Liz Prato
A Haole Guide to Hawaiian Taxonomy

Liz Prato - A Haole Guide to Hawaiian Taxonomy

Creative Nonfiction
Liz Prato is the author of the short story collection Baby’s on Fire (Press 53). Her work has appeared in… Read more »
Andrea Marcusa
Hammam Language

Andrea Marcusa - Hammam Language

Creative Nonfiction
Andrea Marcusa is a fiction and essay writer. Her work has appeared in Epiphany, River Styx, Ontario Review, New South,… Read more »
Michael Smith
The Way Home

Michael Smith - The Way Home

Creative Nonfiction
Michael Smith is a writer, Francophile, and photographer residing in Salt Lake City, Utah. His writing has appeared or is… Read more »
Tim Hillegonds
To Make at Once Both Tender and Fierce

Tim Hillegonds - To Make at Once Both Tender and Fierce

Creative Nonfiction
Tim Hillegonds earned a Master of Arts in Writing and Publishing (MAWP) from DePaul University in Chicago. His work has… Read more »

A Haole Guide to Hawaiian Taxonomy

Liz Prato

To ‘Okina, or Not to ‘Okina

The most fascinating detail I learned on my first trip to Hawai‘i when I was twelve years old is that the Hawaiian alphabet consists of only thirteen letters. For many years I considered this a profound metaphor about Native Hawaiians’ organic wisdom and simplicity: while white people needed twenty-six letters to prattle on about our lives, ancient Hawaiians managed to say everything they needed to say in only thirteen. To express love, war, land, water, hunger, birth, thirst, fire, family, death—all they required was a, e, i, o, u, h, k, l, m, n, p, w, and the mysterious ‘okina.

It wasn’t until well into adulthood—after over a dozen trips to the Islands—that I realized these thirteen letters were not endemic to the Hawaiians. These letters exist because white Westerners assigned them to represent Native Hawaiians’ oral communication. Prior to Western contact, the sole written language of the Hawaiians had been petroglyphs: simple, but evocative, drawings of waves and warriors, volcanoes and rain, turtles and sharks carved into rock. This can be considered a primitive form of communication, or as evidence that communication is art and art is communication.

When… Read more »