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Common Hawaiian Terms and Phrases

Know Before You Go - A Dictionary of Hawaiian Words You'll Hear!


The written Hawaiian language, as introduced by missionaries, contains only 5 vowels and seven consonants A,E,I,O,U and H,K,L,M,N,P,W.
All of the consonants are pronounced pretty much the same as in English. Each vowel is usually pronounced (even when doubled as in Hawai'i) except for certain dipthongs listed below). Vowels can be either long or short, but most commonly have the following sounds:
A = short A as in walk and paw,
E = long A as in lay and hay,
I = long E as in he and she,
O = long O as in cone and mode
U = long U as in ruby and plume.
There are also 14 recognized vowel combinations (dipthongs) which are pronounced together. The most common are:
"ai" as in Lahaina and Hawai'i pronounced as a long I as in mind and ride.
"au" as in luau pronounced as "OW" as in cow or allow.
"ei" as in keiki pronouced as a long A as in bake and cake.
"oi" as in poi pronounced as "OY" as in boy and toy.
Although you would be very hard-pressed to find a Maui Islander who did not understand or speak English fluently, it is always useful to visitors to recognize terms they may see or hear daily. Below are the definitions for the most common ones you'll hear or read here during your visit in order to get you through your visit without looking like a total Malihini!


H = Hawaiian Origin   HP = Hawaiian Pidgin Origin   * = Top Terms


Akamai - (H) - "Smart", "Intelligent"
Aloha - (H*) - Probably the most common term you'll hear in Maui. It is usually a greeting which means generally, "Hello", "Goodbye" or "Love".

Brah - (HP) - "Brother", Close friend.

Da Kine - (HP*, possible origin: "The Kind") - Traditionally a verbal place filler similar to "Whatchamacallit" or "Thingy". More recent often refers to a "good" or "best" thing.

Haole - (H) - Not Hawaiian, foreigner, especially white or caucasian. See also Malihini.
He Mea Iki - (H) - You're Welcome. See also Mahalo.
Holoholo - (H) - Venture out or travel for adventure and fun.
Honu - (H) - "Turtle", often spotted in the ocean off local beaches.
Ho'Okipa - (H) - "Hospitality", Also the name of a very popular Beach Park on Maui's North Shore, best known as a popular surfing and wind surfing spot.
Hula - (H*) - A traditional dance form uniquely developed in the Hawaiian Islands in the 19th century or probably sooner. It is characterized by the hand and body motions portraying the meanings of the lyrics in a visual form, such as swishing hand motions indicating the swimming of fish. In it's true form it should never be confused with the frequently tourist-ized, hip-shaking, Tahitian, "tamure" dance.
Humuhumunukunukuapua'a - (H*) - "Triggerfish with the pig-like short snout". The "Reef Triggerfish", aka "Picasso Triggerfish". State fish of Hawaii. Often shortened to "humuhumu". Characterized by vibrant colors, a black band on the side and base of the tail and fluorescent blue lips.

Imu - (H) - The buried pit oven used to cook pig or other tasties, especially at a luau. See also Luau.

Jawaiian - (HP) - Anything combining Hawaiian/Island culture with Carribean/Jamaican culture. At this time primarily limited to dining cuisine and Jawaiian music which is a cross between reggae and Hawaiian styles.

Kahuna - (H) - Hawaiian holy man or pro or master.
Kalo - (H) - A long-stemmed, large-leafed, green plant, usually but not always, grown in soggy ground, primarily for it's edible root. The main ingredient of Poi. It is often considered the original staple crop of the Hawaiian culture. All parts are edible, but no part should EVER be eaten raw as in that form it is toxic. It must be cooked. Also known today as Taro. See also Poi.
Kane - (H) - "Man", frequently seen on restroom doors. See also Wahine.
Kapu - (H) - "Sacred", "To be Revered". Frequently seen posted on burial grounds or sacred places. Please respect the traditions and seek permission to trespass or stay away.
Kapuna - (H) - "Respected One", usually older person or one in authority.
Kama'aina - (H) - Literally: "Child Of the (local) Earth". General use: Native Hawaiian or someone who has lived in Hawaii for a very long time, a "local". You'll often see this on Maui restaurants specials or stores to indicate that you must be a local and have a local ID to get the special mentioned.
Kamehameha - (H) - Name of the first five monarchs of the Kingdom of Hawaii starting with it's establishment in approximately 1795 from the conquered Hawaiian Islands until 1872. Incorporated nowadays into the name for many streets, buildings and parks. Pronounced roughly: Ka-MAY-ha-MAY-ha
Keiki(s) - (H) - "Child(ren)".
Koa - (H*) - A native tree which grows the large black Koa nuts often strung together for leis.

Lanai - (H*) - A porch, veranda, or large balcony.
Lani - (H) - "Heavenly", lovely.
Lei - (H*) - A necklace of flowers (usually plumerias,) nuts, shells, etc.
Liliko'i - (H*) - A round yellow fruit common in Hawaii which is a slightly tart variety of passion fruit. It is an ingredient in POG and is often made into jam, and used in local fruit flavored drinks including margaritas, martinis and sometimes mai tais.
Luau - (H*) - Large buffet type feast of local cuisine, usually out of doors, often on the beach, usually involving cultural entertainment such as hula dancers, fire dancers, musicians and singers. Check here for our list of all Maui Luaus.

Mahalo - (H*) - "Thank You", Possibly the second most common phrase you'll hear or read. See also He Mea Iki
Mahalo nui loa - (H) - "Thank You very much"
Mahi Mahi - (H*) - "Dolphin-fish", no NOT dolphins which are mammals. A popular Hawaiian food fish in many restaurants.
Mai Tai - (Tahitian*) - The most popular local visitor drink, though not historically of Hawaiian origin. The exact recipe varies widely, but most commonly contains rum, lime, orange curacao (and/or various proprietary juice combinations like orange, guava or pineapple), simple syrup or sugar, Orgeat (an almond flavored liquor) and often served with a paper umbrella and pineapple wedge. Literally translated from Tahitian as: "Good".
Malihini - (H) - "Visitor", "Tourist". See also Haole.
Mano - (H) - "Shark!"
Maui Nui - (H) - The name of the original single island which later separated into Maui, Molokai, Lanai, Molokini and Kaho'olawe.
Mauna - (H) - "Mountain"
Mo'Betta - (HP) - "More Better" - This is better than that.

Nene - (H) - Goose-like state bird of Hawaii.
No Ka 'oi - (H) - "It's the best". Often seen as in "Maui No Ka 'oi".

Ohana - (H) - "Family", something appropriate for the whole family.
Ono - (H*) - "Delicious", seen on many restaurant menus.

Palekaiko - (H) - "Paradise", also "Bird of Paradise" plant.
Poi - (H*) - An often maligned staple of Hawaiian cuisine. A thick, purple colored, "paste" formed from pounded and cooked Kalo (Taro) plant roots and occassionally containing other ingredients for flavor. Fresh it can be rather tasty like flavorful mashed potatos. The "Day-old" version on the other hand develops a rather sour flavor which can take some getting used to. See also Kalo.
POG - (H*) - A popular local fruit juice combination often made fresh and / or sold in stores, in cans or cartons consisting of the three juices from locally grown fruit for which it's name is an acronym: P - Passion Fruit, O - Orange, G - Guava. It is drunk plain, for breakfast for instance, or in combination with various liquors such as vodka, rum or tequila as a cocktail.
Pupus - (H*) - "Appetizers"

Shaka - (HP*) - The hand signal composed of a fist with the thumb and pinkie finger extended while wiggling the hand. Variously interpreted as "hang loose", "no worries", "have a nice day". A friendly gesture.

Tamure - (Tahitian: TAY-moo-ray) - A dance form attributed to Tahiti and the Cook Islands and often mis-identified by outsiders as "Hula" dancing. Unlike Hula it is characterized by very rapid side-to-side or rotational shaking of the hips.
Taro - (H-Modern Term) - Traditional Hawaiian does not include the letters 'T' or 'R'. See Kalo.
Tiki - (Origin Uncertain: New Zealand (tiki), Maori(tiki), Tahitian(ti'i), Hawaiian (ki'i) - Traditional Hawaiian does not include the letter 'T') - A large wood or stone carving of a human-like figure. Suggested to originally relate to the first created human man, they are today often carved locally in forms to identify with a variety of mythical Hawaiian gods. Most common are Ku (War), Lono (Peace & Fertility), Kane (Creator of the earth and man), Kanaloa (Sea) and Pele (Godess of fire, lava and the sea). Quite popular visitor souvenirs.

Ukulele - (H) - Stringed instrument resembling a guitar, but usually smaller. Often used in Hawaiian music.

Wahine - (H) - "Woman", frequently seen on restroom doors. See also Kane.
Wikiwiki - (H) - "Fast", "quickly".

More terms defined at: Online Hawaiian Dictionary project.
Also visit Travlang's Foreign Language for Travelers for more common Hawaiian Visitor terms or sign up for their "word of the day" e-mails.



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