Building the First English-Hawaiian Classical Dictionary
A Tool for Exploring Hawai‘i’s Relationship With Ancient Greece And Rome
The statue of Hawa‘i’s King Kamehameha with the Augustus of Prima Porta.
Hawaiʻi has a long-standing tradition of classical culture that emerged after the arrival of the American missionaries, who played a major role in reshaping the society of 19th century Hawaiʻi. These missionaries not only brought their religion but also their classical education, and this rubbed off on many facets of Hawaiian society. In particular, classics was an important part of the educational and religious agenda of the missionaries, and is substantially reflected in the publications and curricula of the time, as well as in Hawaiʻi’s architecture, art, and more.
One conspicuous example is the Kamehameha statue located in downtown Honolulu, which was modeled after the Prima Porta Augustus. Another is Punahou School, founded as Oahu College in 1840. In the 19th century, Punahou offered one of the best classical educations in the world, and its Latin and Greek examinations were major public spectacles. We might also consider the case of William DeWitt Alexander, a Punahou alumnus and Greek and Latin marvel who returned to the school as Professor of Classics. (In a striking act of cultural appropriation, Alexander is credited with renaming the Puʻu Ohia Ridge as Mt. Tantalus.) Alexander later sat on the Hawaiʻi Board of Education and served as Commissioner of Public Instruction. While we don’t know Alexander’s precise role in its implementation, Hawaiʻi’s public school curriculum evidently included instruction in Latin and even Greek according to reports authored by Alexander himself.
Classics was an important part of the missionaries’ work in Hawaiʻi and many of the newspapers at that time incorporated stories, timelines, and explanations about the ancient classical civilizations. Hawaiian-language newspapers were published as early as 1834 for native Hawaiians not only to keep up to date with local news but also to read about other histories, cultures, and concepts that the missionaries taught through their work, which included those of classical civilizations. Thus, these Hawaiian language newspapers are a major but frequently untapped source for classical reception. However, these Hawaiian-language newspapers have only recently been made accessible and accessing classical material, as we will discuss, remains a challenge.
In 2005, the Library of Congress created the Chronicling America project, a searchable archive available to the public of digitized newspapers from all fifty states plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and other overseas territories from 1776–1963. The Chronicling America archive includes Hawaiʻi, which was an independent country until its annexation to the United States in 1898, but only includes English-language newspapers. These English-language newspapers of 19th century Hawaiʻi do contain a large amount of material relating to the ancient world and are interesting in their own right. However, the Chronicling America Project does not include Hawaiian-language newspapers, creating a blind spot in the study of 19th century Hawaiʻi.
This reflects a broader problem that, until recently, most historians of Hawaiʻi have been unable to access sources written in Hawaiian, typically because of linguistic deficiencies as well as lack of access to archival materials, leading to misunderstandings of Hawaiian history. This is true for the multi-volume history of Ralph Kuykendall, which is still standard within the discipline, but which was incapable of drawing on Hawaiian-language sources on account of the language barrier. Happily, due to the digitization projects of nupepa.org and the Papakilo database — dating from the last ten years — a sizable number of Hawaiian-language newspapers have been digitized either in the form of searchable PDFs or as html text. These archives are important because they contain rich materials that tells us about Hawaiian society at that time.
But if we are to study how classical culture has been received in places outside Europe and the United States, we need new tools to facilitate this study in locations with languages — such as Hawaiian — that are almost never spoken by classicists. This need is all the more pressing since this deficit will most commonly be found in places with colonialist pasts. In particular, the dictionaries of languages that do not themselves have a strong traditional connection to Ancient Greece and Rome frequently do not contain words to help search for and translate classical content in their media. For example, the Hawaiian word for “Odyssey” does not appear in the standard dictionaries, so one cannot find examples of its appearance in the Hawaiian newspapers using resources like nupepa.org or Papakilo. For these reasons — both to aid the study of the reception of classics in Hawaii and to rectify this greater historical wrong in our field — Professor Daniel Harris-McCoy and I, along with a team of University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa undergraduates and library staff, are developing the first classics-themed English-Hawaiian Dictionary.
The dictionary currently exists as a Google Site which grew out of a Google Sheets document that includes columns denoting an English term, the Hawaiian equivalent, and the newspaper source with the date of the specific article. We collected around 800 terms that come from a wide range of articles with a focus on classical and biblical topics. To facilitate research in the newspaper archives, we attached search links to both nupepa.org and the Papakilo database website so users can go to the archives directly to find all occurrences of a particular classics-themed Hawaiian word.
To develop the dictionary, the main sources we used were nupepa.org, which is an archive for Hawaiian newspapers rendering newspapers as typed HTML files, and the Papakilo search database, which provides and searches PDF scans of the original documents using OCR (Optical Character Recognition). We started building the dictionary by searching for broad known terms in Hawaiian such as Helene for Greece and Roma for Rome. This allowed us to get a sense of what type of stories and historical events were of interest to the Hawaiian newspapers.
Our dictionary is organized into two tabs: one for Proper Nouns and one for Improper Nouns. The proper nouns section is further subdivided into four main categories: place-names & geographic concepts; historical groups; historical individuals; and religion & myth. The improper nouns are subdivided into the subcategories of politics & war; culture; business, commerce & trade; everyday life; and the natural world.
“The Legendary Account of Prince Ulysses.”
One of the first major findings in our project was a Hawaiian rendition of the Odyssey, titled in the Ka Lahui Hawaii articles as “He Moolelo Kaao No Ke Keiki Alii Iulesia.” This translates to something like “The Legendary Account of Prince Ulysses.” With the help of the Google Translate feature on the Nupepa website, we were able to complete a rough English translation of the article, which in turn became a rich source of Hawaiian words for classical concepts. Sometimes we were able to get accurate translations right away, but much of the time we had to use context clues as to what the classical term meant. Throughout the articles, we came across terms like “Kalepeso” for cyclops, “Kiesa” for Circe, and “Kalipiso” for Calypso. We also see references to “Karetisa” (Crataeis), the mother of Scylla (“Silia”), and “Alisinosa” (Alcinous) who is the king of the Phaeacians (“Paesiana”) and the father of Nausicaa (“Nausika”).
An important observation we had while reading the mythic stories is the inconsistent spellings of certain characters, even within the same article. In the Ka Nupepa Kuokoa article from April 4, 1868, Hector, one of the major heroes of the Iliad, was translated to both “Heketoa” and “Heketa.” At first, we assumed that this was just a scanning error, but when we looked at the original PDF, it is clearly spelled in 2 different ways. Within the same article, Andromache, Hector’s wife, is also translated as “Anadoromoki” and “Anaderomake.” To account for this, we have attempted to include as many spelling-variants, in particular, for names to aid researchers as they search for these terms.
We are excited about the continual expansion of the dictionary and our forthcoming website, which will make the dictionary accessible to scholars. The dictionary responds to a lack of specialized tools for the study of classics in Hawaiʻi, which reflects a parallel lack of such tools in non-European and American contexts. Consciously or unconsciously, the field has largely overlooked locations with languages that are not commonly spoken by classicists. The dictionary is also valuable because it will allow scholars to access Hawaiian-language resources for the study of Hawaiian history that have only recently become available. The research of classical reception in Hawaiʻi is relatively new, and we are looking forward to seeing what comes out of this research.
Mariko Jurcsak is an undergraduate student at the University of Notre Dame (’23) studying Greek and Roman Civilization. She is working on the English-Hawaiian Dictionary under the direction of Professor Daniel Harris-McCoy (University of the Hawaiʻi at Mānoa).
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