Fodor's Maui (2016)
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Although an understanding of Hawaiian is by no means required on a trip to the Aloha State, a malihini, or newcomer, will find plenty of opportunities to pick up a few of the local words and phrases. Traditional names and expressions are widely used in the Islands. You’re likely to read or hear at least a few words each day of your stay.
With a basic understanding and some uninhibited practice, anyone can have enough command of the local tongue to ask for directions and to order from a restaurant menu. One visitor announced she would not leave until she could pronounce the name of the state fish, the humuhumunukunukuāpua‘a.
Simplifying the learning process is the fact that the Hawaiian language contains only eight consonants—H, K, L, M, N, P, W, and the silent ‘okina, or glottal stop (written ‘)—plus one or more of the five vowels. All syllables, and therefore all words, end in a vowel. Each vowel, with the exception of a few diphthongized double vowels such as au (pronounced “ow”) or ai (pronounced “eye”), is pronounced separately. Thus ‘Iolani is four syllables (“ee-oh-la-nee”), not three (“yo-la-nee”). Although some Hawaiian words have only vowels, most also contain some consonants, but consonants are never doubled.
Pronunciation is simple. Pronounce A “ah,” as in father; E “ay,” as in weigh; I “ee,” as in marine; O “oh,” as in no; U “oo,” as in true.
Consonants mirror their English equivalents, with the exception of W. When the letter begins any syllable other than the first one in a word, it is usually pronounced as a V. ‘Awa, the Polynesian drink, is pronounced “ava”; ‘ewa is pronounced “eva.”
Almost all long Hawaiian words are combinations of shorter words; they are not difficult to pronounce if you segment them. Kalaniana‘ole, the highway running east from Honolulu, is easily understood as Kalani-ana -ole. Apply the standard pronunciation rules—the stress falls on the next-to-last syllable of most two- or three-syllable Hawaiian words—and Kalaniana‘ole Highway is as easy to say as Main Street.
Now about that fish. Try humu-humu nuku-nuku āpu a‘a.
The other unusual element in Hawaiian language is the kahakō, or macron, written as a short line (¯) placed over a vowel. Like the accent (´) in Spanish, the kahakō puts emphasis on a syllable that would normally not be stressed. The most familiar example is probably Waikīkī. With no macrons, the stress would fall on the middle syllable; with only one macron, on the last syllable, the stress would fall on the first and last syllables. Some words become plural with the addition of a macron, often on a syllable that would have been stressed anyway. No Hawaiian word becomes plural with the addition of an s, since that letter does not exist in the language.
What follows is a glossary of some of the most commonly used Hawaiian words. Hawaiian residents appreciate visitors who at least try to pick up the local language.
‘a‘ā: rough, crumbling lava, contrasting with pāhoehoe, which is smooth.
akamai: smart, clever, possessing savoir faire.
ala: a road, path, or trail.
ali‘i: a Hawaiian chief, a member of the chiefly class.
aloha: love, affection, kindness; also a salutation meaning both greetings and farewell.
‘auwai: a ditch.
auwē: alas, woe is me!
‘ehu: a red-haired Hawaiian.
‘ewa: in the direction of ‘Ewa plantation, west of Honolulu.
hala: the pandanus tree, whose leaves (lau hala ) are used to make baskets and plaited mats.
hale: a house.
hale pule: church, house of worship.
ha mea iki or ha mea ‘ole: you’re welcome.
hana: to work.
haole: ghost. Since the first foreigners were Caucasian, haole now means a Caucasian person.
hapa: a part, sometimes a half; often used as a short form of hapa haole, to mean a person who is part-Caucasian.
hau‘oli: to rejoice. Hau‘oli Makahiki Hou means Happy New Year. Hau‘oli lā hānau means Happy Birthday.
heiau: an outdoor stone platform; an ancient Hawaiian place of worship.
holo: to run.
holoholo: to go for a walk, ride, or sail.
holokū: a long Hawaiian dress, somewhat fitted, with a yoke and a train. Influenced by European fashion, it was worn at court, and at least one local translates the word as “expensive mu‘umu‘u.”
holomū: a post-World War II cross between a holokū and a mu‘umu‘u, less fitted than the former but less voluminous than the latter and having no train.
honi: to kiss; a kiss. A phrase that some tourists may find useful, quoted from a popular hula, is Honi Ka‘ua Wikiwiki: Kiss me quick!
ho‘omalimali: flattery, a deceptive “line,” bunk, baloney, hooey.
hui: a group, club, or assembly. A church may refer to its congregation as a hui and a social club may be called a hui.
hukilau: a seine; a communal fishing party in which everyone helps to drive the fish into a huge net, pull it in, and divide the catch.
hula: the dance of Hawai‘i.
ka: the. This is the definite article for most singular words; for plural nouns, the definite article is usually nā. Since there is no s in Hawaiian, the article may be your only clue that a noun is plural.
kahuna: a priest, doctor, or other trained person of old Hawai‘i, endowed with special professional skills that often included prophecy or other supernatural powers; the plural form is kāhuna.
kai: the sea, saltwater.
kalo: the taro plant from whose root poi (paste) is made.
kamā‘aina: literally, a child of the soil. It refers to people who were born in the Islands or have lived there for a long time.
kanaka: originally a man or humanity, it is now used to denote a male Hawaiian or part-Hawaiian, but is occasionally taken as a slur when used by non-Hawaiians. Kanaka maoli, originally a full-blooded Hawaiian person, is used by some Native Hawaiian-rights activists to embrace part-Hawaiians as well.
kāne: a man, a husband. If you see this word on a door, it’s the men’s room. If you see kane on a door, it’s probably a misspelling; that is the Hawaiian name for the skin fungus tinea.
kapa: also called by its Tahitian name, tapa, a cloth made of beaten bark and usually dyed and stamped with a repeat design.
kapakahi: crooked, cockeyed, uneven. You’ve got your hat on kapakahi.
kapu: keep out, prohibited. This is the Hawaiian version of the more widely known Tongan word tabu (taboo).
kapuna: grandparent; elder.
kēia lā: today.
keiki: a child; keikikāne is a boy, keikiwahine a girl.
kona: the leeward side of the Islands, the direction (south) from which the kona wind and kona rain come.
kuleana: a homestead or small plot of ground on which a family has been installed for some generations without necessarily owning it. By extension, kuleana is used to denote any area or department in which one has a special interest or prerogative. You’ll hear it used this way: “If you want to hire a surfboard, see Moki; that’s his kuleana. ”
lamalama: to fish with a torch.
lānai: a porch, a balcony, an outdoor living room. Almost every house in Hawai‘i has one. Don’t confuse this two-syllable word with the three-syllable name of the island, Lāna‘i.
lani: heaven, the sky.
lau hala: the leaf of the hala, or pandanus tree, widely used in handicrafts.
lei: a garland of flowers.
luna: a plantation overseer or foreman.
mahalo: thank you.
makai: toward the ocean.
malihini: a newcomer to the Islands.
mana: the spiritual power that the Hawaiian believed inhabited all things and creatures.
manuwahi: free, gratis.
mauka: toward the mountains.
mele: a Hawaiian song or chant, often of epic proportions.
Mele Kalikimaka: Merry Christmas (a transliteration from the English phrase).
Menehune: a Hawaiian pixie. The Menehune were a legendary race of little people who accomplished prodigious work, such as building fishponds and temples in the course of a single night.
moana: the ocean.
mu‘umu‘u: the voluminous dress in which the missionaries enveloped Hawaiian women. Now made in bright printed cottons and silks, it is an indispensable garment. Culturally sensitive locals have embraced the Hawaiian spelling but often shorten the spoken word to “mu‘u.” Most English dictionaries include the spelling “muumuu.”
pāhoehoe: smooth, unbroken, satiny lava.
Pākē: Chinese. “This Pākē carver makes beautiful things.”
palapala: document, printed matter.
pali: a cliff, precipice.
pānini: prickly pear cactus.
paniolo: a Hawaiian cowboy, a rough transliteration of español, the language of the Islands’ earliest cowboys.
pau: finished, done.
pilikia: trouble. The Hawaiian word is much more widely used here than its English equivalent.
puka: a hole.
pupule: crazy, like the celebrated Princess Pupule. This word has replaced its English equivalent in local usage.
pu‘u: volcanic cinder cone.
wahine: a female, a woman, a wife, and a sign on the ladies’ room door; the plural form is wāhine.
wai: freshwater, as opposed to saltwater, which is kai.
wikiwiki: to hurry, hurry up (since this is a reduplication of wiki, or quick, neither w is pronounced as a v ).
Note: Pidgin is the unofficial language of Hawai‘i. It is a creole language, with its own grammar, evolved from the mixture of English, Hawaiian, Japanese, Portuguese, and other languages spoken in 19th-century Hawai‘i, and it is heard everywhere.