Olelo Hawaii Crew2

Aloha Mahina ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi! (Happy Hawaiian Language Month!)

February is a time of celebration in the Hawaiian Islands, where the community works together to perpetuate the language unique to our archipelago home. This month, we are inviting our guests to experience ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi via our social media channels, which feature a new collection of Instagram Giphysan ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi Wordle puzzle and mini language lessons.


Within our employee ʻohana, ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi speakers continue to help shape the way we normalize the language throughout our workgroups, from how we share company stories to ensuring its incorporation in our company messaging and owned channels.

Community and Cultural Relations Senior Specialist Manakō Tanaka is among speakers carving more spaces for the language not just to exist – but to thrive at Hawaiian Airlines. One of Tanaka’s kuleana (responsibilities) is organizing our Ke Kumu Papa ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi class, a free, beginner language experience that has been offered since 2015 to active and retired employees.

“Ke kumu in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi means ‘the source’ and at Hawaiian Airlines, the source – those who hold the knowledge and share with others – are our employees,” said Tanaka. “For example, teaching ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi classes is my kuleana, but we have other employees who also volunteer to teach similar classes for hula or ukulele.”

Every other Thursday, Tanaka pieces together a fun and engaging syllabus to introduce his students to ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, offering basic grammar rules and simple words and phrases that can be incorporated into everyday conversations, such as offering to get a colleague a coffee or when grocery shopping.

Keoni Martin, former senior specialist of community and cultural relations, led the Ke Kumu Papa ʻŌlelo classes until his retirement in 2020.


“We like to structure these classes so anyone can join at any point, and we use different scenarios so students can plug and play with the Hawaiian language on a more relatable level,” he said.

For Mahina ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, Tanaka and his Community and Cultural Relations team are expanding the reach of the Ke Kumu Papa ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi classroom by bringing lessons directly to various workgroups throughout our Neighbor Island stations. The purpose of these visits is to encourage all employees, even those who have never attended a lesson, to use ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi. Employees are asked to try phrases that are relative to various work areas in the company, such as “E ʻoluʻolu, e hoʻomākaukau i ka mokulele no ka pae ʻana!” (“Please prepare the aircraft for landing.")

Tanaka, pictured bottom center, with our employees at our Hilo station after his team's Mahina ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi lesson.


“There is a Hawaiian proverb that says ‘Nānā i ke kumu’, or ‘Look to the source’, which reminds us to look to that of old when navigating the present and future. ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi is a foundational means of understanding Hawaiian culture, and by building on initiatives like our Ke Kumu classes, we can encourage more employees to use ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi and help them foster a passion for the language,” Tanaka explained.

Since Ke Kumu Papa ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi’s inception, Community and Cultural Relations has grown a roster of enthusiastic students who attend the classes on a regular basis.

“Initially, I was scared to attend. As someone who grew up on the U.S. West Coast, I wasn’t surrounded by the Hawaiian language. I wanted to learn, but I thought I didn’t know enough to even come to class. It was a former Kumu (teacher) who encouraged me to join," said Julie Ng, manager of fleet initiatives, who joined her first class in 2017. "Participating in the Ke Kumu classes has since exposed me to some great opportunities. For example, I’ve been able to learn and perform oli (chant) to honor Hōkūleʻa, where we got to perform the oli onboard the waʻa kaulua (double-hulled canoe). That was a chicken-skin moment. I’ve learned how to make lei hulu (feather lei), Pūpū O Ni’ihau (Ni’ihau shell) earrings and helped make kahili (feather standard), which are now in Queen Liliuokalani’s bedroom in ʻIolani Palace. I feel lucky to work for a company that promotes and supports these amazing opportunities.”

Ng, pictured bottom row, far right, at the 2019 Hawaiian Airlines Employee Recognition Banquet, where she joined her classmates from Ke Kumu Papa ʻŌlelo to open the event with a special oli.


“Shortly after I started at Hawaiian Airlines last spring, I saw the email for our ‘ōlelo Hawaiʻi class. I was curious to learn more about the language – specifically how to pronounce words and what some of them meant. I had no idea what to expect. The positive learning experience is why I attend classes as often as possible. I appreciate how the vocabulary and pronunciation are explained with patience and humor,” said Steve Gee, manager of product strategy and analytics.

“I always wanted to learn ‘ōlelo Hawai’i. However, learning the language was rather difficult to do as an active pilot; our schedules can be very different from the regular 8-5 job," said Harold Fujii, who retired as an Airbus A330 pilot in 2015. That year, "Hawaiian Airlines put a callout for employees and retirees to join their new ‘ōlelo Hawaiʻi class and I’ve attended classes since then," he said. "Our teachers stress the regular use of the language, so we learn things that are very practical in each class so we can put them to use every day. I have six grandchildren and it is my dream to instill my love of Hawaiian language and culture into them." 

At Hawaiian Airlines, we recognize that playing a role in the normalization of ‘ōlelo Hawaiʻi is our kuleana, and each day, we are proud of employees who help us carry this torch and pass it on to others.

For Mahina ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi 2020, we interviewed a selection of fluent-speaking employees to share their stories and love for the language.


“We can’t keep ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi alive unless we are making it so that you can go anywhere and use it,” Tanaka said. “Everything we do at Hawaiian Airlines is rooted in perpetuating the Hawaiian culture, and so when we use ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi on social media, in guest and employee communications, on our aircraft, etc., we’re telling the world that the language and culture are important and that we value the ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi speakers who work here, want to work here and fly with us.”

“It’s a tall order because we create a high level of expectation...but it's also something we want to live up to so that we can use our platform to create more opportunities for Hawaiian culture and language to flourish,” he added.