Diverse voices: Ke Ahiahi Mamua O Kalikimaka (‘Twas the Night before Christmas in Hawai’i)

MeneHune. Ke Ahiahi Mamua O Kalikimaka (‘Twas the Night before Christmas in Hawai’i). Illustrated by Barbara Ewald, based on the original poem by Clement C. Moore. Honolulu: Bess Press, 1994. Print.

Above image from https://www.amazon.com/Ke-Ahiahi-Mamua-Kalikimaka-Christmas/dp/1880188929

From Bess Press, the most well-known educational publisher in Hawai’i, comes Ke Ahiahi Mamua O Kalikimaka, a version of the well-known poem ‘Twas the Night before Christmas told from  Hawaiian perspective.

It begins with the Clement C. Moore poem, published in 1862, and then says “Now, Keiki… here is a happy Hapa-Hawaiian version”  which begins ” ‘Twas the night before Kalikimaka…” The home in this story is a traditional grass hale, and the scenes depicted are Hawaiian domestic scenes: “The keiki [children] were nestled all snug in koko beds [string hammock]”and “mama in her hainaka lei, and I in my papale cap had just settled down for a long island nap.” The book follows the structure and story of the poem, but makes substitutes or slight changes based on the Hawaiian perspective. It finishes with a “Mele Kalikimaka to all and to all aloha!”

This book is an interesting blend of western European storytelling with indigenous Hawaiian language and culture. The colorful illustrations feature a Hawaiian family in their home, celebrating a Christian holiday in somewhat similar ways many Americans might be familiar with. And it offers a fascinating look at the inside of a house that might be very different from ones many children might be familiar with– but a family that may also quite familiar.

The book offers an introduction to some basic Hawaiian vocabulary– those things that a child learns first: house, child, hat, mouse, quick, bed, candy, and so on. There is a note about Hawaiian pronunciation and translation at the beginning, as well as a glossary of introduced words, so that readers can go back and practice. The story begins and ends with the sheet music to “Mele Kalikimaka,” a popular Christmas tune by R. Alex Anderson.

This book is very readable– with, perhaps, the exception of the Hawaiian words, which are a fun challenge to parse out with help from the key at the bottom of each page.  The illustrations are a strength, because they tell so much about the family in the poem. Because the original work is familiar, the reader guided by the similarity when engaging with the text. The poem is divided carefully across the pages, with very few lines per page, and a lot of white space for clarity and ease for young eyes.

Highly recommended for a seasonal read-along in the lower elementary grades, and offers a good jumping off point for a unit on indigenous Hawaiian culture.