Keao Nesmith Translates the “Harry Potter” Books into Hawaiian
Last year, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was translated into Scots by Matthew Fitt. This year, Keao Nesmith began translating the series into Hawaiian, and the first book has already been published. You can purchase it on Amazon here.
Honolulu spoke with translator Keao Nesmith about his process and his plans for translating the future books. Nesmith began his career as a translator in 2010 with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. He was then asked to translate J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. While he was working on it, they asked if he’d like to do Harry Potter, and he said, “Why not?”
It took Nesmith about a month and a half to translate Philosopher’s Stone from English to Hawaiian. Honolulu asked him how he translates some of the more creative words in the Harry Potter series.
The spells that are in Latin are left in Latin. The ones in English got changed to Hawaiian, like the one where Ron tries to turn his rat yellow (‘Sunshine, daisies, butter mellow, turn this stupid, fat rat yellow’). Names of people were left as is—and I considered centaurs people—but names of creatures were changed to Hawaiian. Fluffy, the three-headed dog, is Peto Huluhulu. Hedwig, Harry’s owl, is Lehua… The terms for the different balls in Quidditch ([B]ludger, [Q]uaffle), as well as the term [‘]Quidditch[‘] itself, were left as is.
Nesmith plans to translate the entire Potter series, but he’s also working on The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia.
I haven’t started the second ‘Harry Potter’ yet, but I had a long conversation with my publisher about a couple of the terms, such as ‘house[-]elf,’ because, how are you supposed to translate [‘]house[-]elf[‘]? It’s not the same [type of] elf as in ‘The Hobbit’.
Honolulu revealed that Nesmith and his publisher settled on a word derived from the Hawaiian term Mu, which is a type of people in Hawaiian legend, combined with the word for house, hale.
“Books like Harry Potter a Me Ka Pōhaku Akeakamai are contributing to the kind of support the Hawaiian language needs in this day and age,” said Nesmith. “The dream of a Hawaiian-speaking or multilingual society, as it was a century ago, is a powerful motivating factor. I hope the cool factor of the Hawaiian language will rise a bit with the release of Harry Potter.”
Check out the first page of the Hawaiian translation of Philosopher’s Stone below, and stay tuned for translations of the rest of the series!