Some terms you might want to know so you understand what people are talking about! You might not run into each of these but Hawai’i has its own terms and culture and it is nice not to be in the dark.
// Common Words
Aloha (a-LOW-ha): A greeting that’s more than just hello and goodbye. It’s a way of life that shows care for everyone around. Check out the full article about it here.
Haole (ha-O-lay): The term, which now is mainly used for “white people” first started when people arrived on the islands who didn’t share the breath and didn’t show Aloha and care for others. They didn’t (ole) have the breath (ha). It’s sometimes used derogatorily.
Mahalo (ma-HA-low): Thank you! “Mahalo nui loa” is thank you very much.
Howzit: The local way of saying “how’s it going?” when greeting (if Aloha isn’t used).
The Shaka: The thumb/pinky finger out is used as a gesture of thanks/greeting/etc like some might use a generic wave or a peace sign on the mainland. A driver lets you in, give them the shaka. Someone cuts you off, relax, and give them the shaka (in a good way, not a way to flip them off but to make peace).
Land and Directions
Mainland: The other 49 states. Pretty simple.
On island: What you say when you’re in Hawaii. “I’ll be on island for a week in August.”
Kokua (koh-KU-ah): You’ll see this on signs asking you to “help out” (often in phrases like “Please Kokua and keep the beach clean.”). It’s part of living Aloha.
Kapu (ka-POO): Off-limits. Don’t go into areas which are kapu. It’s basically a no-trespassing sign.
Vog: The volcanic fog from the active volcanoes on the big island.
Kona Winds: The Kona Winds blow up from the SE and bring heat and humidity (and vog).
Trade Winds: The light winds that blow from the NE and bring the cool and less humid air.
Windward/Leeward: The trade winds blow most every day of the year. Picture them coming from Seattle and heading toward Australia (to get a visual). The WINDWARD side of any island is the spot that gets the tradewinds first. The LEEWARD side is the opposite side. It’s not always east/west or north/south. It’s often NE for the windward and SW for the leeward. What does this mean? The windward side gets more rain and is wetter. The
leeward side, more dry. For an example. The windward side of Kaua’i gets about 70+ inches of rain a year. The leeward side… 8. Yup. Big difference. Too wet where you are, drive to the other side and often you can bask in the
Mauka + Makai (MOW-kuh + ma-KYE): Directions in Hawai’i are less about N/S/E/W and more about directions to and from something. Mauka means toward the mountains and makai is toward the ocean. So if someone says “it’s on the makai side of Diamond Head Road,” then no matter which direction you’re traveling on that road, you already have your bearings.
‘āina (EYE-nah): The land. The nurturing land from which we all find our lives.
Kamaʻāina (kah-mah-EYE-nah): Means “children of the land”. It’s typically what locals are referred to as (regardless of if they are native Hawaiian or from anywhere else in the world). You might hear it in reference to a discount the locals get on some things.
‘Ohana (oh-HA-nah): Family. Birth families but also beyond that to include communities and like-minded groups.
Keiki (KAY-key): Kids.
Auntie/Uncle: What kids call adults. Helps us remember we are all connected, even if not directly ‘ohana.
Wahine + Kane (wa-HEE-nay + KA-nay): Women and men. You’ll often see this on bathroom doors (but the pictures are there and should keep you from getting into trouble.
Ono (OH-no): Good/delicious (often used when describing food).
Kine/Da Kine (KINE): Kinds. “We ate all kine poke for lunch!”
Poke (po-KAY): A seafood salad which is popular for lunches. Cubed up raw seafood mixed with onions and often served over rice.
Poi (POY): A food made from pounded taro root. Try it. But many find it an acquired taste.
Honu (HO-new): Turtle
Mano (MAH-no): Shark
Humuhumunukunukuapua’a: The state fish of Hawaii (a reef trigger fish). It means “a fish with a pig’s snout.” If you want to learn how to say it (it’s actually pretty simple) check out this video on youtube.
Lei (LAY): A necklace of flowers, nuts, shells or leaves. It’s typical for men and women for celebrations (and not just for tourists arriving to the islands). The custom goes that if you are given a lei you never take it off in the presence of the one who gave it to you. But why would you want to take it off anyway?
Haku Lei (HAH-ku LAY): A lei headband. Wonderful for brides and weddings.
Ukulele (oo-KAY-LAY-LAY): The (normally) four stringed instrument of the islands.
Slippahs (SLIP-paas): Said with the long a or just like you’d say “slippers” back home; here they are your flip-flops/sandals. Back in Wisconsin we wore slippers because it’s cold in winter. In Hawai’i, you where slippahs to the beach, or the store, or anywhere… because it’s Hawai’i.
Town: Honolulu. If you’re anywhere on O’ahu, town is the city.