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Monarchy-era Hawaiian-language newspapers find a home on the Internet.


Our 19th-century Hawai'i forebears would surely be astonished to see their morning newspaper being digitized, put on the Web and even made searchable.

Puakea Nogelmeier is overseeing a project that brings old newspapers into the modern era. photo: Jimmy Forrest

Ho'olaupa'i, which means "to generate abundance," is an enormous collaborative project to make old Hawaiian-language newspapers accessible on the Internet. Headed by the Bishop Museum, it's hosted by Alu Like's Electronic Library, with support from the University of Hawai'i at Manoa, the University of Hawai'i at Hilo, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and Kamehameha Schools Press.

Puakea Nogelmeier, assistant professor of Hawaiian language at UH Manoa, explains that when Hawai'i's language switched to English, re-searchers and scholars lost access to a hundred years of rich cultural, social and political content.

Hawaiian-language newspapers were printed from 1834–about when the nation achieved virtually universal literacy–to 1949. "That press was serving a kingdom, all of whom could read and write and interact,: he says. "It's both Hawai'i's dialogue and its repository."

Until now, though, researchers who wanted to learn everything Hawaiians of the time said publicly about, say, the princess Ke'elikolani, would have to read every page of every newspaper from the day she was born to the day she died.

Most people, of course, don't do that. Nogelmeier compares the situation to a giant warehouse, filled with treasures, but without lights.

Now, as advanced Hawaiian-language students work on the project, each old newspaper page goes up on the Web both as a digital image (a picture of the actual newspaper page), and a typed, searchable version of its Hawaiian text. Searching the name Ke'elikolani produces Google-like links to every article mentioning her name.

To see old, Hawaiian–language newspapers, visit www.ulukau.org.

You'll find:
• Local news from each island, as well as foreign news.
• Legal announcements, including claims of desertion by spouses.
• Lamentations for loved ones.
• Honorific chants for royalty.
• Explanations of old chants.
• Hawaiian and foreign legends.

And there will be more. Currently about 6,000 of the Hawaiian-language newspaper pages are completed, which means 60,000 typescript pages are up and searchable. There are still about 125,000 newspaper pages to come, as well as a couple million more typed, searchable pages.

It all started some years ago with an idea to translate old Hawaiian-language newspapers into English using the language skills of Native Hawaiian speakers from Ni'ihau. Typing out translations, though, proved too time-consuming. Ho'olaupa'i got off the ground when Nogelmeier and his colleagues learned about a Maori newspaper project in New Zealand. It used a Russian optical character-recognition (OCR) program called MindReader, which was "trainable," and the Maori had also developed an indexing system. Ho'olaupa'i uses the same technology.

Nogelmeier says eventually there will be a parallel project to translate the Hawaiian articles into English.

Funding for Ho'olaupa'i comes from federal sources and private local foundations and is, he says, always an issue. The project employs eight part-time employees and two full-timers. With present staffing levels, it will take 20 more years to get all the newspaper pages online and searchable.

"If we could get a full team running," he says, "It could be done in five years. It's really a treasure," he says. "Just an incredible body of material."

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