How many letters in the Hawaiian alphabet?

Having been to Honolulu on several occasions over the years, we were looking to see something other than Waikiki beach, Diamond Head, Pearl Harbor or the Polynesian Cultural Center. Our choice – “Monarchs and Missionaries: Hawaii’s Royal History”.

Here is how Princess describes the tour:

Travel into the lush Nuuanu Valley, through a tropical rainforest en route to the world-famous Pali Lookout. The Nu’uanu Pali was the site of the Battle of Nu’uanu, one of the most important battles in Hawaiian history, in which Kamehameha I conquered the island of O’ahu, bringing it under his rule.

Pali Lookout

Pali Lookout

Our view was not quite as clear and perfect as usual, but nice none-the-less. Due to El Nino, the wind was coming from the South East, causing the normal clear blue sky to be hazy. The wind brought in some of the smoke and gasses from the erupting volcano on the Big Island (Hawaii), which they call VOG.

A short photo stop at the King Kamehameha statue was next.

King Kamehameha Statue

King Kamehameha Statue

A visit to the Mission Houses followed.

Mission Houses

Mission Houses

“The royal history would not be complete without understanding the role Christian missionaries played in shaping the islands. At the Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives (HMH) you will visit three restored houses, two of which are the oldest houses in Hawai’i, and learn about research archives which provides a unique glimpse into 19th-century Hawai’i both on site and online. The site was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965.” – Princess Cruise Lines

The Missionaries were assigned the task of converting the Sandwich Islands (as Hawaii was called back then) inhabitants to Christianity. They were also instructed “…to make them acquainted with letters; to give them the Bible with skills to read it.”

This presented the added challenge because the Hawaiians did not have a written language at that time. In the 1820’s a phonetic language was written down using five vowels and twelve consonants – A, B, D, E, H, I, K, L, M, N, O, P, R, T, U, V, W

A printing press was shipped in and the missionaries slowly, one chapter at a time translated the Bible and distributed (sold or traded for provisions) copies to the locals.

Today the printed language has been further shortened with several letters eliminated. Currently there are only 12 letters – A E H I K L M N O P U W plus the ‘Okina shown as an apostrophe.

Our last stop was to tour the Iolani Palace. We were fortunate to listen to a brief concert by the Royal Hawaiian Band as we waited for our tour guide to collect our tickets for the group.

Iolani Palace - Grand Staircase

Iolani Palace – Grand Staircase

“A guided tour inside a true Hawaiian national treasure, Iolani Palace, is next. This is the only official state residence of royalty in the United States and was the home of the Hawaiian Kingdom’s last two monarchs – King Kalakaua, who built the palace in 1882, and his sister and successor, Queen Lili’uokalani.” – Princess Cruise Line

Outfitted with self-guided headsets and booty covers for our shoes, we made our way room to room covering two stories plus the basement museum/jewel display.

Blue Room

Blue Room

Music Room

Music Room

Dining Room

Dining Room

Quilt Room where the queen was imprisoned

Quilt Room where the queen was imprisoned

Gratitude Moment: Today I am grateful for the opportunity to learn more about the history of Hawaii, where her people came from, their language, how the Hawaiian Islands were formed, and a little about the monarchy.

P.S. I highly recommend a visit to the Polynesian Cultural Center for anyone who has not already been there for a wonderful introduction to the history and culture of the islands.

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About Tim and Joanne Joseph

Hi and welcome! We are Tim and Joanne Joseph and we have just embarked on our latest adventure. We hope you will join us!
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6 Responses to How many letters in the Hawaiian alphabet?

  1. Karmughil Vannan says:

    Hawaii always look interesting in every aspect!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. woolycricket says:

    What beautiful places you have been.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Brenda says:

    Thank you for letting us know about the presently 12 letters in their alphabet. This is a great fun fact and very interesting. As always, I love learning from you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. christinelaennec says:

    Fascinating! The Gaelic alphabet has 18 letters, I believe, although some words have been imported beginning with other letters (kangarou, etc.). In the original Gaelic alphabet – Gaelic has been a written language since at least the 8th century e.g. Book of Kells – each letter of the alphabet was named after a tree.


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