The E. K. Fernandez 50th State Fair entered new territory this past weekend – linguistic territory that is. Fairgoers were treated to the first ever Hawaiian Language Night. HPR’s Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi was there and filed this report.
The fairgrounds near Aloha Stadium were just as noisy as any other night at the fair this past Friday. But beneath the sound of screaming children and blaring music was a growing presence of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi or Hawaiian language. From the rides to the signs to the games – everything was in Hawaiian.
“Moku pinao!” says 3-year-old Kaʻili referring to her favorite carnival ride the Crazy Plane.
She and her mother Kahikina de Silva were in line for the ride. Hawaiian is little Kaʻili’s first language and the language of the home. Mom admits she never thought of bringing her toddler to the fair until now.
“This is rare,” says de Silva, “to experience events like this without having to speak English.”
The mother-daughter duo were just two of an estimated 4,000 fairgoers Friday night who received free entry in exchange for requesting a ticket in Hawaiian language.
The state Department of Education’s Office of Hawaiian Education teamed up with E. K. Fernandez to offer the first-ever Hawaiian language night at the 50th State Fair.
Kalehua Krug is an education specialist and helps oversee the state Hawaiian language immersion program.
“Students only hear Hawaiian language in school. Beyond school grounds, they realize people don’t speak Hawaiian so they don’t use it,” says Krug, “We wanted to show them they can have fun outside the classroom and still speak Hawaiian.”
More than 250 Hawaiian-speaking volunteers spent the night working at all the rides, food booths, and games. Organizers dubbed the event Kaniwala – the Hawaiian word for carnival.
24-year-old Kaleialoha Kaniʻaupio-Crozier flew in from Maui to volunteer at Kaniwala. The Hawaiian immersion teacher helped run the Water Game.
"This is a significant milestone," says Kaniʻaupio-Crozier, "The Hawaiian-speaking community is here to show everyone that our language is thriving."
Krug says the turnout exceeded expectations and he hopes E. K. Fernandez sees the value of Kaniwala.