For my second of three events on Veteran’s Day, I was delighted to find a change of pace in a panel discussion about Disney’s Moana in Olelo Hawaii at the 38th Annual Hawaii International Film Festival presented by Halekulani. This panel featured Hawaiian scholar Dr. Puakea Nogelmeier, script translator Kamuela Yim, and voice of character Gramma Tala, Kalehua Kawaʻa.
The short and sweet event featured clips of the ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi version of Moana intertwined with panel discussion on the process of translating the film. When we reached the last of the movie clips, organizers opened up the audience to a quick Q&A.
The discussion provided interesting insight on a cross section between filmmaking and linguistics. ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi being an immensely high-context and poetic language, translators found that directing translating English text wouldn’t quite work. They explained how the process went from translating one phrase in several ways, then narrowing them down by the appropriate syllables then maybe consider the lip movement of the animation.
The panelists discussed the challenges of translating key phrases which have no direct translation into ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi. For example, in the character Maui’s song “You’re Welcome,” the actual title phrase has no direct translation into Hawaiian, so instead, the phrase “nou ia,” meaning “I did this for you,” was used. Similarly, the Maori version used the phrase “mihi mai ra,” loosely meaning “acknowledge me.”
The panel discussion, for good reason, was tailored to native speakers. While the language of the movie was ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, the subtitles remained in the original English script, meaning that certain jokes and nuances were available only to native speakers. I found it fascinating how even though certain jokes get lost with translation from English to ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, translators were able to replace them with Hawaiian jokes. It felt to me that, in a way, the translators had a little secret between they and the native speaking audience. While I can’t relate to being a native speaker, I loved how, for once, Hawaiians have something in the media that is soley theirs for them to enjoy, not something commoditized for the sake of foreigners.
This film marked the first time a major movie has been translated into ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, and the 46th language Moana has been translated into.
Translators were extremely proud and satisfied with their work, with panelist Yim claiming that the film was “one hundred percent the best that we could put out.”
Yim shared how big of a deal it is that Native Hawaiian children now have a movie for them in their native language, saying “it can only get better for our language, it can only get better for Hawaiʻi.”
Disney has currently only intended the film to be distributed for educational reasons, but translators hope that can eventually change. While there are plans to distribute copies of the film to each school in the state of Hawaiʻi, Dr. Nogelmeier is actively striving to see the day where copies of Moana are being sold at every Longs Drugs across the island chain.