Aloha! I'm learning Hawaiian while on a trip in Hawaii. The language certainly interesting and fun, but I want to practice with native speakers to reinforce my knowledge and participate in the culture. So far, people only seem to use simple greetings like "Aloha" and "Mahalo", and my using Hawaiian to try to communicate with people is not met with any sort of enthusiasm, interest, or willingness to talk. Does anyone know how widespread Hawaiian is throughout the Hawaiian islands, and how I might be able to practice actually speaking with people? I haven't been able to find anyone on HelloTalk or iTalki either, so I feel like I'm out of options. Mahalo nui!
Aloha e @Scoochers. Mahalo nui i kou nīnau.
This is a loaded question and Iʻm going to tell you why, through examples, but also through posing some questions for you to not necessarily answer, but to think about / keep in mind.
How are you finding "native speakers"? Do you know the demographics of Hawaiʻi and what percentage of people who identify with native Hawaiian ancestry? Only about 23% of the state population is of Native Hawaiian descent. Due to the history and colonization of Hawaii under U.S. occupational rule, Hawaiian language was almost completely lost. Iʻll tell you right now that there are not many non-hawaiianʻs who speak Hawaiian, and definitely not fluently. HOWEVER, this is changing and specifically with the millennial and younger generations (there are tons of speakers now at varying levels of fluency). So, when you say you are speaking to people, are you actually speaking to native hawaiian people?
Make sure that the conversation you are starting is welcome. How are you beginning your conversations? Are you saying "Aloha, pehea ʻoe?" and genuinely asking about how that person is? Or are you saying "Aloha, do you speak Hawaiian, I want to speak Hawaiian." This feels like you are just trying to extract an experience out of someone for your own benefit (also known as the bad side of tourism; which Hawaiians know very well)
Hawaiian people are very private. We are used to having our culture and language pimped out and sold. We will not typically be open to someone else forcing a conversation about real Hawaiian concepts in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi just because they want to know. You should do some research on your own about the people and place you are visiting, then come to people who want to talk to you about it. What are you doing for the person you are talking to?
So to "participate in the culture," what you should do is go to museums, and cultural shows, go to hula events and hawaiian music concerts. Find ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi speakers there and if the opportunity comes, then approach with Aloha and everything will go well from there. Surround yourself with knowledge and concern for the people you want to be a part of culturally, and the language will follow.
If you are serious, attend free workshops, they are everywhere. Ask your hotel even, they may know of events or even host them.
Lastly have Aloha and research what that means to hawaiian people. If you operate in this mode, you will be able to find ways to practice hawaiian, even as a tourist. Remember that aloha is a relationship.
@KekoaMonkey, Thank you very much for your informative and thoughtful response. Definitely the last thing I want to do is insult people when I try to speak Hawaiian. And I now understand that Aloha definitely means more than simple hellos and goodbyes, and I feel like I have more work to do to understand and convey that to other people.
I understand that people in Hawaii don't like to be forced into conversation for a tourist's sake, but since the language is endangered, wouldn't it be a mark of respect that someone is trying to speak it? Or is there another side to it that I'm not getting?
Aloha e @Scoochers, mahalo for your response. ʻAe, it seems like you are approaching ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi me ke aloha, so I think you are on the right track there :]. In my previous post, I just wanted to express clearly and plainly a perspective of the experience of Hawaiian people with Tourists that have an interest in Hawaiian culture and traditions.
I also feel the same way that you do, that everyone should be trying to put Hawaiian into general use in Hawaiʻi, and I think that most would be very happy to discuss ʻŌlelo with you as well. But again, I think earlier I was trying to comment as to why you werenʻt being met with much enthusiasm or interest... which is a very different thing. I am still not convinced that you were speaking to Native Hawaiianʻs though tbh... because if you were, Iʻm not sure why they wouldnʻt have talked to you about it unless there was a cultural issue there like what I explained previously...
May I ask what Island you were on and what settings you tried to talk to people in? Many people who work in hospitality nowadays are non-hawaiian; I know this from my family members who are in the industry. You should really really try to go to hawaiian cultural events like hula competitions and historical ceremonial events that happen all the time. Research hawaiian holidays and try to go to some of those events. Many times there is strong ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi usage. Also, Hawaiian music concerts are full of ʻŌlelo. Song is a great way to practice Hawaiian.
On a side note.... have you looked into learning Pigin?? Speaking pigin with hawaiians can help you practice with ʻōlelo hawaiʻi.
If you go to cultural/historical sites that are specifically about Hawaiian heritage, I found that if they aren't busy they will chat with you about all kinds of things including helping you along with the language and how to treat it respectfully. The nice older ladies at Hulihe'e Palace on the big island had a lot of insight to offer on these subjects and they were chatting some Hawaiian to me even though I didn't know any. Make sure you are not in a hurry and of course donate to the museum/historical group while you are there. These nice folks are already in a place and mindset to talk to tourists so they are pretty friendly as long as you treat them respectfully and without rushing.
The Painted Church (St. Benedict’s) also on the Big Island has mass in Hawaiian on the 2nd Sunday of every month, and even if you can't attend they may help you find someone to talk to. I haven't been to one of the mass services, but a lady did give me a breadfruit there once. Please donate to the church if you stop by as the church is spectacular but constantly under wear and tear from termites and visitors.