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British native speaks fluent Hawaiian, turns heads at State Capitol

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Before the Hawaiian monarchy abruptly ended in the late 1800's, Hawaiian was the primary language of the islands. Court trials, day to day business, everything was conducted in Hawai'i's native tongue.

The Hawaiian Kingdom was overthrown in 1893 and following Hawaii's annexation, the language was banned.

But more than a century later, inside a Senate hearing at the State Capitol on Tuesday it spoke loudly once again. Testimony urging lawmakers to preserve Hawaiian language in Hawai'i's courts was delivered primarily in Hawaiian.

The Hawai'i State Legislature called it a milestone moment because it represents the first time in recent history majority of the testimonies were given in the state's mother tongue.

Kahue Ka'aha, a Keaukaha native was present at Tuesday's standing room only hearing and was overcome with emotion.

"I'm so ha'aheo (proud) to hear my 'Olelo Hawai'i...to hear my language spoken again so freely, so openly," Ka'aha said.

Each Hawaiian word, sentence and thought flowed through University of Hawai'i at Hilo Hawaiian language professor Kaliko Beamer Trapp. The UH faculty member impressed testifiers and senators with his translating ability. Trapp has no Hawaiian blood but a full Hawaiian heart.

"It was actually very difficult in one sense because this style of translation that I was doing, it was listening to someone speak first, having to memorize that an express it of course, in English," Trapp said.  

Trapp is originally from the United Kingdom.

"I was born on a small island off the south coast of England called the Isle of Wight. It's a small little island about the size of Lana'i but kind of squashed flat," Trapp said.

In the 1980's, he met celebrated Hawaiian cultural practitioner Aunty Nona Beamer who would hanai or adopt him. And the rest is history.

"She taught me so much about how to love the Hawaiian culture and how to speak in Hawaiian. And to teach children especially," said Trapp.

He says he rarely speaks English, mainly Hawaiian and admits it shocks people from time to time.

"Well of course there's always some surprise. (They think) how is it that this Haole guy can speak Hawaiian? But I ask the same question back to them. If you look at anybody who speaks Hawaiian here--many of the people here come from English language backgrounds. Just because they have some particular blood in their body doesn't mean they can't do it," said Trapp.  

For him, speaking Hawaiian is crucial to preserving a language that was almost lost.

"I feel like it's a little tiny butterfly that needs to be held and then be let go again. I don't want it to die," said Trapp.

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