HONOLULU — A University of Hawaii Hawaiian language instructor is translating English-language classics into Hawaiian.
R. Keao NeSmith has translated two well-known Lewis Carroll books from the 1800s for Evertype Publishing in Ireland, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There.”
The translations are meant to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the original “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” in 2015.
Translating the curious cast of characters — including Alice, the White Rabbit and Cheshire Cat — proved challenging. NeSmith said translating the books were akin to “literary Sudoku.” For a trial run, he was asked by the publisher to translate the tea party scene in “Alice” into Hawaiian. “It presented quite a puzzle because there are any number of puns within it, as well as political satire,” he said.
NeSmith acknowledges taking “some leeway” in translating some of the poems in Carroll’s book. For example, there are no crocodiles in Hawaii, so he completely changed “How Doth the Little Crocodile,” basing it on a shark and a traditional Hawaiian mele about the phases of the moon.
“I made it fit as a literary device in the translation,” he said.
NeSmith said he hopes his work draws attention to what he said is a lack of reading materials for Hawaiian-language immersion schools.
Translating important English-language texts into Hawaiian has a long tradition in the islands, which boasted high literacy rates during the days of the monarchy. In the 1800s, popular literary works of the time were translated in Hawaiian-language newspapers.
Evertype already has translated Carroll’s book into other lesser-known languages such as Icelandic, Viennese German, three Scottish dialects, and the Belgian dialect Walloon.
NeSmith, who is an instructor at the Kawaihuelani Center for Hawaiian Language, said the publisher also plans to publish “Alice” in Tahitian, Tongan, Maori and perhaps even Marquesan.
Last month, NeSmith helped Luafata Simanu-Klutz of UH’s Indo-Pacific Language and Literature Department get a job with Evertype to translate “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” into Samoan.
NeSmith’s “Alice” translations caught the notice of German publisher Edition Tintenfass, which hired him to take on “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, who published “Le Petit Prince” in French in 1943.