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- A Brief History of the Hawaiian Language
Common Hawaiian Words, Sayings & Greetings:+−
- 1. Aloha – Hello or Goodbye
- 2. A hui hou – Goodbye, until we meet again
- 3. Mahalo – Thank you
- 4. ’A’ ole palikir – You’re Welcome
- 5. Ohana – Family
- 6. Keiki – Child or Children
- 7. Pono – Doing What is Right
- 8. HA‘AHA‘A – Humility
- 9. Lanai – Balcony or Patio
- 10. Hula – Hawaiian Dance
- 11. Lei – Necklace made of flowers
The state of Hawaii has two official languages (English and Hawaiian) and an unofficial language (Pidgin). If you’re planning a trip to Hawaii soon, your trip will be more impactful if you understand a little history of the language and some of the most common Hawaiian words, Hawaiian sayings, and Hawaiian greetings.
This guide will provide you with some of the most popular terms and sayings you need to know before you head out to the Aloha state.
A Brief History of the Hawaiian Language
The Hawaiian language, “ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi”, is a Polynesian-inspired language that closely resembles other South Pacific languages like Tahitian, Marquesan, and Samoan.
It was originally an oral-based language only but developed into a written language as well in the 1820s. The written language is based on 13 English letters, with only 8 consonants and 5 vowels.
There are also two symbols that appear in Hawaiian words – the ‘Okina and the Kahakō.
- The ʻOkina is a phonemic stop or fast break in the word. An ʻOkina will appear in front of a vowel, but never before another consonant. It will never be the last letter in a word, but will always appear between letters or at the beginning of a word.
- The Kahakō is a stress mark that will lengthen and add stress to a vowel.
These two symbols not only change how words are pronounced, but they also can change the meaning of the word. A classic example is the Hawaiian word pau, which means finish.
However, if you insert one, two, or three diacritical symbols you will have four totally different words:
- pau means “finish” or “to be done”
- paʻu means “smudge”,
- paʻū means “moist”, and
- pāʻū is a women’s skirt.
That’s it for our brief history lesson, now let’s make sure you understand some important Hawaiian words, phrases, and greetings before you go.
Common Hawaiian Words, Sayings & Greetings:
The following are some of the most common Hawaiian words and phrases you will come across in Hawaii.
1. Aloha – Hello or Goodbye
Aloha can be used to say “Hello” or “Goodbye” but it has a much deeper meaning to the people of Hawaii. Aloha also means kindness, love, and affection.
The word aloha is also often used with other words to create slightly different phrases. Examples include:
- Aloha kakahiaka – means good morning.
- Aloha auinala – means good afternoon.
- Aloha ahiahi – means good evening.
- Aloha ‘oe – means farewell.
- Aloha wau iā ‘oe – means I love you.
2. A hui hou – Goodbye, until we meet again
Pronounced (ah hoo-ey hoe):
A hui hou means “until we meet again”. It’s a polite way to say goodbye or “see you later” in Hawaiian.
3. Mahalo – Thank you
Mahalo in its simplest form means “Thank You” in Hawaiian. But, like the word aloha, it has much deeper meaning and is used to express gratitude, praise, respect, and admiration.
Mahalo nui loa – Thank you very much
Pronounced (mah-hah-loh noo-ee)
4. ’A’ ole palikir – You’re Welcome
Pronounced (ah-oh-leh pee-lee-kee-yah):
’A’ ole palikir means You’re welcome or No problem. When someone says ‘Mahalo’ to you, this is what you should respond with.
5. Ohana – Family
6. Keiki – Child or Children
Keiki means child or children in Hawaiian. You will often see keiki menus at restaurants and activities for keiki at your hotel.
7. Pono – Doing What is Right
Pono is probably most simply translated as “doing what’s right.” In Hawaiian, if you are living pono, you are living a good, balanced life and you are generally hopeful and optimistic. Pono is a big reason why the people of Hawaii are friendly and helpful.
8. HA‘AHA‘A – Humility
Pronounced (hah ah-hah ah)
Somewhat related to Pono is the word HA‘AHA‘A which is the value of humility. It means one should be humble, modest, and open your thoughts.
9. Lanai – Balcony or Patio
Lanai means balcony, patio. Hawaii hotel rooms and homes often have lanais to take in the beautiful views of the island.
10. Hula – Hawaiian Dance
Hula is a type of dance that is unique to Hawaii and is meant to express the stories, history, and culture of Hawaii. The best place to experience a Hula dance is at a Hawaiian Lu’au.
11. Lei – Necklace made of flowers
A lei is any series of objects strung together with the intent of being worn. Lei’s can be made with flowers, leaves, shells, seeds, feathers, or even bones of certain animals. In Hawaii, flower leis are given to arriving or departing guests as a gesture of affection. A lei is the symbol of Aloha
Hawaiian Words for Men and Women
These words are especially important when you are trying to find the right bathroom 🙂
1. Wahine – A Polynesian Woman or Female Surfer
Wahine means lady, female. Restrooms are often labeled with a sign that says “Wahine” instead of “Women”.
2. Kane – Man or Male
Kane means man, male. Restrooms are often labeled with a sign that says “Kane” instead of “Men”.
Hawaiian Words related to drinking and eating
When you are eating at a restaurant, heading to a lu’au, or stopping by a great Hawaiian food truck, here are some terms you should be aware of.
1. Poke – “chunk” or “slice”
The word poke by itself means “chunk” or “slice” in Hawaiian. Poke bowls are very common in Hawaii and have recently become very popular across the mainland as well. These bowls are composed of raw seafood, generally Tuna, that’s cut into small chunks and marinated. The base of the bowl consists of white rice topped with raw fish, green onions, spices, and maybe a few other items. It’s generally a very simple dish with only a few ingredients.
2. Pupu – Appetizer
3. ‘ONO – Delicious
In Hawaii, ‘Ono describes the food as delicious. If you’re having a great chicken dinner, you might say… “Man, this chicken is ‘ono.”
4. Pau – Finished
Pau means finished, done, or completed. When you finish your meal at a restaurant you can tell the waiter you are ‘pau’ with your meal. This means you are done and the waiter can take your plate.
5. Pau Hana –
6. Poi –
Hawaiian poi is a purple pudding-like dish made by cooking and then mashing the roots of taro.
7. Lu’au – A Hawaiian Cultural Feast
A Lu’au is a Hawaiian feast (usually served as a buffet) featuring live music and cultural performances. Popular Lu’au dishes include:
- Kalua pig – Pork cooked in an underground oven, called an imu.
- Laulau – Meat wrapped in luau (taro) leaves and steamed, traditionally prepared in an imu.
- Haupia – Coconut pudding.
8. SPAM Musubi
Pronounced (spam moo-soo-bee)
SPAM Musubi is a popular Hawaiian snack and lunch food composed of grilled SPAM, rice, seaweed, and furikake in the tradition of a Japanese Sushi Roll. You’ll find it all over the Hawaiian islands, at restaurants, diners, and convenience stores.
Fun fact: Hawaiians consume more SPAM per capita than any other state, at a rate of five cans per person, each year.
9. Waina – Wine
Waina is the Hawaiian term for Wine.
Hawaiian Words to know Traveling and Sightseeing
Here are some travel and sightseeing-focused words that will help when you’re headed for a day at the beach or a drive, tour, hike, etc.
1. Mauka –
You’ll often hear the words Mauka and Makai when getting directions around the island.
- Mauka: Toward the mountain / on the mountainside. Sounds like a “mountain”. It means to look or turn towards the mountain/land.
- Makai: Toward the water / on the ocean side. Uses the Hawaiian word “kai” (sea). Look or turn towards the ocean.
3. Kapu – Forbidden or “Keep Out”
Kapu literally means “forbidden.” The symbol for kapu is two sticks crossed in the shape of an X with two ball shapes on top. You will see these signs warning you one that entry is forbidden because the point is sacred or protected. It means no trespassing.
4. Moana – Ocean
Moana means Ocean in Hawaiian, but it’s also the name of a popular Disney movie.
5. Pali – Cliff
The word Pali means Cliff or very steep slope in Hawaiian. The famous Na Pali coast in Kauai is a great example of the word and translates into ‘the cliffs’ or ‘many cliffs’.
6. E hele kāua i ke kahakai – Let’s go to the beach
“E hele kāua i ke kahakai” means “Let’s go to the beach”. You can say “E hele kaua i ke kahakai” if you want to invite your friends or family to join you for a fun day at the beach.
7. Honu – Green Sea Turtle
Honu means turtle and is an important term to Hawaiians. To locals, the Honu is a symbol of wisdom and good luck. Specifically, the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle is the only indigenous reptile in Hawaii.
Hawaiian Hand Gestures
1. Shaka – Pronounced (Sha-ka)
A Shaka is a popular hand gesture you make by extending your thumb and pinkie and lightly shaking your hand. It symbolizes the Aloha spirit or the feeling of friendship, understanding, or solidarity.
Hawaiian Pidgin Words
English and Hawaiian may be the two official languages of Hawaii, but there’s a third unofficial language called Pidgin. Hawaiian Pidgin is also known as Hawaiian Creole English and is often spoken by locals in everyday, casual conversation. Here are five common terms in Pidgin:
1. Howzit? – How are you?
Howzit is a Hawaiian slang term for how are you?
2. Grindz – Food
Gindz means food. If your food is really good, you would say it’s ‘Ono grindz.
3. Brah – Brother, Friend
This is a casual way to refer to someone, often a friend. It’s short for Brother or “Braddah”.
4. Broke Da Mouth
If you eat something really good, you can say that it was so good it “Broke da mouth”.
5. Kanak Attack
When you are very sleepy and tired after eating a huge amount of food.
Conclusion – Hawaiian Words & Phrases
If you made it this far, you should have a basic understanding of the Hawaiian words, phrases, and sayings you need to get by and show some respect to the Hawaiian language and people.