O ke aloha ka i oi o keia mau mea

I understand that there is some controversy over the preferable English translation of αγαπη in I Corinthians 13. The King James Bible's "charity" has tradition on its side, but "love" is (apparently) a closer fit to what Paul actually meant. Being a non-religious language nerd I knew of the controversy but never had any personal preference -- before today.

Because today I stumbled upon the Hawaiian solution, in in Robert Nā-Wāhine's song "ʻEkolu Mea Nui" (Three Important Things):

ʻEkolu mea nui ma ka honua,
ʻO ka manaʻoʻiʻo, ka manaʻolana,
A me ka aloha, ke aloha ka i ʻoi aʻe,
Pōmakikaʻi nā mea apau,
Pōmakikaʻi nā mea apau.

Three important things in this world,
Faith, hope,
And aloha, aloha is the best,
And everything is blessed,
And everything is blessed.

Faith, hope, and aloha. How could any formulation improve on that?

Perhaps Robert Nā-Wāhine is just a self-exoticising Polyentalist? But no! Baibala Hemolele has an 1839 translation available for download in PDF format, and it says (in typical old-school macron/ʻokina-free orthography):

Ua mau loa keia mau mea ekolu, o ka manaoia, o ka manaolana, a me ke aloha aku. O ke aloha ka i oi o keia mau mea.

With the usual caveats about my wonky, never-actually-visited-Hawaiʻi Hawaiian, I believe this could be glossed as:

These three things have remained: faith, hope, and aloha aku. Aloha is the best of these things.

(I am not sure if aloha aku is supposed to mean "aloha directed away from oneself" or if it is a misprint for/variant version of aloha akua, "divine aloha"... or something else entirely. Anyone?)

The 1868 edition was, it seems, revised to:

Ke mau nei keia mau mea ekolu, o ka manaoia, o ka manaolana, a me ke aloha. O ke aloha nae ka i oi o keia mau mea.

"These three things remain here now: faith, hope, and aloha. Aloha is however the best of these things." ʻĀmene.

I found "ʻEkolu Mea Nui", by the way, in Nā Mele o Hawaiʻi Nei ("Songs of this [our] Hawaiʻi"), edited by Samuel H. Elbert and Noelani Mahoe. I can't recommend this book highly enough to idle dabblers in Hawaiian like myself -- it has the Hawaiian (in gloriously standardized orthography) side-by-side with a plain English trot and supplemented with a marvelous introduction and song-by-song notes that are often surprisingly entertaining in their own understated way, e.g.:

[Lele-iō-Hoku's "Ke Kaʻupu"] is about a sea bird, commonly known in English as an albatross; but how could a love song honor an albatross? (An alternate name is gooney.)

While I'm on the topic of Hawaiian, let me also plug a great, crotchety article I found online recently: R. Keao NeSmith's "Tūtū's Hawaiian and the Emergence of a Neo-Hawaiian Language" [PDF], which argues that Hawaiian speakers who learn the language at school/college rather than at home as a child "are changing the way Hawaiian language (and in extension, Hawaiian cultural values) is understood, expressed, and embodied". Intriguing topic, crunchy details, moving postscript.

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NeSmith's paper is fascinating--and a great resource on Hawaiian language and its history. The creation of standard languages has always had the effect of abandoning the social as well as linguistic continuities of many of its nurturing communities.


I live in Oahu, and my wife sings in the Episcopal church choir, which uses Hawaiian fairly often. I'll have to listen for that next time. Cool.


Carl: Do report back!

Joel: NeSmith's description of how the Hawaiian of "neo" speakers is colored by phonetic influences from English (the native language for most of them), while at the same time they reject calques and other more obvious borrowings from English that "trad" speakers actually embrace, was particularly interesting to me. It seemed a good illustration of the idea that people's conscious awareness of their language is often limited by which parts of it are made explicit in the writing system.


There's another factor at work besides writing systems: whether or not to calque or borrow. German and Czech calque like crazy to keep their roots and stems within the 'family', while Danish and English borrow willy-nilly. These days, despite Fukuzawa's best efforts, Japanese is much more like Danish and English.

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