Hawaiian Words

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This short list contains words you might hear on your stay in Maui. Hawaiian is a living language with some elementary schools using it for the principle means of instruction.

The Hawaiian language appears to have only 12 letters. This is because the Hawaiians did not have a written language until the one created by Americans in early 1800s. This first effort neglected to indicate the spaces between some syllables. Proper written Hawaiian needs to have a mark knows as the okina (') included between some vowels to alert where there is actually a minute pause or break in the air stream. Some linguists consider this a true consonant. As one example in English, the glottal stop is the sound you hear between the o's when you say "oh-oh"

The difficulty in pronouncing Hawaiian names as commonly written is that when several vowels are together it is not obvious where the distinct syllable breaks occur without this mark or unless you know common Hawaiian words so as to recognize the word within the word. And as a rule, every word, and every syllable, must end in a vowel.

Hawaiian is a perfect phonetic language and, unlike English, is spelled like it sounds. There can be no spelling bees in correctly pronounced Hawaiian – everyone would win.

    'aina (eye-na) – land, earth.

    aikane (eye-kah-nay) – friend, companion.

    akamai (ah-kah-my) – smart.

    ali'i (ah-lee-ee) – a chief or member of nobility.

    aloha (ah-lo-ha) – hello, goodbye, love.

    auwe (ow-way) – an expression or exclamation meaning Oh! or Ouch!

    'awa (ah-vah) – root of Piper Nigerum (Kava), a South Seas root, chewed in native Polynesia in a relaxing social ritual.

    ea (eh-ah) – sovereignty, rule, life force.

    halau (ha-laow) – hula school or troupe.

    hale (hah-lay) – house.

    hana (hah-na) – work (pau hana=finished with work).

    hanai (ha-nai) – adopted or foster children/family. The grandparents often raised children in traditional Hawaiian families.

    haole (ha-oh-lay) – foreigner.

    Haoli Makahiki Hou (ha-oh-lee ma-ka-he-key ho) – Happy New Year.

    heiau (hay-ee-ow) – ancient temple, place of worship.

    holoholo (ho-lo-ho-lo) – to go on a trip or excursion.

    hono (ho-no) – bay.

    huhu (hoo-hoo) – angry.

    hui (hoo-ee) – club, association, company, partnership.

    huna (hoo-na) – secret.

    imu (ee-moo) – underground oven.

    kama'aina (kah-mah-eye-na) – a person born in, acquainted, or familiar with a place.

    kanaka maole (ka-na-ka ma-oh-lay) – the true Hawaiian people.

    kane (kah-nay) – man.

    kapu (kah-poo) – taboo or sacred, forbidden, no trespassing, keep out.

    keiki (kay-kee) – child.

    kokua (koh-ku-ah) – help, assistance, donation, as in the sign you often see that says "Please Kokua, no ­littering (smoking, etc.)".

    kuleana (koo-lee-ah-na) – immediate garden or taro patch near a home. One's area or responsibility.

    kupuna (koo-poo-nah) – elders, ancestors, ­grandparents.

    lani (lah-nee) – heaven.

    lolo (low-low) – crazy or unbalanced.

    lua (loo-ah) – bathroom, toilet.

    luau (loo-ow) – Hawaiian feast or celebration.

    mahalo (mah-ha-lo) – thank you.

    makai (ma-kai) – toward the sea.

    menehune (meh-nee-hoo-nee) – legendary race of tiny people who worked at night building fish ponds, roads and temples.

    mauka (mao-ka) – inland, toward the mountains (on the nightly news you'll often hear "mauka showers", meaning showers near the mountains).

    Mele Kalikimaka (may-lay ka-lee-kee-ma-ka) – Merry Christmas.

    mu'u mu'u (moo-oo-moo-oo) – loose Hawaiian gown. Often pronounced as "moomoo".

    na (na) – indicated plural when preceding a noun, thus Na Mele O Maui means The Songs of Maui.

    'ohana (o-hah-na) – family, relatives.

    'oi (oy) – best, as in Maui no ka 'oi ("Maui is the best").

    'ono (oh-no) – delicious.

    pali (pah-lee) – cliff, steep hill.

    paniolo (pah-nee-oh-lo) – a Hawaiian cowboy.

    pau (pow) – finished, completed, the end.

    pilikia (pee-lee-kee-ah) – trouble of any kind.

    po'okela (po-oh-kell-ah) – regarded the best by the community.

    pono (poh-no) – righteous. An appropriate or balanced response.

    pua (poo-uh) – flower.

    puka (poo-kah) – hole, door, or entryway.

    pupu (poo-poo) – appetizer, hors d'oeuvres.

    tutu (too-too) – grandparent (not a Hawaiian word, but often used as slang/pidgin).

    wahine (wa-hee-nay) – woman.

    wai wai (why-why) – property or assets. Wai means water, and water is wealth in an agricultural community.

    wikiwiki (wee-kee-wee-kee) – hurry.


Maui (mow-wee) – the Demigod that snared the sun.

    Lana'i (la-na-ee) – day of conquest.

    Molokini (mo-lo-kee-nee) – molo=turn, kini=multitude.


  Town Names  

Lahaina (la-hi-na) – tourist literature attributes this to mean "land of the cruel sun", although the older Hawaiian name for this once capital city is "Lele".

    Kapalua (ka-pa-loo-ah) – arms embracing the sea.

    Napili (na-pee-lee) – luck will cling.

    Kahana (ka-ha-na) – a district on an island with a stream and valley.

    Olowalu (oh-low-wah-loo) – joint action, group.

    Ma'alaea (ma-ah-lie-ah) – red color, as earth.

    Kihei (key-hay) – shawl, cape, tapa garment.

    Wailea (why-lay-ah) – ocean star.

    Kahului (ka-hoo-loo-ee) – athletic contest.

    Wailuku (why-loo-koo) – destructive water.

    Paia (pa-ee-ah) – clearing in forest.

    Ha'iku (ha-ee-koo) – broken hills.

    Pukalani (poo-ka-law-nee) – hole in the heaven (clouds).

    Makawao (ma-ka-wow) – view from an island region forested, but not precipitous.

    Kula (koo-la) – open country, pasture.

    Hana (ha-na) – alert.

    Mahinahina (ma-hee-na-hee-na) – pale moonlight.