Whether you’re planning on visiting or moving to the Hawaiian Islands, language is sure to be one of the first things you notice when your plane lands.
The flight attendant will likely welcome you to the islands with aloha ahiahi e komo mai i ka Hawai’i malama pono a hui hou. You may then need to catch the Wikiwiki shuttle from one side of the Honolulu Airport to the other. Where, if you’re lucky, you’re greeted with a lei.
Bits of Hawaiian language are still infused in today’s culture. So, without further ado, here are what I have found to be five of the most common Hawaiian words used in daily life that are worth memorizing before you come.
1. mahalo (mŭ-hall-oh)
Meaning: thank you. Or, if you want to get fancy and shock a local, mahalo nui loa is thank you very much.
2. aloha (uh-low-hah)
Meaning: hello, goodbye, love, and affection. Hawaiian teachers often tell kids that aloha technically means every word, though, you’ll typically hear it used as mainly a greeting or a parting.
3. kokua (kō-koo-uh)
Help or support. Seen on signs anywhere from hiking trails and elementary schools to grocery stores and trash cans and always meaning please do your part to help keep things clean.
4) ohana (ō-hawn-uh)
Family. Often quoted from the popular Hawaiian style Disney film, Lilo & Stitch: “Ohana means family. Family means no one gets left behind.” And they mean it.
5) e komo mai (eh-kō-mō-my-ee)
Welcome. Can be found outside on your neighbor’s door mat: “e komo mai, please remove your shoes.”
Perhaps the most important part of the local Hawaiian culture is not in memorizing the common colloquialisms but in how you say them.
Speak with aloha and aloha will be shown back.
The demeanor in which you carry yourself goes a long way on the islands. Coming across as uptight, rigid, and in a rush is a big turn off to locals who have worked hard to keep that special part of the Hawaiian culture alive. The laid back culture of hanging out and “talking story” is of high value. It’s how people share life together and make special moments out of average days.
Local people are not looking for perfection in interactions but just an effort from tourists and new residents to get to know the history of the different cultures that make up Hawai’i and that you respect when those cultural differences mean they do things…well, differently.
Learn to say humuhumunukunukuapua’a. It’s the state fish.
The Hawaii Revised Statutes §5-7.5 acknowledges the Spirit of Aloha as not just a philosophy, but also a law that all government officials, citizens, and even visitors are obligated to be in accordance with on a daily basis.
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