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Hawaiian Thought of the Week

‘ōlelo: Language, speech, quotation, statement, utterance, quote, converse, tell

In the time of our kūpuna (ancestors), their only source of communication was through the oral language. There was no written language in Hawaiʻi prior to the 1800ʻs. All our moʻolelo (stories), genealogies, commemoration of births or deaths, remembrance of historical events and all-important information was shared through the ʻōlelo, the oral language.

With this in mind we need to understand how important their chosen words were for our ancestors when they were communicating. A genealogical chant or the history of an important event could be altered if the ʻōlelo was misunderstood, misinterpreted or spoken (or chanted) incorrectly.

If a piece of information was to be passed on to ten people separately, it would not be uncommon to have the original message change at least five times if it went to ten different people on separate occasions (depending on each individual’s interpretation of what was heard). In today’s society, when a piece of information is passed verbally to someone, who passes it on to another, who then passes it on to someone else, it may possibly be referred to as gossip.

Although we may have many forms of communication in addition to oral language, such as text and email, which is very common now, the principle of ʻōlelo still remains the same. We must choose our words carefully whether spoken or written because misinterpretation, misunderstanding and incorrectly passing on information (written or oral) could “make or break” a situation.