English is the primary language in Hawaii, but Hawaiian language has the deepest roots in the islands and is important to the local population. Learning a few Hawaiian words may help you navigate conversations with people you meet on Maui, and it is fun to speak a bit of the local language! This guide helps you correctly pronounce common Hawaiian words you may come across, and understand pidgin- our own unique island dialect.
First, lets start with a pronunciation key. Most consonants are exactly how you speak them in English. One exception is the w is traditionally pronounced as a v-sound (though you may hear it both ways on island). Hawaiian vowel sounds are different than what you may be accustomed to, but this basic guide will get you through most words:
- a sounds like ah as in aloha
- e sounds like ay or eh as in say
- i sounds like ee as in bee
- o sounds like oh as in open
- u sounds like oo as in boo.
Aloha means hello, goodbye and love. You will generally hear it used as a welcoming greeting.
E komo mai means come in, but you will also hear or see it as welcoming greeting, especially when arriving.
Mahalo means thank you. You will often see it on trash bins because we appreciate you throwing your trash away. But garbage has a separate word- opala. You can always say thank you, but feel free to say mahalo instead. It’s pronounced “mah hah lo.”
Ohana means family. You might hear of restaurant meals served ohana-style, which would mean family-style.
Keiki means child or children. You might see keiki menus or events and activities for keiki.
Hale means house or home. (Haleakala means house of the sun.)
Ono has two different meanings — in Hawaiian, ono means good. Ono is also a very desirable game fish, also referred to as wahoo, and is a close relative of the king mackerel. Ono food is good to find, and so is the fish by the same name!
Pau hana translates to end of the work day. Pau means end and hana means work. You might see pau hana bar specials, which are the same as happy hour specials, on food and drinks. It is also common to hear people say “I am all pau” when finishing a task.
Kane means man, male. Restrooms may be labeled kane instead of men.
Wahine means lady, female. Restrooms may be labeled wahine instead of women.
Honu means Hawaiian green sea turtle. They are protected by State and Federal law and you should stay a respectful 10 feet away from them on the beach or while swimming.
Kapu means forbidden and/or keep out. If you see this word, you should not enter the area.
Makai means towards the ocean or ocean side. You hear this when people are giving directions.
Mauka means towards the mountain. You hear this when people are giving directions.
Pali means hill. You might hear about people driving over the pali on Maui, which usually means the road from Maalaea to Lahaina.
Aina means the land. Hawaiian culture has always had a focus on taking care of the land.
Kama’aina means local, usually long-time Hawaii resident. Local residents with valid identification are eligible for kama’aina discounts.
A hui hou means until the next time we meet, and is usually said when parting from a friend or loved one.
Hana hou means try again. It is commonly used to ask someone to do something one more time, or in the case of musicians at a concert, to perform an encore.
Lanai means a Hawaiian style roofed patio or balcony. Your Destination Maui Vacations condo will have a lanai. Note that Lana’i is also the name of an island off the coast of west Maui.
Kokua means help, assistance. You might see a sign asking for your kokua in keeping the beaches clean, or thanking you for help: “Mahalo for your kokua.”
Menehune are members of a hidden race in Hawaiian mythology, often described as very small and having magical powers, such as building big structures overnight.
Wiki means fast. Often you will see this word twice, wiki wiki, which means really fast.
Pono translates to “it’s true,” and means right or righteous. When you do something pono you’re doing the right thing morally and selflessly. You may hear the phase “living pono,” and important philosophy in Hawaii. It means living with a conscious decision to do the right thing in terms of self, others, and the environment. The importance of pono is even found in the state’s motto: “Ua Mau ke Ea o ka Aina i ka Pono,” or “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.”
Mele Kalikimaka translates to Hawaii’s way of saying Merry Christmas.
Hau’oli Makahiki Hou is Hawaii’s way of saying Happy New Year.
Hau’oli La Hanau is Hawaii’s way of saying Happy Birthday.
Hawaiian Pidgin is a variation of English words with influences from other languages, creating a language all of its own. You might hear locals speaking this pidgin English, and pick up a few terms to use yourself. Here some common examples of what you might hear:
Howzit is often accompanied by a shaka hand signal, and is another way to say hello and/or how are you doing.
Da kine is most commonly used as a stand-in for another word, kind of like “whatchamacallit.” If a person cannot come up with a noun to define an item, they may say “da kine”. It can also be used as an adjective and adverb, and there is an nuanced expectation the other person will be able to understand what is meant. Da kine is one of the most versatile and confusing pidgin expressions.
Grindz means food. This term is often coupled with the Hawaiian word for good-ono, making the phrase “ono grindz.”
Broke da mouth (also mouf or mout) means food that’s delicious.