Creating a dictionary of Hawai'ian terms is not a simple process. The language was a completely oral tradition until the arrival of the British. Every island had its own dialect and in some places there were as many dialects as family groups. Most didn't survive.
The language also reflects the effects of a cultural genocide that occurred when other Polynesians invaded Hawai'i in 1,250 AD. Thousands of Tahitian and Samoan warriors eradicated one of the most enlightened cultures the world has ever known and replaced it with the bloodthirsty reign of the Ali'i kings. Surviving Hawai'ians were consigned to the status of slaves and forbidden to learn or practice the ways taught by their ancestors.
These pre'ali'i traditions were communicated through kaona (hidden meanings) built into the language. Certain families considered it their sacred obligation to keep these elements hidden from their oppressors. Their lives depended upon their success.
It wasn't until the early part of the 20th century that Max Freedom Long became the first outsider to penetrate elements of the code. His first book "Recovering the Ancient Magic" published in London in 1936 cracked open a door that had remained sealed for 700 years.
This early work was lost in bombing raids so Long published a refined and expanded work in the United States in 1948 entitled "The Secret Science Behind Miracles." While colored by his Christian bias, the light that poured through offered stunning insights into a culture whose depth had scarcely been appreciated. Unfortunately, to this day few people have noticed the real significance of his work.
Instead, as colorful as the accepted version of early Hawai'ian history may seem, it is drab and lifeless when compared to what really happened. By the time the sailors, traders, and Christian missionaries got around to creating the first Hawai'ian/English dictionary, they had no access to these earlier cultural insights. Most Hawai'ians had forgotten their earlier - more enlightened roots. Those who did remember weren't talking.
As for the outsiders, their goal was simply to assign written conventions and definitions to an oral practice so others could be instructed. This facilitated peaceful commerce and the missionaries desire to "save souls." As with other indigenous cultures, western Christian prejudices filtered out the deepest and richest understandings. After all, what would a people so backward as to not even know about the "wheel" have to teach the technologically superior whites? As it turns out, the answer is more than anyone could have ever suspected.
Since those days, many subsequent scholars have refined and built upon the original works. For common meanings of words, this glossary borrows heavily from the traditional work based on sound files of oral translations by Aletha Kaohi and E. Kalani Flores. They possess an in-depth knowledge of Hawaiian culture and historical affairs.
We have also borrowed heavily from the Hawai'ian Dictionary, Revised and Enlarged by Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel H. Elbert (University of Hawai'i press, 1986 edition) to gain further insight.
The kaona or hidden meanings are built into the Hawai'ian language in the following way. Each word is made up of root words, and each root word can have several levels of meaning. While each level is related to every other level, the deeper levels of these meanings are usually only comprehensible to a person who is intimately familiar with the ancient Hawai'ian way of looking at life.
That is why close examination will reveal that the Ho'ala Huna definitions for certain words are slightly and sometimes substantially different than those that are presented by traditional Hawai'ian dictionaries.
The purpose of any glossary or dictionary is to facilitate communication. What we mean by a word must be clearly understood or important insights will remain hidden from those we seek to teach. The purpose of this glossary is to help our readers have quick access to the meanings of words and phrases used throughout our works.
It begins with a short explanation of how the Hawai'ian language is constructed along with a guide to pronunciation of Hawai'ian words. Our definitions for root words are presented next. This is followed by a glossary of the meanings of certain Hawai'ian words and terms that flow from these definitions.
This glossary of Hawai'ian words is followed by a section that provides Ho'ala Huna definitions for certain English terms. While unusual, this is necessary because the Ho'ala Huna meanings for words like "love", "priest", and "God" are quite different than traditional western ways of looking at these ideas.
Finally, we present a variety of Hawai'ian cultural references, including names for the months and what they signify, names for various kinds of kahuna, medical practices, spiritual practices, etc.
This will always be a work in progress. Few people are fluent in Hawai'ian. We are still students ourselves. That is why anyone reading this who would care to offer ideas or corrections is welcomed to do so. We will look at every suggestion, and if we see that it has merit, we will add it to this glossary.
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