“Here is my word to you, there you are among the longnecks, so send letters here. There are many people, but few letters. I want [you] to send eight hundred Hawaiian letters. We want literacy, it may make us wise.” — Ka‘ahumanu letter to Kamehamalu (Kamamalu) July 1822, introducing her new husband, Kaumuali‘i
Translation of excerpt from letter shown at right.
The first page of a Hawaiian alphabet lesson signaled a transformation of the Hawaiian language from an oral tradition, recorded for over forty years in diverse phonetic English representations, toward a flourishing written practice. Developing the alphabet, communicating the value of written expression, and teaching reading and writing were major endeavors which engaged the aliʻi and their people. Elisha Loomis completed this first printing of 500 copies of an 8-page primer, and by September produced 2,000 copies of a 16-page version. The name “Pīʻāpā” derived from the practice of teaching the primer, sounding out successive letters and syllables. “B, a – ba” ultimately yielded Pīʻāpā as the word for “alphabet.”
“[For the orthography] we had made of five vowels, to wit, a as in father, e as in hate, i as in ee in feet, o as in pole, u as oo in toot, and ai for the sound of i. These five vowels, with twelve consonants, b, d, h, k, 1, m, n, p, r, t, v, w, will be sufficient to express with very little variation all the sounds in the language which we have yet been able to analyze. Indeed, 7 consonants and 5 vowels might very well serve for the notation of the language, as the b, d, r, t, & v, might be omitted, though it is believed they will be of use, as these sounds are heard.” — Journal of the Sandwich Island Mission, noting the original 17 letters, which were changed to 12 in 1826
It [the first print] is a sheet four by six inches, having twelve lines, each line having five separate syllables of two letters. This certainly was the first printing done at the Hawaiian Islands, probably the first on the shores of the North Pacific Ocean. A month later Mr. Bingham received a letter from Governor Kuakini (John Adams) of Hawai‘i, who had succeeded in mastering the contents of the first printed sheet. Epistolary correspondence was soon commenced in the Hawaiian language and opportunity was given for the birth of Hawaiian literature. — Rev. HH Parker, “Hawaiian Literature,” The Friend, December 1902, p. 21.