Keeping Culture Alive Through Education

McKay School Graduate Helps Restore the Hawaiian Language

Read Time: 2 minutes
Charles Naumu
Photo courtesy of Charles Naumu

Charles Naumu had his first experience with teaching as a missionary in the Southern Far East Mission. While serving in Taiwan, Naumu was asked by the education department in the Republic of China to teach English at both the Merchant Marine Academy and the Textile University in Zhongli. “It was a wonderful experience to start my teaching experiences,” Naumu recalled.

Before his mission, Naumu had earned a bachelor’s degree in teacher education from the McKay School of Education at BYU. After his mission, Naumu returned to BYU and received a master’s in geography. He then returned home to Hawai‘i and began teaching at Waipahu High School.

When the Kingdom of Hawai‘i was overthrown in 1893, use of the Hawaiian language was banned in schools. When that ban was lifted in 1986, Naumu became part of the movement to restore Hawaiian culture. The only native Hawaiian teacher at his school, Naumu was assigned to teach a class on Hawaiian culture and language. However, at the time Naumu did not fluently speak Hawaiian; he took classes at the University of Hawai‘i to catch up. “It was only through being a student again that I was able to learn the Hawaiian language and to try to help keep it alive.”

Naumu soon received an offer to be vice principal at Oahu’s Kula Kaiapuni ‘O Ānuenue school, which hosts a Hawaiian Language Immersion Program (HLIP). Less than a year later, Naumu became the principal there.

Ānuenue students from kindergarten through 12th grade speak Hawaiian in all of their classes except English. The students study a regular core curriculum, but with traditional Hawaiian cultural values woven in. The football team calls their calls their commands in Hawaiian, something that brought Naumu great pride, as he also served as athletic director at the school.

Naumu was principal of Ānuenue for 16 years. “That was a real privilege,” he said. “I was able to help students gain an education, but also to keep the Hawaiian language alive.” HLIP schools can be found on five of the eight major islands of Hawai‘i, and they, along with the Hawaiian culture, continue to grow. 

After more than 40 years as an educator, Naumu retired and now serves on the University of Hawai‘i's College of Education alumni board of directors, continuing to influence the future of education. “All in all, I think a career in education is well worth the investment.”

Writer: Savannah Kimzey

Editor: Cynthia Glad