First ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi law article published by Post-J.D. Fellow, Sabrina Kamakakaulani “Maka” Gramberg ’18

Kanawai Kivila, Mokuna XXVI, Pauku 913

Ka Huli Ao Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law Post-J.D. Fellow, Sabrina Kamakakaulani “Maka” Gramberg ’18, published the first ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi article – centered around the use of Hawaiian Language in Hawaiʻi’s legal system – in a law journal.
With staunch commitment from journal Editor in Chiefs, the article, Piliʻōlelo: E Ahona Kānaka I Ke Oʻa Kānāwai, was published in the William S. Richardson School of Law’s Asian-Pacific Law and Policy Journal (“APLPJ”).  APLPJ is a web-based, American legal journal covering issues in Asia and the Pacific Rim.

The first of its kind, Maka illuminates the historical and integral role of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi in Hawaiʻi’s Kingdom courts, legislature, and significantly, as the ʻōlelo makua of our mōʻī.  Laws were established in Hawaiʻi’s ʻōlelo maoli and then for the pono of malihini printed and disseminated in English.  In Kalākaua’s reign, Kanawai Kivila, Mokuna XXVI, Pauku 913, (pictured above) mandated that at least one District Judge be seated to each District Court of the Kingdom. If a haole was seated, he must be mākaukau ma ka ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, proficient in the Hawaiian language.

During the territory-era, individual judges dismissed cases wherein the charging documents were written in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi and decided on their own that ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi was no longer allowed in courtroom proceedings.  Questionably, they claimed the courts do not have jurisdiction to hear matters in a “foreign language.”  Though the Organic Act never explicitly designated English as the sole language of the courts, these unilateral actions forced a number of Hawaiian attorneys out of their well-established practices.  Maka shares: “through law and policy, this paper calls attention to thepower dynamics that sought to undermine Hawaiian governance, disenfranchise Hawaiian voters, and deliberately erase the Hawaiian language from key government functions.”  Even further, at least two present-day courts have interpretedthe State’s Hawaiian language law to be honorary rather than functional; even though ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has been established as one of two official languages in Hawaiʻi for the past 42 years.

While remnants of these power dynamics are still prevalent in present-day Hawaiʻi, Maka’s research further highlights Hawaiian speakers’ efforts to re-establish ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi; offering a chance to reframe this narrative.  “It took great effort and years for English to supplant Hawaiian within government offices and proceedings. As a response to each attempt, our ancestors with even greater effort displayed their enduring aloha for their ʻōlelo kupuna by lobbying for legislative bills that would secure ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi’s “mana ma ke kānāwai.”  It’s overwhelming to see in their mother tongue – and in their own words – the degree to which our kūpuna resisted all attempts to promote English at the expense of Hawaiian.Our kūpuna were keenly aware of the inextricable link between language and ea.”  Ultimately, their work – now including Maka’s article – provides a foundation to build upon and support efforts to return ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi to Hawaiʻi’s legal system and government programs and services; something for which this article advocates.

At its core, Piliʻōlelo: E Ahona Kānaka I Ke Oʻa Kānāwai sheds light on the fact that ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi in Hawaiʻi’s legal proceedings is not a new concept.  Maka reminds readers that “our kūpuna expanded ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi to encompass concepts found in the English legal system. With this expansion of language, our kūpuna created a uniquely Hawaiian written legal system to fit the cultural and societal needs of the time. A legal system grounded in a long-standing infrastructure of rules and laws already in operation.”  APLPJ’s Co-Editor-in-Cheif, Brian Wild shares, “[f]rom Mauna Kea to East Maui’s water to Sherwood Forest, Native Hawaiian rights are at a crossroads…I think this could be the beginning of a new chapter of Native Hawaiian advocacy.”  Language – and ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi in particular – is the core of culture and the lens through which we understand and relate to our environment.  Looking to the future, Wild shares: “I hope that Maka’s article will be the beginning of non-English scholarship for APLPJ.”

To read Maka’s article, visit: