The Word Aloha

When I was growing up, a neighbor who was from Hawaii used to teach traditional Hawaiian dancing and songs at my elementary school in Texas. It is a little known secret that I know, as a result, the words to Pearly Shells, and that I actually hula danced myself once a year. (Yes, there are male dances.) It was then that I first heard the Hawaiian language.

As any tourist will know, not having a little facility with the language makes it hard to do simple things such as remember street names and directions. There are certainly some practical reasons to learn the language, but the more I see how the language is used and mixed in the culture today, it makes me want to dig deeper.

You say goodbye and I say hello

Everyone knows aloha is used as hello and goodbye. But the actual meaning of the word is much more layered, and even profound. Saying, or better yet living, aloha means to be full of love and compassion. It is the state of an overflowing spirit to revel in or to share. So, in many respects, it does not make sense to say it when you don’t mean it. It really isn’t just hello and goodbye after all.

See you later

A hui hou is translated loosely as “until we meet again.” What it truly means is closer to “until the next time we share the aloha together.” Given the real meaning of aloha above, how much more powerful is that then?

Aloha everywhere

So, if these are the true meanings, why are words like aloha used on automated bus announcements, or whenever a tourist enters or leaves a room — even though the staff may be annoyed and not feeling the aloha in the truest sense? Perhaps there is a tone of voice that differentiates between the basic and deeper types of usage? Or just the context makes the difference? How do different age groups we might encounter consider the usage of such basic Hawaiian words?

Even with the most universal Hawaiian word, how this language is used in various situations seems to be steeped in a tradition that is not easily decoded by malihini (newcomers). We hope to learn as we go, and if you can share your own experiences with the Hawaiian language, we’d love to hear from you in the comments.

A hui hou (and I mean it),
John

Illustration by Jessica

2 thoughts on “The Word Aloha

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