
The arrival of Captain James Cook in 1778 marked not only the beginning of major changes for the people of Hawaii, but also changes in their language, religion and cultural traditions. Following Captain Cook other Westerners arrived including missionaries from New England around the year 1820. The missionaries were determined to educate the Hawaiians, including teaching them to read and write. In order to do this, they needed to give the Hawaiian language a written and recordable form.
The Hawaii Missionaries who were untrained in linguistics were unable to distinguish between many of the sounds in the Native Hawaiian language. They could not distinguish between t and k, l and r, or b and p. When they were finished, the alphabet for the Hawaiian language consisted of just 12 letters found in the English alphabet and the 'Okina, (a symbol that looks much like a backwards apostrophe). The new alphabet consisted of the Hawaiian Vowels; a, e, i, o and u, and the Hawaiian Consonants; h, k, l, m, n, p and w. When Hawaiian Names and Words were given written form, many appeared quite different from their original spoken form. For example Honoruru became Honolulu. Ranai became Lanai, Mauna Roa became Mauna Loa and taboo became kapu. The Hawaiian Language was changed forever.
The Hawaiians were voracious learners. In a very few years they became one of the most literate people on earth. By the mid-to-late 1800s, Hawaiian became the language used in their courts, school systems, the legislature and in government offices. When the Hawaiian Monarchy was overthrown in 1893, things again began to change for the language. The new, predominantly white, provisional government had by 1896 prohibited the speaking or teaching of the Hawaiian Language in the Public School system in Hawaii. This suppression of the Hawaiian language would continue following U.S. Annexation in 1898 and last for most of the twentieth century.
The Traditional Hawaiian lifestyle was suffused with a spirituality that touched all aspects of everyday life. Over centuries, the culture also evolved highly ritualized temple worship to honor the major akua, or gods. Temples or Shrines called Heiau's took two forms: walled enclosures or raised platforms. These structures of stone marked off areas that included smaller wooden structures including houses for particular functions and an 'anu'u or oracle tower. Different heiau were built for the two main types of services. The mapele heiau honored Lono and ceremonies invoked blessings for successful crops and other peacetime needs; pigs were a common sacrificial animal. The luakini heiau was a war temple honoring Ku and services included human sacrifice.
Large temple images carved of wood were similar to others found throughout Polynesia and are often figures standing with flexed knees, arms and hands with mouths open in a teeth-bared expression. Feather god images found only in Hawaii were also made, their intricate featherwork attached to a basketry framework. Other smaller images, often made of stone, adorned smaller local or family shrines such as Ko'a or fishing shrines.
While worship of family or local gods was conducted by individuals, temple worship was performed by Ali'i and Priests, or Kahuna. Kahuna were the highly trained caretakers of tradition and wisdom. They were often specialists in particular areas such as healing (kahuna lapa'au), divining the future (kahuna kilokilo), or in blessing practical undertakings like canoe building (kahuna kalai wa'a). Kahuna were also political advisors to the chiefs and held positions of great power within society.
Hawaiian Religious Ceremonies honored important life events such as birth, conception, attaining adulthood and death as well as group undertakings like canoe building or the dedication of new homes. Luakini ceremonies sought the gods' blessing in warfare. Ceremonies during Makahiki honored Lono, the harvest bounty and the seasonal reign of peace.