As indigenous languages become increasingly scarce each year, their usage and history holds more meaning now than ever. Understanding a few Hawaiian words and meanings isn’t just fun trivia to know for a trip. It’s also a direct connection to the Hawaiian culture and history.
Thanks to films and the popularity of the Pacific paradise, many Hawaiian words have even made their way into English. You may recognize words like aloha, ohana, big kahuna, and mahalo. The state’s official fish is known to some as the Hawaiian Triggerfish, or Humuhumunukunukuapua`a, if you’re up for a tongue-twister.
If you’ve ever heard Hawaiian, you may have noticed repetitive patterns and similar sounds. That’s because the Hawaiian language has an alphabet consisting of five vowels and eight consonants: a total of 13 letters. The written language uses the English alphabet, adapted by Americans upon their first encounter with the language. How did this happen? Read on!
The history of Hawaiian words and meanings
Like many other languages from the Pacific islands, Hawaii began as oral tradition. Generations would pass on the language and stories to their children. However, there was no official guide to grammar or dictionaries. When Americans arrived on the islands in the early 1820s, they transcribed the language to create a written system for the Bible. Hawaiian remained the dominate language until Americans overthrew the monarch in the late 1800s. It was then that English became the primary means of communication. As a result, Hawaiian was sadly banned in the government and schools.
Fast-forward to 1978, when Hawaiian began to have a comeback when the State Constitution named it an official language alongside English. The government established immersion schools and greatly promoted use of the language across the islands. Although only approximately 2,000 native speakers remain today, Hawaiian has gradually seeped back into Hawaiian culture. On the isolated island of Niʻihau, residents speak Hawaiian as their primary language.
Here are a few of our favorite Hawaiian words and meanings to celebrate the great culture and people.
How to congratulate on the holidays
Hau‘oli lā ho‘omaika‘i – Happy Thanksgiving
Hau‘oli lā ho‘omana‘o – Happy Anniversary
Hau’oli lā Ho’omaha loa – Happy Retirement
Hau‘oli makahiki hou – Happy New Year
Mele Kalikimaka – Merry Christmas
Hawaiian words for nature
Mauka – Toward the mountains
Hāʻule Lau – Autumn
Moku – Island
Mahina – Moon
Moana – Ocean
Lani – Sky
Makai – Towards the sea
Words for friends and family
E Komo Mai, Hoaloha! – Welcome, friend!
Kumu – Teacher
Kupunas – Ancestors
Kuuipo – Sweetheart
Ohana – Family
Pu’uwai – Heart
Malihini – Newcomer, visitor
Other fun tidbits
Aloha ‘auinalā – Good afternoon
Aloha ‘Oe – Farewell
‘A’ole pilikia—No problem
Hele – Travel
Hō‘ike – Show [noun]
Holoholo – Ride around
Kulia i ka nu’u – Strive to reach the highest
Mālama – Preserve, protect
Maka – Eye
Makana – Gift
Manuahi – Free
Mau Loa – Forever
Wikiwiki – Fast
After you’ve brushed up on some Hawaiian words and meanings, hop onto a Pearl Harbor Warbird flight.
Pearl Harbor Warbirds offers exclusive Hawaii flight adventures to relive a “Day of Infamy” from WWII. Our Admiral’s Warbird Adventure lets you suit up in authentic WWII era flight gear before jumping into the cockpit of an SNJ-5C. On this one hour flight around O‘ahu, you’ll trace the flight routes of the Japanese attackers.