When people think of Hawaii, one of the first words that come to mind is “aloha.” Hawaii is a unique state with two official languages, Hawaiian and English. Only approximately 2% of the population in Hawaii can speak the Hawaiian language fluently, although it is not unusual to hear Hawaiian words incorporated into daily conversation.
Hawaiian Pidgin English, a local dialect, was recognized only in 2016 by the United States Census Bureau as an official language that is spoken prevalently in Hawaii. Hawaiian Pidgin English was formed during the sugar and pineapple plantation era, when immigrants from Portugal, China, Philippines and Japan arrived in Hawaii and found themselves working together on the plantations. Since the workers could not communicate with one another, they began speaking in a broken English, blending words from their home country, which became Hawaiian Pidgin English.
Because of this, it is helpful to know common Hawaiian and Pidgin English words when visiting Kauai and how to use them. With our help below, you will be speaking like a local in no time.
Aloha (hello, goodbye, sharing of spirit and love)
The universal term for greeting one another or saying goodbye in Hawaii. The term aloha has a much deeper meaning and symbolizes a standard for the way of life and giving nature of the people of Kauai. To have aloha is to share your life energy with another individual, to make them feel welcome in your home and treat them with respect and love.
Mahalo (thank you)
Commonly confused by visitors for the word “trash” since most trash receptacles have the word “mahalo” painted on them, mahalo actually means thank you. As in, mahalo for throwing away your trash and helping to keep our island green and beautiful. Locals sometimes use the term “mahalo nui loa” (pronounced mah-hah-loh noo-ee loh-ah) which translates to “thank you very much” to emphasize appreciation and gratitude.
Pau Hana (to be finished with work)
Synonymous with happy hour, pau hana is a Hawaiian Pidgin slang for being finished with work, using the word pau, to finish, and hana, to work, in Hawaiian. If you get invited to pau hana, you are being invited out for cocktails at the end of the work day. Also, pau hana may be used to ask someone when do they finish work, such as “when do you pau hana?”
The most appropriate way to respond when someone asks you how you like your meal. Ono translates as delicious in Hawaiian. Not to be confused with the Hawaiian fish ono – which actually is really ono and a must try when visiting our restaurants in Poipu.
Meaning trash or rubbish. If someone says “don’t forget your opala,” they are not reminding you to remember your personal belongings. Remembering your trash is just one of the ways we care for the environment on Kauai. Mahalo for throwing away your opala. 😉
Malama (to care for)
Meaning to protect or take care of something. Also used in the phrase “malama pono” as a way to wish a person to take care when parting. You will often find the word malama on informational signage throughout Kauai, reminding people to malama or take care of our beaches and parks.
Self explanatory term for yes and no. ‘Ae is pronounced “eye” and a’ole is pronounced “ah-oh-lay.”
If someone asks you how you are enjoying your vacation experience on Kauai, it is always appropriate to say it is maika’i or maika’i nui loa (very good). Pronounced “my-kah-ee.” This term is relevant to describing a luau show, a tour with one of our many island outfitters, shopping in our local boutiques or dining at our Poipu restaurants.
Kokua (to help)
Part of Kauai’s aloha spirit is the giving nature of the people. To kokua, means to help one another, even without being asked. It is not uncommon to experience meeting a local willing to kokua with driving directions or inquire if you need some kokua when you look confused. Helpfulness goes a long way in Hawaii and is a highly esteemed virtue among the Hawaiian people.
The term kuleana (pronounced koo-lay-ah-nah) often relates to one’s job or responsibility. Commonly, a lifeguard might say it is their kuleana to protect our beaches and beachgoers, as a way to broadly describe their job. Or it is a hotel concierge’s kuleana to help visitors decide what activities are the best fit for their guest. Kuleana has a deeper meaning to the Hawaiian people, for example, they might say it is their kuleana to malama or kokua family, friends and visitors.
Okole Maluna (bottoms up)
Leave the urge to say cheers at home and instead impress the locals with your knowledge of saying okole maluna, the Hawaiian way to say bottoms up. Okole maluna (pronounced “oh-koh-lay mah-loo-nah) refers to a person’s bottom, the okole, and a directive of rising above, maluna.
Howzit (how are you)
When someone says “howzit” to you, do not respond “how’s what?” Howzit is a Hawaiian Pidgin term for how are you or even as a greeting in place of hello. Give a person a shaka (hang loose hand symbol) with a howzit and they will think you are a local.
Slippahs (flip flops)
On Kauai, we never say flip flops or even worse, thongs. It is always called slippahs, no exceptions. Kauai residents prefer rubber slippahs found in local grocery stores over fancy footwear. Whenever you go to a person’s home, it is customary to remove your slippahs and make sure you leave with the right pair, although it can get a little confusing when everyone wears the same brand and style.
Choke (many, plenty, abundant)
Not to be confused with the verb, choke is actually an adjective in the Hawaiian Pidgin language to describe something as being abundant. Such as, “we went surfing and there was choke good waves,” or “come over and eat, we have choke food.”
Hana Hou (all over again, once more)
Instead of “encore” at the end of a show or concert, locals often yell “hana hou” to request one more performance. Also used as a verb, such as “went snorkeling at Poipu Beach today, tomorrow hana hou,” meaning that you plan to snorkel again tomorrow.
Remembering to incorporate a few of these terms into your vocabulary while on vacation shows the local residents that you are interested in the Hawaiian culture when you are willing to try to speak the language. It is a sign of respect for the people and the unique history of Hawaii and your effort won’t go unappreciated; or may give bystanders a good chuckle.