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When referring to people, “Hawaiian” only refers to people of Native Hawaiian ancestry. (A Native Hawaiian person is the descendant of people who lived in Hawai‘i previous to Western contact in 1778.)


Residents of the state do not refer to themselves as “Hawaiian” unless they are, in fact, of Hawaiian descent. People of other racial extractions who live in Hawai‘i are referred to as locals, Hawai‘i residents, or kama‘āina.


Kama‘āina literally means "child of the land," but its contemporary usage has been extended to long-time Hawai‘i residents even if they were not born in the Hawaiian Islands.


The Hawaiian language, ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i, is the native language of Hawai‘i.


The language was brought to Hawai‘i by the first people to arrive from the ancestral homelands of Polynesia, and evolved alongside the culture into the nuanced, multi-layered ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i we know today.

Words/phrases you might hear: 

E komo mai- Welcome

Mahalo- Thank you

A hui hou- Until next time

Keiki- children

'Aina- land

Heiau- Hawaiian temple

Lanai- Porch or patio

Liliko'i- Passion Fruit

Makai- Toward the sea

Mauka- Toward the mountain

'Ohana- Family

'Ono- delicious


Wahine- woman

Kane- man


Aloha- it means hello and goodbye, but it also describes a feeling or love, affection, or kindness. Bring the Spirit of Aloha with you on your trip and you will receive it in return! 

Heiau, which are temples or places of worship, are very sacred in Hawaiian culture. Heiau come in different shapes and sizes, ranging from stone platforms a few feet across to complexes stretching hundreds of feet with a variety of structures. Some are quite inaccessible, while others are in the middle of developed, populated areas. Not all heiau are identified and marked as such. Because of this, any unknown structure should be treated with respect.


This one topic tends to add the most tension between residents and visitors.

  • Locals want you to slow down- accidents can close the only road to get around the island.

  • But don't drive too slow- afterall, they do need to get to work!

The point: pay attention, drive the speed limit, and use aloha. If you notice someone behind you is in a hurry, pull over and let them pass. They'll probably throw you a shaka on their way by.

Please do not honk unless something bad is happening. It's considered rude and unacceptable in Hawaii!

Directions are given in relation to landmarks or landscapes. For example, ma uka (toward the mountains or uplands) and ma kai (toward the sea) are two phrases commonly used across Hawai‘i.

One lane bridge etiquette: If there are cars coming through and you're the first in line, make sure you are fully behind the white line on the road. It's custom for 5-7 cars to go before the other side goes. So if you're 8th in line, hang back to let the other side have a turn.


Don’t be afraid to throw a shaka! How To Throw the Perfect Shaka

Do remove your shoes when you enter someone's home.

Don't disturb the sea life- It is illegal to touch sea turtles, Hawaiian monk seals or fish. Please do not feed the fish when snorkeling; it is very bad for them.

Do not bring home lava rocks – it is bad luck and my friends at the island visitors offices get many mailed back to them each year!  

Bring reef-safe sunscreen. Regular sunscreen bleaches the coral. Hawaii has banned the sale of sunscreen with these harmful chemicals. Go here to learn more and see a list of good & bad sunscreens:


Hula is a very important part of Polynesian culture. To understand the importance (especially if you're attending a luau), watch this National Geographic video.

Note: While fire/knife dancing is exciting and entertaining, it's not actually traditionally Hawaiian (it's Samoan). Many luaus will feature fire/knife dancers, but they are typically telling the story of other Polynesian cultures during the dance. 

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