aloha written on sand with floral crown

10 Meaningful Hawaiian Words To Live By

Join us in uncovering the depth and significance of these meaningful Hawaiian words to live by!
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Discovering different languages and cultures can enrich our lives, offering us words and concepts that expand our understanding of the world.

In this spirit, let's explore ten wonderful Hawaiian words that embody powerful and meaningful concepts.

From love and compassion to strength and positivity, these words offer valuable wisdom that can enhance your life day after day.

Join us in uncovering the depth and significance of these impactful Hawaiian words to live by!

1) Aloha

aloha written on gold sand

The obvious entry — aloha (uh-LOW-hah) — comes from the Hawaiian words alo, meaning “presence," and ha, meaning “breath.”

You probably know this popular Hawaiian word as both a way to greet someone ("hello") and as a way to say goodbye.

But aloha has other connotations, too.

It means love, affection, peace, compassion, mercy, kindness, sympathy, pity and charity, among other meanings.

The profound significance of aloha has even made its way into Hawaiian State Law. 

Passed in 1986, the “Aloha Spirit" law states that “each person must think and emote good feelings to others.”

As in, you are hereby ordered to be kind, compassionate, and respectful of others while residing in or visiting any of Hawaii’s enchanting islands.

Cool, huh?

2) Pono

rainbow over hawaiian landscape with clouds

Pono (POE-no), meaning “righteousness,” is one of the best-known Hawaiian words.

It’s so influential in Hawaiian culture that it even appears in the Hawaii State motto:

Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono. Meaning “the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.”

Like many other Hawaiian words, pono is a polysemous term — a word that bears multiple meanings.

Some other meanings of pono are hope, goodness, moral, prosperous, dutiful, proper, virtuous and fair. And the list goes on, my friends.

In addition to being featured in the Hawaii State motto, pono is popular in the Hawaiian vernacular.

“Living pono,” for example, is part of the lifeblood of Hawaiian culture. By living pono, you’re choosing to live altruistically. You let your moral compass guide your decisions and aspire to live harmoniously with others.

By living pono, you’re motivated to do the right thing.

So next time you see a situation where you can choose to act pono, remember the importance of harmony and altruism in Hawaiian culture and strive to do what is right.

3) Aina

traveler on verdant hawaiian crest

The Hawaiian word, aina (ah-EE-nuh), is grounded in nature.

Meaning “land,” aina illustrates the deep connection between native Hawaiians, their rich culture and the beautiful islands they inhabit.

Aloha ‘Aina is a Hawaiian expression meaning “love of the land.”

And what is there not to love about Hawaii? It boasts breathtaking landscapes, pristine beaches, and the sacred site of Mauna Kea — a snow-covered summit that rises over 13,000 feet above sea level.

Moreover, Aina emphasizes the importance of spending time outdoors and building a meaningful connection with nature, which can significantly benefit your mental health.

But don't take it from us. Check out this mental health study that supports aina and shows how spending time outdoors can reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression!

4) Ohana

ohana written in sand

Ohana (oh-HAH-nuh), meaning "family," takes root in the Hawaiian word, oha.

Oha refers to the new shoots of the kalo or taro plant, one of the oldest domesticated crops in the world.

Kalo is plentiful in the Hawaiian islands and has become a local favorite food.

Kalo is so important in Hawaiian culture that there’s even a creation story about it.

Legend has it that the Hawaiian Sky Father, Wākea, and its Earth Mother, Papa, had a stillborn child that they ceremoniously buried in Hawaiian soil. The first kalo plant grew from that burial spot.

Combine oha with kōhanga — the Maori word for “nest” — and you get the lovely Hawaiian word, ohana.

5) Ikaika

lava flowing into ocean

Ikaika (ee-KAH-ee-kuh) is the Hawaiian word for strength, but it also means powerful, sturdy, stalwart, mighty, vigorous, and determined.

A little ikaika is what we all need to overcome the challenges that lie ahead.

Given its varied meanings, it’s a powerful and versatile word in the Hawaiian language. It has also become a popular name, typically for boys.

Think of ikaika when conveying strength, power, or resilience.

6) Shaka

thumb and pinky raised in shaka

Shaka (SHAH-kuh) is one of the raddest Hawaiian words out there.

We have it to thank for the classic hand symbol pictured above.

To be fair, shaka is more of an attitude than an actual Hawaiian word. (Semantics, amirite?)

That said, we’d be remiss not to add it to our list of ten meaningful Hawaiian words to live by.

After all, shaka oozes positivity with its “high tides & good vibes” message.

It’s popular among surfers, divers, snorkelers, parasailers and anyone else who feels the ocean's gravitational pull.

It’s also one of the most effortless Hawaiian words in the dictionary.

To express shaka, all you have to do is stick out your pinky and thumb fingers (and maybe your tongue, too!)

And voilà. You have successfully thrown a shaka!

7) Mana

collection of longboards standing with trees

Next on our list of the most meaningful Hawaiian words is mana (MAN-uh), meaning “power.”

To be clear, mana isn’t about seeking power to exert over others and get what you want.

Instead, it’s a spiritual construct — a life force, energy, and healing power that permeates the universe.

It's intended for the greater good rather than individual gain.

In Hawaiian culture, mana is considered social capital, representing the value derived from positive connections between people.

Think of it as an invisible currency you can amass by doing meaningful work, forging healthy relationships and manifesting all things “aloha.”

On the other hand, you'll lose mana if you neglect self-care, engage in toxic relationships, or spread negativity.

So grow some serious mana, dear reader, and cash it in for some sweet goodness!

You can "mahalo" us later. ;-) 

8) Mahalo

Speaking of mahalo (muh-HAH-low), this Hawaiian word is commonly used to express gratitude or thankfulness. 

Like many Hawaiian words, it originates in Proto-Polynesian languages, which include the regions of Tonga, Samoa, and other Pacific islands.

Expressing mahalo goes beyond mere politeness. In addition to thank you, it means respect, admiration, esteem, and praise.

On a deeper level, it reflects a sense of thankfulness and acknowledgment of the positive actions, kind gestures, and beautiful experiences that come your way.

So don’t forget to seize the moment when it comes and incorporate the essence of mahalo into your daily interactions.

9) Lani

sea turtle swimming alone in clear water

Lani (LAH-nee) is a Hawaiian word that most commonly translates to "heaven."

The word lani is often associated with divinity, spirituality, and the expanse of the sky.

In Hawaiian culture, it is also used to refer to royalty or nobility, as in the word aliʻi, which means chief or noble.

Combined with lei, a flower garland or wreath typically worn around the neck, it forms the popular Hawaiian name for girls, Leilani. 

The name of Hawaii's last queen, Liliuokalani, was also influenced by this Hawaiian word.

10) Akamai

white sand beach with turquoise water at dawn

Last on our list of meaningful Hawaiian words, but certainly not least, is akamai (AH-kah-my), meaning smart, skillful, or clever.

According to Hawai’i Public Radio, akamai is one of the first Hawaiian words people learn. This is partly because “akamai” is tightly woven into Hawaiian vernacular.

Locals who speak Pidgin — an English-based creole language spoken by roughly 600,000 native Hawaiians — commonly incorporate akamai into everyday life.

To quote the radio station, “If you see someone doing something very clever, it's okay to say ‘akamai ʻoe’ (AH-kah-my OY), or you're very smart.”

Aloha From Gravel

We hope our list of popular and meaningful words in Hawaii will be an enriching resource for anyone interested in the beautiful language and culture of the islands.

If you're curious about which Hawaiian island to explore based on your unique preferences, check out our article "Which Hawaiian Islands Is Best to Visit?" Just be sure to practice aloha and respect the land and local culture wherever you go.

If you’re looking for premium travel gear to enhance your Hawaiian experience, browse our selection of high-quality products at our online store. From travel blankets to toiletry bags and more, our carefully crafted products are designed to enhance your adventures.

For more travel tips and tricks, subscribe to our YouTube channel and check out the rest of our blog.

Aloha! 🌺🌈🌋✨

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