Hawaii is one of the world’s most beautiful and exotic destinations, known for its unbelievable beaches and luxury resorts. But even more attractive than its postcard views is its beautiful Polynesian culture. This cultural identity, one of community and compassion, is as colorful as the golden sands and azure waters. The best introduction to this unique culture is through the Hawaiian language. Once in danger of extinction, Hawaiian is one of three languages used in the state today. Play your part in keeping the language alive and connect with the local culture with these 10 useful Hawaiian phrases.
1. Aloha – Hello
Okay, so this is one of the easiest Hawaiian phrases to remember. It’s known around the world as the universal tropical greeting of Hawaii. However, Aloha means a lot more than just ‘hello’. Its literal meaning is ‘love’, as well as ‘kindness’, ‘compassion’, and ‘peace’. While used in greetings such as ‘good morning’ (Aloha kakahiaka) or ‘good afternoon’ (Aloha ‘auinalā), it also communicates that you wish the person a positive and respectful life. This all pales in comparison to the fact that ‘Aloha’, for Hawaiians, defines a force that holds together existence itself. Here, a simple greeting unlocks a window into the core of Polynesian philosophy.
2. Mahalo – Thank you
Show your gratitude with the Hawaiian phrase mahalo. If you’re feeling extra grateful, use mahalo nui loa (pronounced mah-hah-loh noo-ee) for ‘thank you very much’. It can also be used to praise someone or show your respect for someone or something.
The Pukui and Elbert Hawaiian dictionary tells us that mahalo comes from a Proto-Polynesian word masalo, but that doesn’t tell the full story. According to the earliest visits to Hawaii, explorers noted that the island people practiced an extremely grateful and admiring culture, meaning there was no particular word needed to express this gratitude. It most likely just wasn’t necessary, with gratitude implicit within the culure. Apparently, only much later, after integrating with western civilization, did Hawaiians use the word mahalo to say thank you.
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3.’A’ ole pilikia – You’re welcome/ No problem
Pronounced ah-oh-leh pee-lee-kee-yah
If you want to embody Hawaii’s grateful, community-driven culture, make sure to spread the gratitude as much as possible by saying this in response to mahalo.
4. A hui hou – Until we meet again
A phrase similar to ‘see you soon’. You may also hear this chanted at a lū’au concert instead of ‘encore!’.
5. Howzit? – How are you?
This Hawaiian phrase is also used in South Africa and means ‘what’s up?’. You might hear this word used alongside braddah, the colloquial term for brother.
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6. Honu – Green sea turtle
Hawaii’s most commonly seen turtle species, the beautiful honu are still officially listed as endangered. You’re most likely to spot one if you are snorkelling or scuba diving, as they rarely come on the shore. It is possible to see honu on the North Shore of Oahu.
Find out more about the fascinating culture and beauty of Hawaii in our destination guide
7. ‘Ono grinds – Delicious food
Pronounced oh-no grinds
Show your appreciation for the special Hawaiian meals that you eat on your trip. Grinds is also often used on its own to describe good food.
8. Waina – Wine
Always an important word to learn in any language, the Hawaiian word for wine is easy enough to remember. Due to the volcanic soil and mountains, Hawaii produces a number of fruity wines to try.
9. Poke – poke seafood bowl
One of Hawaii’s most famous dishes, poke is a salad of raw seafood and vegetables. It’s typically made from cubes of ahi tuna and served as an appetiser. It’s a must try!
10. A ‘o ia! – There you have it!
There you have it! 10 useful Hawaiian phrases to prepare you for your trip to the island. Use this last phrase to cheer on the local performers or fellow travellers if they get up to do a hula.
If you’re planning a trip to Hawaii, consider a Trafalgar tour to really unlock the best of the islands. With something as rich and unique as Polynesian culture, you’ll want to make sure you experience it to the full, which can be hard to do authentically when visiting the island as a typical tourist. We know this, which is why we use our extensive network of Local Experts and Travel Directors to unlock doors into local Hawaiian communities. Here, you’ll meet actual locals and experience the spirit of Aloha, showing you what real Island life is all about.