Mahina ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i (Hawaiian Language Month): Hawaiian Language Books

Human language uses arbitrary sounds that are then formed into patterns with common meanings. Distinct groups of people create a supply of words and systems for their use. The Hawaiian people shaped an abundant vocabulary, though no written form of their language existed in the precontact period. They utilized ʻōlelo (oral language) in elaborate hula (dances), mele (music), mo‘olelo (stories/legends), and oli (chants).

The Christian missionaries of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), based in Boston, sent the first group of missionaries to Hawaiʻi in 1820. The New Englanders arrived with their printing press. Like missionaries to various locations in Asia, the Middle East, and the Pacific, the ministers in Hawaiʻi came with a rudimentary understanding of the language, the intent to learn it, to create a written form, and then to teach people to read and write. They wanted them to read the Scriptures.

Hawaiian leaders wanted their people to engage with the world. They joined with the missionaries in developing a written form of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi using Latin characters. Even as the language continued to be standardized, the mission press printed a variety of books: a reader (1822), the Christian Scriptures (1832), the newspaper Ka Lama Hawaii (1834), and the complete Bible (1839).

The following books are from the period of 1832 to 1859. The Lyman Museum preserves more than 150 Hawaiian language books as well as primary documents in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi. The Archives is open for research by appointment. Learn more at

O ka buke hua mua e ao ai i ka heluhelu palapala, first reading book, to teach Hawaiian pupils what is right, Oahu: Mea Pai Palapala an Misionari, 1832.
Ka palapala hemolele a iehova ko kakou akua o ke kauoha kahiko i unuhiia mai ke olelo hebera. Buke I-II The holy scripture of Jehovah Our God, The old testament translated from the Hebrew, 1838.
Na himeni hoolea. he mau mele ma ka uhane, e hoolea ai na kanaka, na keiki, na ohana, na ekalisia, ia iehova, ke akua e ola’i. Hawaiian language version of: “The hymns of praise. Those songs for the spirit, praises for the people, the children, the family, the churches by Jehovah, the God of Correct light,” Honolulu, 1847.

Lorenzo Lyons or Makua Laiana (1807–1886), a missionary with the ABCFM, became a prolific and well-known songwriter who wrote more than 600 hymns in the Hawaiian language. Lyons helped found fourteen churches, in the area surrounding Waimea on Hawaiʻi Island.

Ka lira Hawaii: he mau leomele no na ekalesia o Hawaii nei. The Hawaiian lyrics, song notes for the churches of Hawaii, 1855.
Ke kauoha hou a ko kakou haku e ola’i a Iesu Kristo, The New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, New York: American Bible Society, 1859. The missionaries and Hawaiian leaders worked together to translate from biblical Greek into Hawaiian.