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The meaning of Mahalo and other common Hawaiian words
If you’re planning a Hawaii vacation, it’s a good idea to become familiar with some Hawaiian words. If you’re looking for “Mahalo meaning” or “A hui hou meaning” or other common Hawaiian phrases, this is for you!
As a Hawaii Travel Agent, I often have people ask me how to pronounce something or what does “x” mean, so I decided to make this blog post. Many people don’t even know how to pronounce the names of the Hawaiian islands (seriously), so I’ll cover that too.
First, it’s important to note that Hawaii is an English-speaking state. However, Hawaii does have two official languages. English, and Hawaiian. Hawaii did not become a state until 1959, and the way it became a state is controversial.
You can check out 10 things to know before going to Hawaii to learn more. Long story short, everyone in Hawaii speaks English, but it’s nice to practice a few Hawaiian words and also to know what others are saying.
This is not meant to be a comprehensive list of all of the words you should know or might hear in Hawaii. However, it’s a good start when planning your Hawaii vacation, with some additional resources listed at the bottom.
I’m not a Hawaiian language expert, and I do not speak Hawaiian. I am just trying to do my part to share how to pronounce some common Hawaiian words. If you have other words and phrases to share, please do so in the comments!
The names of the Hawaiian islands
Before we get into the common Hawaiian words’ meanings, let’s start with the basics: the islands. Yes, I’ve had a lot of people call me and completely butcher the names of the islands.
Hawaii has over 126 islands, but fortunately, you’ll only need the names of a few of them. The four main islands for tourism are:
- Oahu (oh-ah-hoo)
- Maui (mau-ee)
- Hawai’i, or the Big Island (actually pronounced differently that most people say it due to the ‘okina, but we will let this one slide)
- Kauai (kuh-wai-ee)
The other islands you might hear about are:
I once had someone call me and call “Oahu,” “wah-hee,” so if you think this is excessive, trust me, it isn’t. Now, let’s move on to more common Hawaiian words.
Common Hawaiian words and their meanings
Here are some common Hawaiian words and phrases:
Aloha – You probably know this one, but it means a warm hello or goodbye, love, and many other things. For example, Aloha nui loa means “all my love.” You’ll most commonly hear “Aloha” as a greeting.
Ohana (Oh-hah-na) – If you’ve watched Lilo and Stich, you already know “Ohana means family.”
Mahalo (mah-hah-loh) – The mahalo meaning in Hawaiian is thank you! You should definitely say this at least once or twice during your Hawaii vacation. Mahalo Nui Loa means “thank you very much.” Make sure to tell your servers “Mahalo” after eating at a restaurant.
Kama’aina (kah-mah-aye-nah) – Kama’aina literally means “child of the land.” It refers to local Hawaiian residents regardless of ethnicity. A Kama’aina discount is for locals, not tourists.
Aina (aye-nah) – The ‘aina is the land. It translates to “land that feeds us” because Hawaiians traditionally lived off the land before everything was Americanized.
Kanaka (kah-nah-kah) – A person of Native Hawaiian ancestry. This is different from Kama’aina, which can refer to anyone raised in Hawaii (or lives in Hawaii currently.)
Honu (ho-new) – A Hawaiian green sea turtle. Make sure to keep your distance and never ever touch or harm a turtle (it’s illegal in Hawaii, but it’s wrong anywhere, be a good person.)
Lanai – A balcony or deck is not a balcony or deck; it is a lanai. Lanai is also an island in Maui county, one of the less-visited Hawaiian islands. However, you’ll usually hear “lanai” in reference to a balcony.
Common Hawaiian food words
Pupu – (poo-poo) – Appetizers at a restaurant, usually shared.
Imu – (ee-moo) The Hawaiian word for an underground oven used to cook large quantities of meat. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll see one in action at a Luau!
Don’t forget to check out my list to find out the best Hawaii luau!
Poke – (po-keh or po-kay) – A raw seafood bowl you’ll find on menus everywhere.
Common Hawaiian phrases
Howzit – How are you? How is it going? This is not a common Hawaiian phrase so much as it is pidgin, but you will likely hear it often on your Hawaii vacation.
E Como Mai – (ee-co-mo-my) Welcome! You may hear this at your resort, restaurants, or tours.
A hui hao – (ah-hoo-wee-how) Until we meet again. You may hear this when you are leaving Hawaii.
Pau hana – (pow hah-nah) This means work is done, and it’s time to relax! Happy Hour specials may also be called “Pau Hana Specials” in Hawaii.
I have blog posts about the best happy hours in Kauai and happy hours on the Big Island.
Mauka and Makai – Mauka means “toward to mountain,” and Makai means “toward the ocean.” These are often used in directions.
Aunty and Uncle – The terms “Aunty” and “Uncle” are used by Hawaiian children to generally reference elders or adult friends. It is used regardless of actual relation to the child. If you befriend a Hawaiian family with children, you may quickly become an aunty or uncle yourself!
Hawaii – This isn’t necessarily a common Hawaiian word or phrase meaning, but it’s important to know. Hawaii is not only the state; it is also an island! The technical name of the Big Island is Hawaii Island.
The Big Island is often confused with Oahu, but they are two very different islands!
Mahalo meaning and other common Hawaiian words
This article has given you a few words and phrases to help you better understand the culture of Hawaii. The next time you are in Maui, Oahu, or Kauai, make sure to greet locals with aloha! Mahalo, for reading this blog post about the Hawaiian language.
If you don’t want to be called a “Haole” (outsider, generally Caucasian but not always), make sure to check out 20 things you should never do in Hawaii.
Ulukau has a more comprehensive online dictionary than that I have covered in this blog post. You can find it here if you need more words and phrases.
To learn more about Hawaiian culture, I recommend the following books:
As always, if you have any questions about this blog post or your Hawaii vacation, feel free to ask!
Hawaii vacation tips
Want even more Hawaii travel tips? Check out some of my top blog posts:
- 20 fun facts about Hawaii
- Is Hawaii safe?
- The ultimate Hawaii packing list
- 100 things to do in Hawaii
Although I am a Hawaii Travel Agent, I only take on a few clients per month. You can contact me to inquire about availability.
I also share tons of free information on this blog, so make sure to use the search bar to find Hawaii FAQ, the best time to go to Hawaii, how to survive the flight to Hawaii, and more.
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