Hawaiian Language on the Computer Frontier

Hale Kuamo'oHale Kuamo'o, the Hawaiian Language Center at the University of Hawai'i at Hilo, is the primary source of translated and original curriculum materials for the Papahana Kaiapuni Hawai'i, the Hawaiian Language Immersion Program. The Hale Kuamo'o has also been the leading advocote for the use of computers in the Hawaiian immersion classroom, and has been instrumental in developing the means by which the children of this program can interact with the computer through the Hawaiian language.

Operating System, Fonts, and Programs

It should be noted at this point that, unless otherwise noted, all work described in this article was accomplished on Apple Macintosh computers.

In 1993, finding many different types Hawaiian language font sets and investigating the strengths and weaknesses of each, the Hale Kuamo'o developed the "HI Font Standard," which is now not only used by all of the Hawaiian language immersion schools, University offices, and other Hawaiian language organizations, but has also been adopted by at least one commercial font vendor. A custom keyboard layout makes it much easier to generate these characers as well.

The work of the Hale Kuamo'o has made it possible to not only type and print in Hawaiian with the diacritical marks required by the language, but also to translate nearly any Macintosh program so that all of the user interface is in Hawaiian. Programs such as ClarisWorks, KidPix, Mario Teachers Typing, and the FirstClass Client have been translated into Hawaiian.

In the past the display of Hawaiian language characters in program interface elements such as menus, windows, and dialog boxes required a modified version of the Macintosh operating system to be installed. We have have since discovered a combination of a shareware Control Panel and freeware System Extension that provides the necessary functionality, and have purchased a license so that any school or office involved in Hawaiian language education can install it for free. This combination would also allow the same modifications to be done to support any language that is not currently supported by MacOS.

Leoki - Hawaiian Language BBS

In 1993 the Hale Kuamo'o unveiled Leoki, a modified and translated verion of the FirstClass Bulletin Board System. Its interface is completely in Hawaiian, as is all communication within the system. Use of the HI fonts in Leoki allows easy, consistent display of the Hawaiian language diacriticals. Accessed over the Internet, Leoki features private email, both to other Leoki users and via the internet, discussion groups, news, file transfer, chat rooms, searable curriculum and dictionary databases, and an online version of "Na Maka o Kana", the Hawaiian language newspaper published by the Hale Kuamo'o.

There are nearly 600 Hawaiian language speakers using Leoki at this time, and it is in use at every Hawaiian language immersion school, Punana Leo preschool, the University of Hawai'i at Hilo and Manoa, Maui and Kaua'i Community Colleges, and several Hawaiian language support and curriculum offices. Leoki can allow 22 simultaneous connections from users, and as that limit has been hit several times this semester, we will be increasing this capacity over the summer. The Windows version of the FirstClass Client is currently being translated as well, and should be ready by mid-summer, 1998.

Kualono - Hawaiian Language on the WWW

In late 1994 we developed Kualono, the first Hawaiian language World-Wide Web server. Nearly all of Kualono's pages are available for viewing in either English or Hawaiian, and users can quicky "toggle" between pages to see either the English of Hawaiian version of any page. Users can also download free versions of our HI fonts to view the Hawaiian language pages properly.

Kualono features news, articles, information on the Hawaiian language, and online store, dictionaries, games, and a calendar. Kualono makes extensive use of web-database integration, using both ButlerSQL and Tango from Everyware Development and FileMaker Pro. There are two dictionary databases available, the first a basic Hawaiian<->English dictionary that contains about 1,000 very common Hawaiian words. The second is Mamaka Kaiao, a dictionary that contains over 7,000 new Hawaiian words that have been coined by the Hawaiian Lexicon Committee to address the need for new vocabulary in such areas as science, math, computers, sports, etc.

We've also developed a "hangman"-like game based on the basic Hawaiian dictionary called "Holo Ka 'Elelu". The user is told how many letters are contained in a word selected randomly from the database. Correct guesses are displayed, and with each missed guess a foot comes closer to squashing Mr. Cockroach. This shows the value of maintaining web-based data in a database, multiple means of access and use can be provided for the same data.

Among the most recent projects we have worked on are the integration of RealAudio with other resources on Kualono. We have digitized a series of informational announcements about the Hawaiian language, and have made them available for listening via the WWW. One of the most exciting projects we are just starting is the digitization of nearly 700 hours of interviews with native speakers recorded from 1972-1989. All of the conversations have been cataloged in a database, and once digitized users will not only be able to search the database for specific people, songs and topics, but will instantly be able to listen to that portion of the audio file! Here is a sample record from the database. A custom Frontier script called RAMeta developed here greatly simplifies this process.

Other Projects of Note

Kumu Kinohi Gomes of Keaukaha Elementary School recently uploaded some of the work of his Kindergarten class onto Kualono, and Kumu Kahealani Nae'ole-Wong, also of Keaukaha, recently co-authored Technology and the Revival of the Hawaiian Language. The work of the Hale Kuamo'o was also featured in the winter edition of Cultural Survival Quarterly.

Kukamaile is a Hawaiian language immersion teacher training program conducted by University of Hawai'i at Manoa professors 'Ioli'i Hawkins and Makalapua Ka'awa. Conducted during the summer (and in progress at the time of this writing), Kukamaile also makes extensive use of Leoki. Professor Ka'awa also uses Leoki for her Hawaiian 497 classes.

Looking Forward

Finally, we have been spending much time recently looking ahead and planning for the coming century. We are working with people at Mozilla.org, and have not only received permission to translate Netscape Navigator into Hawaiian, but are working with engineers to see that Hawaiian language support is built into the next version of Navigator and Communicator shipped by Netscape.

Also, we have been in contact with the Unicode Consortium, and have found that not only does does the Unicode standard already support all of the characters in the Hawaiian language, but have found and easy way to convert the entire Kualono website into Unicode. Kualono is stored in the Object Database of Frontier, and slight modifications to Frontier have allowed us to quickly and easily render the entire existing site so that it is not only viewable with our fonts, but will be viewable in the future without any special fonts by using Unicode. This is quite a boon not only for Hawaiian, but for any language that has relied on modified 7- or 8-bit fonts in the past. Documentation can be found here.

Because of the popularity of the Windows operating system, we are translating the Windows version of the FirstClass Client so that users of that platform may join the rest of us telecommunicating in Hawaiian.

The 'Aha Punana Leo is helping produce a weekly Hawaiian language radio program entitled "Alana i Kai Hikina" on KWXX-FM in Hilo. It is broadcast Sunday evenings from 6 to 8 PM. We are currently preparing to do live Real Audio webcasts of this program.


As the rest of the world moves forward into the 21st century, we are as excited as anyone, and are committed to keeping speakers of Hawaiian on an even playing field with everyone else when it comes to computers and telecommunications. And in doing so we not only are preparing our children for the technological advances of the future, we are showing them that the Hawaiian language has proper place in it.

Keola Donaghy
Network Administrator/Computer Curriculum Specialist
Hale Kuamo'o - The University of Hawai'i at Hilo