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Banking on Hawaiian


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The ongoing revival of the Hawaiian language is reaching into new territory—banking. Well, not exactly new, as business was commonly conducted in Hawaiian as recently as the early 20th Century.

Today, Bank of Hawaii is redesigning its ATMs to allow customers to conduct their transactions in Olelo Hawaii, in addition to the existing English, Japanese and Chinese choices.

Translating modern English banking terms into Hawaiian required some digging into the past, says Kelii Wilson, director of the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s Hawaiian Cultural Affairs and head of the project. “We didn’t have to start from scratch,” she says, noting that some words used in the interface, such as pila kikoo, or check, were borrowed from ads and articles in Hawaiian-language newspapers dating back
to the 1860s.

Technological terms provided a challenge, says UH Hilo professor Larry Kimura, who also worked on the project.

One such word, kahoi, is used as “enter” on the ATM. In traditional settings, the word is used as an interjection, adding a surprised tone to a question.

Eric Chen, Bankoh’s vice president for ATM Services, says the bank has expanded the interface to one-third of its roughly 440 ATMs statewide since the beginning of the year. For Wilson, that change represents a significant step in normalizing the Hawaiian language and taking it “out of academia and into the business world.”

Did you know? The Hawaiian phrase for “ATM” is Mikini panako—literally “bank machine.”

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Honolulu Magazine January 2018
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