Byron Fija, Okinawan language practitioner and activist, ended his vist to Hawai`i with a seminar at the UH Hilo Hawaiian Language college, and one of the Hawaiian language immersion schools. This was an eye opening experience for him, an one that he said he cannot forget, and will forever be embedded in his mind.
The children of the Hawaiian immersion school, from elementary to high school, chanted in unison as they welcomed the visiting dignitaries. The aloha from the keiki embraced Byron, although he could not understand what they were chanting. “My heart swelled and tears began to flow. It was amazing! I felt like I had been taken away to another place”. “It was unbelievable to see and hear children chanting in their native language, teachers who were Hawaiian, signage in the Hawaiian language. It was just amazing! How wonderful.!” Byron chanted back to the children in Okinawan to accept their invitation and aloha. He said that was one of the hardest things he had done because it was so emotional. “I felt depressed after. Okinawa has lost so much and is not even close to that, so many younger ones don’t even care about learning their language. They don’t realize how beautiful our language is. It makes me so sad and heavy hearted to see the Hawaiian children love their identity and culture so much, and in Okinawa we are so far behind.” Byron said he could not believe he was in part of the United States. “What I have learned on this visit to Hawai`i from Ukwanshin and the Hawaiian students is refreshing and healing. I am energized to work harder to try and save the language.” said Byron. Byron talked about how beautiful it was to experience Hawaii in that way, and that there are no words to describe the feeling he had when the children chanted his welcome. He said that is the connection of native language, that it can be felt as well as understood.
Language revitalization is a topic of debate, as some feel that it is not the necessary tool for identity as the practicality of it does not seem to be of any importance for daily life. With the danger of the language dying within the next decade or so, we must begin to move quickly if we are going to save it, and also network to get others involved. For whatever our reasons, we should strive to make our language live again in every possible way. This will help to better understand our culture, arts and history. To be proud of who we are, and to realize that “Okinawa language is beautiful”.