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Hawaiian language, culture specialist discusses translation of epic tale

Professor Puakea Nogelmeier
March 08, 2011

Marvin Nogelmeier’s destination was Japan when he arrived in Hawai‘i as a young high-school graduate from Minnesota traveling with friends. But he’d lost his wallet and driver’s license in the San Diego airport and was held up in Honolulu. Awaiting a birth certificate from home so he could obtain a passport, he fell in love with the islands over those next few weeks and essentially never left, making Hawai‘i his home—and his life’s work.

Puakea Nogelmeier (the name “Puakea” was honorably gifted to him by his hula teacher) has devoted his career to advocating and promoting the Hawaiian language and culture. On March 16, he presents a live webinar to the ASU community in which he’ll share his knowledge of Hawaiian literacy of the 19th century and discuss the inspiration behind his retelling in English of The Epic Tale of Hiiakaikapoliopele. Originally published by Ho‘oulumāhiehie, it ran as a daily series in the Hawaiian-language newspaper Ka Na’i Aupuni from 1905 to 1906.

Nogelmeier summarizes the tale in the following way: “The story begins with the goddess Pele’s migration to Kīlauea and her spirit’s search for a lover. The story then details the quest of Pele’s younger sister, Hi‘iakaikapoliopele, to find the handsome Lohi‘auipo, and bring him back to their crater home. Graced with a magical skirt and wielding supernatural powers, Hi‘iaka and her companions make their way through dangers and ordeals, facing spectral foes and worldly wiles. It is a very human account of love and lust, jealousy and justice, peopled with deities, demons, chiefs and commoners.”

His expansive five-hundred-page version of the ancient saga is articulated with 375 chants and is beautifully illustrated by Solomon Enos. It is the most extensive form of the story ever documented, offering a wealth of detail and insights about social and religious practices, poetry and hula, healing arts, and many other Hawaiian customs.

Nogelmeier’s talk, free and open to the public, will be coming via live feed from Hawai‘i in Computing Commons room 120, from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., on ASU’s Tempe campus. The event is sponsored by Asian Pacific American Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ School of Social Transformation at ASU, and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

Nogelmeier, who holds a master of arts in Pacific Island studies and a doctorate in anthropology, has taught in the Kawaihuelani Hawaiian Language Program at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa for more than two decades. He continues to mentor new Hawaiian language translators to experience Hawaiian culture and history as portrayed from legendary 19th-century Hawaiian scholars.