Hawaiian Words

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Let's go over some of the common words that you'll hear in Hawaii.

• General: Educational • General: Language

Here is a list of some of the most common words you might hear or read in Hawaii.

Aloha in Hawaiian is a sign of affection and peace but is most commonly used as a way of saying both goodbye and hello. It's the single most common word you'll hear in Hawaii and why Hawaii is the "Aloha State".

In terms of a person being Hawaiian, only a person of Hawaiian blood would be a true Hawaiian. Meaning, only someone who can trace their blood lines back to the indigenous Polynesian people of the Hawaiian Islands.

This is pronounced ka-ma-eye-na. A kama'aina is somebody who lives in Hawaii and has lived here for a long time. The literal definition is "child of the land". Any race can be a kama'aina and the exact time you need to live here seems to be a mystery so we'll just go with more than a day and less than a lifetime. You'll hear this most often as "kama'aina discount" which is a discount many local businesses gives people who live in Hawaii. Want that discount? You'll need a Hawaii state ID to prove you live here. Not to be confused with local, see below.

Keiki means kid or child. If you have younger children then you have keiki. If you are looking for the "kids menu" at a restaurant then you are looking for the "keiki menu".

Kokua means "to pitch in" or simply help. For example, we need your kokua in keeping Hawaii's beaches clean so be sure to pick up any trash you see.

This one seems easy but is more complex than most realize. If you were born in Hawaii and do not have white skin you are a local. If you were born in Hawaii with white skin you won't be called a local. At the same time, if you weren't born in Hawaii you aren't a local. See kama'aina above for more.

Mahalo is the Hawaiian word that is commonly used to say "thank you". Not to be confused with Aloha which can be hello or goodbye, you would use mahalo to say thanks or thank you.

This is what we call the continental United States of America. Hawaii is a state within the USA (the 50th as of August 21, 1959) but we call the lower 48 states the Mainland.

Makai is often used when giving directions and means ocean side. So if somebody tells you to go down the road and turn makai at the next intersection then you would turn towards the ocean.

Mauka is also used when giving directions and means mountain side or towards the mountain. If you hear that in directions then you would turn towards the mountains (as opposed to turning toward the ocean).

In Hawaiian, the word 'ohana means family. It's often used in Hawaii to describe either a traditional family by blood or marriage relations but also a far more open and unrelated group of close friends or a community.