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TRADITIONAL WAYS OF KNOWING: Hurricanes

Recently, there have been discussions about whether or not hurricane insurance is needed for Hawaiʻi Island residents.

  • Some people claimed that Hawaiʻi Island is not vulnerable to a hurricane because storms are redirected by the island's two major volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea.
  • However, the Hawaiian Language Newspapers provide evidence that Hawaiʻi Island is vulnerable to hurricanes (Fig. 1).

<p>Fig. 1.&nbsp;Artist’s rendering of the destruction during the Hawaiʻi hurricane of 1871.</p><br />


  • The Hawaiian Language Newspapers show that a major hurricane struck the islands of Hawaiʻi and Maui on August 9, 1871 (Fig. 2).
  • The historical papers allowed researchers to track the hurricane from Waipiʻo, to Kohala, and then over to Maui (Fig. 3).
  • The accounts in the newspapers act a bit like citizen science data.
  • They provide a timeline of the storm hitting as well as detailed descriptions of the destruction from Hilo to Lahaina, leading researchers to characterize the storm as a category 3 or 4 hurricane.

<p>Fig. 2.&nbsp;The Hawaiian Language Newspapers include more than a million typescript pages of text—the largest native-language cache in the Western Hemisphere.</p><br />
<p>Fig. 3.&nbsp;Reconstructed track of the 1871 hurricane across the islands of Hawaiʻi and Maui.</p><br />


The existence of such a powerful hurricane helps to show that Hawaiʻi Island and Maui are vulnerable to hurricanes. This is just one way that the knowledge in the Hawaiian Language Newspapers is important to uncover. From 1834 to 1948, more than a hundred independent newspapers were printed in Hawaiian. This is significant! The newspapers are an amazing source of historical and cultural information, and only a small fraction of that has been translated (learn more in the Voice of the Sea video below). 

  • UH News posted an article about this discovery and the Hawaiian Language team led by Puakea Nogelmeier, professor of Hawaiian language at UH Mānoa, director of the UH Institute of Hawaiian Language Research and Translation (IHLRT).
  • The IHLRT is part of the UH Sea Grant College Program‘s Center for Integrated Science, Knowledge and Culture.
  • Hawaiʻi Public Radio posted an article about the use of Hawaiian Language Newspapers to uncover the 1871 hurricane. This link will also take you to audio from that report.
  • Hurricane with a History: Hawaiian Newspapers Illuminate an 1871 Storm. Read about the discovery in this open-access article that shares about the "High literacy rates among Native Hawaiians in the nineteenth century and publication of more than 100 Hawaiian-language newspapers from 1834 to 1948 produced the largest archive of indigenous writing in the Western Hemisphere. These newspapers extend our knowledge of historical environmental events and natural disasters back into the early nineteenth century and deeper into precontact times. Articles reporting observations of meteorological events allowed the authors to reconstruct the track and intensity of an 1871 hurricane that brought devastation to the islands of Hawaii and Maui and to discern historical patterns of droughts and floods in Hawaii. These findings illustrate the value of Hawaiian-language newspapers as resources for science research and science education."

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Exploring Our Fluid Earth, a product of the Curriculum Research & Development Group (CRDG), College of Education. University of Hawaii, 2011. This document may be freely reproduced and distributed for non-profit educational purposes.