I hadn’t gotten very deep into Hawaiian culture before I began to see the name “Mary Kawena Pukui” surface again and again.
Mary Kawena Pukui was born in 1895 and until the age of 6 lived with her Hawaiian grandmother where she was taught the traditional ways of Hawai’i. When her grandmother died, she returned to her parents’ home. She was fluent in both the Hawaiian and English languages and began her serious work in the Hawaiian culture at the age of 15 as both student and teacher, dedicating her life to collecting and translating historic Hawaiian materials, and teaching the language, music, and dance of Hawai’i. She co-authored the Hawaiian Dictionary in 1957, and also wrote ‘Olelo No’eau: Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings (published by the Bishop Museum, Honolulu, copyright 1983, available on Amazon). These proverbs were collected over a 50-year period (1910-1960), putting an oral tradition into a written format and providing insight into the origins of traditional Hawaiian values.
‘Olelo No’eau is the Hawaiian term for the English word “proverb”.
- ‘olelo = word, language
- no’eau = clever, wise
- together they mean “wise or entertaining proverb or saying”
I’ll share a couple of these proverbs each week. I’ll give the proverb in Hawaiian with the English translation, and any commentary that accompanies it.