Even those who have never been to Hawaii or Kauai are familiar with the word. Most people know also that it is used in greeting both at the beginning and end of a meeting. Ah, but it’s so much more. It’s funny. Being from the UK originally and having spent 12 years in the US before moving to Kauai, I found it rather strange when everyone on the island used the word in greeting. It took me awhile before I was comfortable using Aloha as my standard greeting for hello and goodbye. As I write this post, I’m actually in the UK and now it’s hard not to say the word, it has become so much a part of my vocabulary.
A ~ L ~ O ~ H ~ A
Even first time visitors are familiar with this Hawaiian greeting which is said both at the beginning and end of a conversation or meeting. But what does it mean? There are many different definitions of the word Aloha which is as it should be as there are many different meanings for all Hawaiian words. The language is very different to European languages and all words have several different meanings. So it is with Aloha. If you search the meaning, you may find as many as 20 different definitions.
My understanding is that it is word that expresses the way the Ancient Hawaiians lived : with love and compassion for themselves, each other and all beings. You will hear mention perhaps of “Aloha Spirit ” and that means living with love, compassion and peace.
Aloha encapsulates in a word the essence of the Hawaiian way of being, living and communicating with others. The traditional Hawaiian people and those who follow their ancestral ways today believe in respect for self, others, the Aina (land and ocean), creatures, all living beings. As my Kumu Hula says “The Ancient Hawaiian People never did anything without intention”. There was a very good reason for all Hawaiian ceremony, ritual and daily practice.
The Meaning of Aloha
Here is the acronymic meaning of Aloha:
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.
For now, the greeting “Aloha” is used, as many already know” to say hello and goodbye. I remember the first few months I lived on Kauai, it took a few weeks to be fully comfortable using the word instead of ‘Hi” or “bye”. Now when I leave the island for any length of time, it’s hard to stop saying it. It is also used traditionally as a way of saying “hug”. “Let’s Aloha each other” in a gathering for example. It is far closer to the concept of “Namaste” than most people realise as it is a conscious recognition of the other person in greeting, a respectful exchange of energy. Yes, it’s used casually but it’s good to be aware of the deeper meaning.
The Aloha Spirit
The true Hawaiian people, certainly those following the ancient ways, are walking examples of the “Aloha” Spirit; they really mean Aloha when they say it, in every sense of the word. If you need food, they will give it, if you need shelter, they will give it. They will care for those crossing their path as if they were family, because in the traditional Hawaiian way of living, you are a part of their “Ohana”, the Hawaiian word for family which can mean close family, larger family circle, village, town, school workplace and even island community.
I have heard more than one person comment over the years something along the lines of “well it’s easy to be friendly and happy when you live in a place like Kauai”. Well maybe so, the Sunsets, the beauty of the island, the magic of the Hula dancing, the plentiful array of food.. fish from the sea, an abundance of green from the Earth.
But life can be challenging anywhere you live, including Kauai. I’m more of the opinion that it’s the state of mind or rather the state of heart that is the Spirit of Aloha and the Spirit of the Hawaiian People which carries on the tradition of their ancestors. It’s hard to live here and not be touched by that.
Hula ~ so much more than Dance
Hula is one of the ways Aloha Spirit is expressed and it is done by sharing… that is how it is taught: yes there are events that happen where “Halau’s” from all over Hawaii come together but it is not a competition, it is in the Spirit of sharing the dance, the energy, the music, the heart energy. Hula is not just dancing, but so much more.
The dancers draw the movement of the stars and sun with their feet, the movement of the arms expresses the energy of the heart and love. Sometimes dancers gather flowers with their movements and honor the “Great Spirit” the higher consciousness that is what some may call the Divine or All that Is. The flower and plant Leis that the Dancers wear around their heads, necks, wrists and ankles are made by hand with care. It is the practice of an ancient tradition carried out with the intention of love and devotion. It is a very beautiful practice full of the highest Intention.
“Talk Story” is another way Hawaiian people share the Aloha Spirit. One of the things I always tell people when they come to Kauai is to take time to just be. There are many people who arrive to Kauai’s shores in search of healing; knowing intuitively that Kauai is a very healing place. These people do take time to just sit on a beach and be… but I do feel also that everyone who comes might slip into the Kauai ‘Vibe” . which is … not so fast!
Whenever people who know each other cross paths on Kauai (and even when they don’t) . we take time to “talk story”. We exchange “Alohas” (hugs) we sit and talk and find out about what’s happening with our friend. That’s the Hawaii way. I remember years ago camping on Anahola beach (the Hawaiian Homelands on Kauai) with my daughters. I woke up to the sound of men talking… it was about 3am. They were talking about the fish, family, past events. I came out of my tent and said Aloha. They were Hawaiian men who had just been night fishing and now they were just “talking story” on the beach. It was wonderful just chatting with them.
Ohana is the Hawaiian word which loosely translates to “family”. But it is much more than that. Ohana means your close family: Mother, Father, Sisters, Brothers, Children but it also means your wider blood family and it means the family of your village, your town, your school, your place of work, your Hula sisters and brothers, your fellow fishermen, your community all the way out to your island and even further out to encompass the Earth itself. It is truly the essence of what it means to be family. One of my favorite Hawaiian words.
When I first arrived on island 18 years ago, I met Puna Kalama Dawson, who is a Kahuna of Hula, one of the three paths of Hawaiian Spirituality. When people ask me about Puna, I always say, “she’s walking Aloha”. This is Puna chanting at the beautiful event she organized in 2012 “In the Name of Aloha”.
When you join a Hula Halau “House of Hula” you become part of the “Ohana” of the Hula Halau. The other members of the Halau are your sisters and brothers. Always.
Puna has shared her knowledge of Hula and ancient Hawaiian traditions through the practice of Hula and Aloha. She has even traveled to Europe and Japan sharing the message of Love and coming from the heart. This image of her holding her hands close to her heart but a little outward is one of the ways the Hawaiian people indicate sharing heart energy. Quite beautiful and when practiced every day, it can change your life.
The Spirit of Aloha lives on in all those who practice the meaning of Aloha : kindness, compassion, unity and living from the Heart. Thank you Puna and all the Hawaiian People who have carried these energy for us to embrace.