The ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i Versions of “Harry Potter” and Other Literary Classics Are Perfect Gifts This Holiday Season
Fans of the “Harry Potter” series can now read the first book in Hawaiian (with more to come!).
Photo: David Croxford
If you’ve ever wondered how to say “yer a wizard, Harry” in ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i, your Felix Felices may be working. Local translator Keao NeSmith has teamed up with a Scottish publishing company to bring us Harry Potter a Me Ka Pōhaku Akeakamai. All 300-plus pages of the original Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone have been translated into Hawaiian.
The idea isn’t new. Both 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Tarzan were printed in Hawaiian-language newspapers back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But, translating a book like Harry Potter seems like a different (albeit fantastic) beast entirely. How exactly does one translate made-up words like “Quidditch” and “Muggle” into any language?
Borrow a page from other clever wordsmiths, such as William Shakespeare, J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling herself, and invent your own words.
“With Muggle, you can use the Hawaiianization makala,” explains NeSmith, who teaches Tahitian-language classes at UH Mānoa when he isn’t helping businesses rebrand.
“When we say kala or ho‘okala it means ‘to release or to forgive,’ and makala, I decided, was a good way to portray people who do not possess magic. In the Hawaiian frame of mind, someone who possesses that kind of knowledge—it’s a burden because it’s a special type of knowledge and you have to be careful how you use it. But if you’re a Muggle and you don’t have that type of knowledge, you’re free to live your life without that responsibility.”
Animal names were translated into Hawaiian counterparts, such as Harry Potter’s owl Hedwig and the three-headed dog Fluffy, now Lehua and Peto Huluhulu. NeSmith also created his own words for werewolves, vampires and other mythical creatures. Latin-derived spells (i.e., Petrificus Totalus), people names (including the centaurs, who are half human), Quidditch and anything related to the game were left as-is.
It took NeSmith about a month and a half to translate the book, which he had never read before; he finished it while riding a train between Paris and Barcelona. “I was like, ‘Wow, this is just like Harry Potter.’ It was really a magical moment to close my laptop at the end of it and still be on the train.”
He says it’s one of the easiest books he’s done. Although he also translated Tolkien’s The Hobbit, the most difficult project was Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which was the first book he translated for Evertype after the company contacted UH Mānoa looking for a translator.
“The way [Carroll] writes is so tongue-tied and twisted and convoluted,” he says. “There are so many puns and so many things about British culture that were just completely foreign to me. So, I had to do all this additional research to figure out what they were saying and why they were saying it.”
He’s passionate about perpetuating the Hawaiian language, which is why he translates the books without pay. But Potterheads can be sure there’s more to come. NeSmith has committed to translating the remaining seven Potter books into Hawaiian, including Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Harry Potter a Me Ka Pōhaku Akeakamai can be found online and at Nā Mea Hawai‘i/Native Books in Ward Village.