Even those people who have not been to Hawaii know that word. Made famous in countless Hollywood movies, it’s the word that immediately communicates “Hawaii” or Speaking Hawaiian.
Hawaiian words are so beautiful aren’t they? Aloha, Mahalo, Lei, Lani, Kuleana… they sound smooth, they sound soft; my feeling is that the sound of the Hawaiian language seems to wrap around me, my senses and it just feels good. I feel embraced by it. I love listening to the chanting or singing in Hawaiian. So this post is about Speaking Hawaiian and embracing the Aloha Spirit.
So if you are visiting Hawaii, it’s good to know a few basic words.
Aloha ~ used as most people know to greet and leave people. The meaning of Aloha is deeper than a simple greeting though:
Akahai ~ Kindness
L ~ Lokahi ~ Unity / Oneness
O.~. Olu Olu ~ Truthful
H ~ Ha’a ha’a Humility Breath (of Life)
A ~ Ahounui ~ Patience & perseverance
In my Kauai Guide there is further explanation about the word Aloha and Hawaiian Spirituality.
As with most indigenous nations of the world, Hawaiian was an oral language. Unfortunately when the US annexed Hawaii in 1898 the language was banned and this had a devastating effect ultimately as it followed the arrival of the missionaries earlier in the century who taught English and as well as Christianity.
Most Hawaiian people today do not speak Hawaiian on a daily basis. Fortunately though that is changing as about 30 – 40 years ago, some inspired people decided to ensure that the Hawaiian language was not lost. Now there are many “immersion” schools that teach Hawaiian and practice Hawaiian on a daily basis such as Kanui Kapono on Kauai and others across Hawaii. Apparently you can now do a degree in the Hawaiian Language at the University of Hawaii. This is all such good news.
On the small island of Ni’ihau, which is just off the coast of Kauai, people do speak Hawaiian as their main language on a daily basis. This has continued uninterrupted since before the days of the Westerners. There are less than 200 people living on Ni’ihau, but it’s wonderful to know that there, Hawaiian is spoken as it has always been spoken.
Hawaiian only has 8 consonants and 5 vowels. Makes it easier if you are studying. A, E, I, O, U and H, K, L, M, N, P, W and ‘ (the Okina)
A is pronounced “ah”
E is pronounced “eh”
I is pronounced “ee”
O is pronounced “oh”
U is pronounced “oo”
If you are interested in learning Hawaiian, you can do that online at Olelo Online
Wehewehe has a good Hawaiian dictionary.
I am forever grateful to the person who gave me the best tip I have ever heard during my first couple of weeks on Hawaii with respect to pronouncing Hawaiian : You pronounce every single vowel. So for example, on Kauai, Kapa’a is pronounced Kapahah, Pe’e Road is not pronounced “pee” but “Peheh”. Now that is also because of the ‘ (okina) but it applies to any time there is a double consonant.
The Hawaiian songs that are sung so freely at Luaus and the Hawaiian Chants that thankfully (due to the Kahunas) have continued passed down from Kahuna to Kahuna mean that the Hawaiian language is not lost. Particularly in the Mele (songs) of the Chants as practiced by those who follow the path of Hula, the Hawaiian language is quite beautiful.
A few Useful Hawaiian words and phrases
Even though Hawaiian is not spoken by most people fluently, many words are used by everyone who lives in Hawaii on a daily basis. The list is long, but here are a few of those words for those who would like to practice speaking Hawaiian :
Akamai – clever
Aloha – a greeting said at meeting and parting
Aloha Kakahiaka – good morning
Aloha ʻoe – farewell
A hui hou – until we meet again
Aina – land (but this includes the ocean)
Hale – house/home
Mahalo – thank you
Mahalo nui loa – thank you very much
Malama – to care for
Kama’aina – Local, long term resident of Hawaii
Makai – towards the Ocean
Lanai – deck, balcony, porch
Lei – a circle worn around the neck, wrist, ankle, waist or head. Usually made of flowers, ferns or shells
Luau – a gathering where food and music is shared
Mauka = towards the Mountains
Kokua – help, assistance as in ‘please kokua and don’t use sunscreen that damages the reef”
Kuleana – responsibility, but spiritual responsibility as well as what is understood by the usual term
Wahine – woman
Kane – man
Keiki – child
Kuʻuipo – sweetheart
Hauʻoli la Hanau – Happy Birthday
Pau – Done
Pau Hana – Work is done (there are several restaurants across Hawaii named this!)
Puka – hole
Ono – delicious, good as in “that fish is ono”
Poi – Sacred food used in ceremonies made from Taro
Pupu – starter
Tutu – Grandmother (familiar)
Hana Hou – do it again, “encore”
ʻOhana – family circle, but it is used for all your communities : your immediate family Ohana, your workplace ohana, your village ohana, your school ohana, your island ohana
The Hawaiian language is so rich. I don’t speak Hawaiian, I wish I could. But I understand enough to know that Hawaiians have many words for the same English word for example, or rather many different words which more accurately describe the nuances of different English words or meanings. Just looking at the sentence, I’m groaning inwardly at the inability of the English language… or perhaps my inability to write what I mean!
But perhaps I’m also getting ahead of myself. What I really want to say about the Hawaiian language is that it’s inseparable from the ancient Hawaiian way of life which embraced a way of living and spirituality that encompassed people, the land, the ocean and all living things. From paddling in the Ocean to carving stone, from making Leis for Ceremony or Celebrations to making Poi, from caring for the Keiki to caring for the land. The Aloha Spirit is the Hawaiian way.