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25 Hawaiian Words Everyone in Hawaii Knows

Hear them pronounced by Hawaiian language expert Puakea Nogelmeier


Akamai: Smart, knowledgeable. She’s an akamai traveler.
‘Aina: The land. We must take care of the ‘aina.
Hapa: Half, part, now usually applied to people of mixed race. The hapa girls were beautiful.
Halau: A long house, now usually applied to a hula troupe or troupes. Many halau danced at the event.
Haole: A foreigner, now usually applied to white Americans and Europeans. The missionary wives were the first haole women on Kaua‘i.
Kai: Sea, seaside. Of course, Hawai‘i Kai is near the ocean. Where else would it be?
Kama‘aina: Child of the land, i.e., someone born in Hawai‘i. If you stay in Hawai‘i long enough, people sometimes take you for kama‘aina.
Kalo: The proper Hawaiian spelling of taro. Poi is made from kalo.
Kane: A man, men. Restrooms in Hawai‘i are often marked Kane and Wahine.
Kapu: Forbidden. Taking lava rocks from the volcano is kapu.
Keiki: Child, children. The keiki danced hula.
Kokua: Help, assistance. We need your kokua in keeping this area clean.
Kuleana: Right or responsibility. Kokua the ‘aina is everyone’s kuleana.
Ku‘uipo: Sweetheart. This is for you, Ku‘uipo.
Lanai: A balcony, deck or patio. Come out on the lanai and see the sunset.
Mauka and makai: Toward the mountain or ocean, i.e., how you give directions in Hawai‘i. The hotel is on the mauka side of Kalakaua Avenue.

Malama: To serve, take care of. The grandmothers malama the keiki.
Mele: Song or chant. He knows all the old mele.
‘Ohana: Extended family. They became part of our ‘ohana.
‘Olelo: Language. Slowly we are learning ‘olelo Hawai‘i.
Pau hana: Work finished, or a party that takes place after work. We’re having a pau hana Friday.
Pono: Good, righteous, just. Let us strive to be pono in all our actions.
Wahine: A woman, women. Wahine volleyball is a major sport in Hawai‘i.
Wai: Water, river, stream. Waikiki is named for the many streams that used to flow there.
Wikiwiki: Quick, hurry. The Web site Wikipedia takes its name from wikiwiki.


Puakea Nogelmeier Puakea Nogelmeier has taught Hawaiian language at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa for more than two decades. He is the founder and director of Awaiaulu: Hawaiian Literature Project, which mentors new translators and publishes historical writings from the Hawaiian-language newspapers. Nogelmeier is also an award-winning Hawaiian language songwriter. The Awaiaulu project can be found on the Web at www.awaiaulu.org.