After following their own individual inspiration to make the scriptures in Hawaiian more accessible, three locals said they worked together with more than 30 volunteers to digitize the scriptures in Hawaiian. They said this project required meticulous effort but was also transformative as they witnessed the Lord’s hand throughout the process and in the lives of those who helped.
Robert Lono Ikuwa, Keali‘i Haverly and Alohalani Housman each shared their stories of how they got involved in the miraculous effort.
A BYU–Hawaii associate professor in the Faculty of Culture, Language & Performing Arts, Housman oversaw the digitizing of the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price in Hawaiian.
“It was prophesied this book would go to the remnants of the House of Israel,” she said. “Now, it is becoming a reality.”
“It was prophesied this book would go to the remnants of the House of Israel. Now, it is becoming a reality.
Housman said the project is fulfilling the prophecy told in the Book of Mormon, that the hearts of the children would turn to their fathers. “BYU–Hawaii faculty, students, alumni and friends were involved” in digitizing the scriptures. Friends from other islands and in the mainland also were involved, she said. “They will even say how this has strengthened their testimony, turned their hearts to their ancestors and brought them closer to Jesus Christ, and that is the whole goal of the scriptures.”
Haverly, stake president for the Laie Hawaii YSA 2nd Stake and director of facilities and maintenance for the Polynesian Cultural Center, said, “I think, to an extent, people who are not too familiar with the circumstances of Hawaii may feel the Hawaiian language is a dying language. … I think it is important to note, the Hawaiian language was never a dying language, and it is actually thriving day by day.”
Of their efforts to make the scriptures more accessible, he said, “This is not some academic process or activity. It is the process of saving more souls by sharing [the scriptures] with our community whose language is Hawaiian.”
Ikuwa, from Laie, works as the Hawaiian culture-based educator at Kamehameha schools. He said it was the Lord who helped in reformatting the scriptures. “[That should be] the message, the Lord inspired several individuals and groups of people.”
Housman said she met Ikuwa and Haverly after working at BYUH. “The Lord brought us together,” Housman said. “We worked together to bring this to fruition.” Haverly explained, “Many hands came together. Many people came together.”
The language of the heart
While Haverly was growing up, he said he would sit at his grandmother’s feet and listen to her speak Hawaiian. “I would not understand much. … [But] it became the language of my heart, although it was not my first language.
“It really became a language of importance. As I started having children, we felt that the Hawaiian language, as our ancestral language, is a way to further understand life.” Haverly said his children read and write primarily in Hawaiian.
Besides English, Haverley explained, Hawaiian is the No. 1 most spoken language in Hawaii by those under the age of 18. In fact, he said his wife taught a class in church where nine or 10 of the 12 students spoke Hawaiian as their first language. They could not read or write in English, but he said they did not have resources available to them in Hawaiian.
“And now that is gone,” Haverly said. “We can pull from the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price and be able to help people follow along [in Hawaiian].”
For those who primarily read and speak Hawaiian, Housman said, “This really is filling a need.”
The 1855 version of the Hawaiian Book of Mormon, Ka Buke a Moramona, was the original version organized into paragraphs instead of verses, Ikuwa explained.
He said George Q. Cannon was authorized by Brigham Young to translate it with several other Hawaiians, including Jonathan Napela. Reading this version was more like reading a regular book, where there was no numbering of the verses. Thus, looking up a scripture in church was very difficult, he said.
In 1905, there was an edition where the scriptures were organized into verses. Housman said the 1905 version is more “user friendly.”
The scriptures originally available to the saints in Hawaiian was the version that was not organized into verses, Haverly said. “As we the people who read and speak Hawaiian, those scriptures do not work for us.”
He said it was also difficult to study without the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price, which were not widely available to the saints in Hawaiian.
One day, Haverly said he went to the BYUH Archives and asked for the Doctrine and Covenants in Hawaiian. He took pictures of the book and put the pictures on a website so others would have access to it. “Our children and families were hungering and thirsting for our scriptures in this language.”
He said one Sunday he asked his 7-year-old son to grab his scriptures for church, so his son grabbed his Hawaiian Book of Mormon. Haverly said he explained to him how they could not look up scriptures easily in the Hawaiian Book of Mormon. “My son looked kind of disappointed,” he said. “I asked him, ‘Would you like me to follow up and see if we could get a more appropriate version?’ He said yes. He’s 17 now.”
Haverly continued, “It’s been a 10-year process for our family to see if we could get these resources more available to us. … It was all in the Lord’s time.
“It’s pretty emotional just thinking about it because you know our Heavenly Father is in the details. … To be able to sit around as family and feast upon the words in the language of this land, of the land that we sit and stand and breath and live and eat from … is miraculous.”
Video by Uurtsaikh Nyamdeleg
Ikuwa said he was converted to the Church in 1996. Of his conversion, he said, “The day I was baptized, I did not speak Hawaiian. But when I went up to bear my testimony, the first words that came out of my mouth were Hawaiian. … I feel like it is this gift for me.”
Ikuwa said he has now worked as a Hawaiian translator for the Church and has taught the Hawaiian language for close to six years at BYU in Provo.
Ikuwa said he gathered 25 to 30 volunteers, including BYU students and community members, to help with reformatting the scriptures in 2015, while teaching Hawaiian language courses at BYU in Provo.
Ikuwa referred to the volunteers as “Hui Iosepa,” or the Iosepa branch. He said this group acted as an “impetus in building momentum to align our scriptures in Hawaiian with current English text for modern-day speakers of Hawaiian.”
This Utah-based group of volunteers was named after the Iosepa saints to honor the sacrifices of Native Hawaiian pioneers who moved to Utah in the 1880s to receive their temple endowments and to build Zion, Ikuwa explained. The Hawaiian language served as the primary language of daily communication and worship over a 30-year span in the town of Iosepa,” Ikuwa said.
A video called, “The City of Iosepa: The Never Fading Flower,” by Palakiko Chandler, says, “More than 1,000 people return to Iosepa each spring … to commemorate the pioneers and the fruits of their labors.”
About the journey of the Iosepa saints, Ikuwa said, “It was such a sacrifice to travel… The big thing about the Iosepa saints is they created a town out of nothing. They lived the gospel, and they suffered a lot. They built so much.
“They grew so much to love that place that they cried when they had to move back to Hawaii. I feel like they are a part of this story as well,” Ikuwa shared.
Ikuwa said the Iosepa branch he worked with did their work “pakana style,” where one partner would read while the other would listen. The two would work together to compare the digital version to the text version to make sure they match up, he said.
The proofreading process required the volunteer to look at the text and then the digital version repeatedly. “Your eyes start to get sore. The process is so painful,” Ikuwa said.
To combat the difficulty of the work, Ikuwa said he focused on inspiring the volunteers. He said, “I actually taught them the history of George Q. Cannon. … I feel like you have to feed them spiritually in order to get into the tedious work.” Ikuwa said the Iosepa Branch proofread for about two months and stopped around the end of Alma.
“Let me tell you about the spirit of the volunteers,” Ikuwa said. He explained the true miracle happened within the lives of those who helped.
“We had an individual who was inactive, and she felt so touched I would reach out to her to be a part of this sacred work. She and her two daughters worked together, … and the daughters shared with me how beautiful it has been to read the scriptures with their mom and feel the Spirit of the Lord as they did the work.”
Ikuwa also talked about a volunteer who had not attended church in a while. He said as this volunteer was reading, she felt the Spirit tell her she needed to come back to church so she could go to the temple. “Isn’t that beautiful?” Ikuwa asked. “I can feel the Spirit in this monotonous work.”
Ikuwa described a “Come Follow Me” group of about 82 people who meet regularly. He said the group fasted and prayed together to show their thankfulness to God for the work done in the digitization of the scriptures in Hawaiian. He said two days after the fast, the announcement came that the scriptures would be available on the Gospel Library app in Hawaiian.
When speaking of this group, Ikuwa said one sister shared a particularly sacred experience from the group’s fast. She said as she was closing her fast, she heard a soft voice that said, “Lohe au i kou pule,” which means, “I heard your prayer.”
Of this experience, Ikuwa said, “The voice she heard was in Hawaiian. It was not in English. … The fact Heavenly Father responded to her in Hawaiian was kind of an answer to all of our prayers. … The Lord Himself said, ‘Lohe au i kou pule.’”
The Lord Himself said, ‘Lohe au i kou pule.’
The Lord’s hands
Housman said a few years ago she felt impressed to do her dissertation. Although she already had a plan for what she was going to do, she felt like she needed to go in the direction of the scriptures. So her plan changed, she said.
One day, Housman said she read the George Q. Cannon introduction in the 1905 version of the Hawaiian Book of Mormon. In the introduction, Cannon described some challenges he faced with the translation. Housman said she read Cannon’s words, “If I do the work to fulfill the Lord’s words, He will do the rest.”
“I felt like it was a message from George Q. Cannon. Just do the work and the Lord will do the rest,” Housman shared.
Housman said listening to the Holy Ghost is crucial. “I know when the Lord says look, you need to look. When he says do this, do this. When we do not, we miss out on the opportunity to serve.
“The prophet has been telling us to hear Him. The Lord has a work for everyone to do and it is different for each person. He will let us know what we need to do, and we are his hands.”
The Lord has a work for everyone to do and it is different for each person. He will let us know what we need to do, and we are his hands.
Her constant prayer, she said, is she will be able to do the Lord’s will. “The Lord will use you in miraculous ways that you do not even know.”
Housman said she was gifted a copy of the Hawaiian Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price. “It is hard to find a copy. You can only find it in the archives.” Housman said she felt prompted to make these scriptures more widely available to the Hawaiian saints as part of her dissertation.
As part of her work, she typed up the entire Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price with the help of her daughter and some BYUH students. In the summer of 2018, she said she typically spent 10 hours a day, six days a week proofreading and creating a document using modern orthography, “using the okina and kahako and updating spellings of the language.” They would compare the text version to make sure they matched up.
However, in November 2020, “the Church approved a copy of the original books without the use of modern orthography.” She then spent 70 hours that month creating and proofreading a new document to meet their request
More volunteers in December spent time proofreading that version as well.
“The Doctrine and Covenants being available is just heroic,” Haverly said. He said one reason the Doctrine and Covenants is so valuable to Church members is it helps Church leaders know what their responsibilities are. For example, he said having the information about missionary work available is a great blessing to his children as they prepare to serve.
Reading the scriptures in Hawaiian provides insight into many words, Housman explained. She said many English speakers do not know what the phrase, “Verily, verily I say unto you” means. Many think of it as a filler word. However, in Hawaiian, the phrase means, “A truth, a truth, I speak unto you.”
“Certain words are so much clearer and deeper in understanding in Hawaiian,” she said.
A blessing in disguise
An organized effort to digitize the scriptures happened during the pandemic, Ikuwa said. “This is where the blessing in disguise came about.” After consulting with the ad-hoc advocacy team, he said he extended 100 invitations to trusted Hawaiian-speaking members via email and over 40 responded. Many who helped in 2015 as part of Hui Iosepa resumed work on this project despite a four-year hiatus, Ikuwa said.
Housman said, “It is interesting how the Lord works.” Because of the pandemic, she said people had more time and could do the proofreading online.
Haverly said they made sure they worked in the spirit of what the Church wanted them to do. “This is strictly a digital effort. We were under no authority to translate. … We did our best to digitize the scriptures in alignment with our predecessors.”
Ikuwa said within three weeks, the 30 volunteers had proofread the first round of the whole Ka Buke a Moramona. Ikuwa then said he told the volunteers they needed to do a second round to double check their work. During the second round of proofreading, Housman invited her BYUH students to help. “You are dealing with scripture that is over 100 years old,” Haverly explained. “So the scans [of the scriptures] need to be proofed and reproofed and reread and assessed and corrected.” He said they proofread “very thoroughly and meticulously.”
Ikuwa explained, “I did Zoom trainings with Keali’i and myself and then Alohalani joined in. … We were looking for tedious things like punctuation marks, making sure it was perfectly aligned with the original 1905 text of the Book of Mormon.
Housman said, “In early December 2020, the final edits were collaboratively completed by Kamoa‘e Walk, Keali‘i Haverly, Lono Ikuwa and me.”
In January 2021, Housman said their team was able to view all three books on the Gospel Library app and recommend edits.
“On Feb. 9, 2021, we received an email stating that Ka Buke A Moramona (1905), Na Berita a me na Kauoha (1914), and Ka Momi Waiwai Nui (1914) was going online and would be accessible to everyone,” Housman explained.
Ikuwa said, “From April of 2020 until now, we were able to promptly proofread all the Hawaiian language scriptures because of the sacrifice and love of our dear volunteers. Our advocacy team provided frequent updates with Elder [Voi R.] Taeoalii, our area authority in Hawaii, who then communicated to the area presidency.”
Haverly said he also traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah, and communicated with Church leaders about the reformatting.
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