Plantations brought so many different people to Hawaii that the state is now a rainbow of ethnic groups. Living here are African Americans, American Indians, Eskimos, Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos, Koreans, Tahitians, Vietnamese, Hawaiians, Samoans, Tongans, and other Asian and Pacific islanders. Add a few Canadians, Dutch, English, French, Germans, Irish, Italians, Portuguese, Scottish, Puerto Ricans, and Spaniards. Everyone's a minority here.
The Hawaiian Language
Almost everyone here speaks English, so except for pronouncing the names of places, you should have no trouble communicating in Hawaii.
But many folks in Hawaii now speak Hawaiian as well, for the ancient language is making a comeback. All visitors will hear the words aloha and mahalo (thank you). If you've just arrived, you're a malihini. Someone who's been here a long time is a kamaaina. When you finish a job or your meal, you are pau (over). On Friday, it's pau hana, work over. You put pupu (Hawaii's version of hors d'oeuvres) in your mouth when you go pau hana.
The Hawaiian alphabet, created by the New England missionaries, has only 12 letters: the five regular vowels (a, e, i, o, and u) and seven consonants (h, k, l, m, n, p, and w). The vowels are pronounced in the Roman fashion, that is, ah, ay, ee, oh, and oo (as in "too") -- not ay, ee, eye, oh, and you, as in English. For example, huhu is pronounced who-who. Most vowels are sounded separately, though some are pronounced together, as in Kalakaua: Kah-lah-cow-ah.
What Haole Means -- When Hawaiians first saw Western visitors, they called the pale-skinned, frail men haole, because they looked so out of breath. In Hawaiian, ha means breath, and ole means an absence of what precedes it. In other words, a lifeless-looking person. Today, the term haole is generally a synonym for Caucasian or foreigner and is used casually without any intended disrespect. However, if uttered by an angry stranger who adds certain adjectives (like "stupid"), the term can be construed as a mild racial slur.
Some Hawaiian Words -- Here are some basic Hawaiian words that you'll often hear in Hawaii and see throughout this guide. For a more complete list of Hawaiian words, point your Web browser to www.hawaiiandictionary.hisurf.com or www.olelo.hawaii.edu.
akamai -- smart
alii -- Hawaiian royalty
aloha -- greeting or farewell
halau -- school
hale -- house or building
heiau -- Hawaiian temple or place of worship
hui -- club, assembly
kahuna -- priest or expert
kamaaina -- old-timer
kapa -- tapa, bark cloth
kapu -- taboo, forbidden
keiki -- child
lanai -- porch or veranda
lomilomi -- massage
mahalo -- thank you
makai -- a direction, toward the sea
malihini -- stranger, newcomer
mana -- spirit power
mauka -- a direction, toward the mountains
muumuu -- loose-fitting gown or dress
nene -- official state bird, a goose
ono -- delicious
pali -- cliff
paniolo -- Hawaiian cowboy(s)
wiki -- quick
Pidgin: 'Eh Fo'Real, Brah
If you venture beyond the tourist areas, you might hear another local tongue: pidgin English. A conglomeration of slang and words from the Hawaiian language, pidgin developed as a method sugar planters used to communicate with their Chinese laborers in the 1800s.
"Broke da mouth" (tastes really good) is the favorite pidgin phrase and one you might hear; "'Eh fo'real, brah" means "It's true, brother." You could be invited to hear an elder "talk story" (relating myths and memories) or to enjoy local treats like "shave ice" (a tropical snow cone) and "crack seed" (highly seasoned preserved fruit). But since pidgin is really the province of the locals, your visit to Hawaii is likely to pass without your hearing much pidgin at all.
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