Is Everyone Hawaiian in Hawaii?

The plantations brought so many different people to Hawaii that the state is now a rainbow of ethnic groups: Living here are Caucasians, 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.

In combination, it's a remarkable potpourri. Many people retain an element of the traditions of their homeland. Some Japanese Americans in Hawaii, generations removed from the homeland, are more traditional than the Japanese of Tokyo. And the same is true of many Chinese, Koreans, Filipinos, and others, making Hawaii a kind of living museum of various Asian and Pacific cultures.

Do You Have to Speak Hawaiian in Hawaii?

Almost everyone here speaks English. But many folks in Hawaii now speak Hawaiian as well. 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 (finished). On Friday it's pau hana, work finished. You eat pupu (Hawaii's version of hors d'oeuvres) 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.

Following are some basic Hawaiian words that you'll often hear in Hawaii and see throughout this book. For a more complete list of Hawaiian words, go to

alii -- Hawaiian royalty

aloha -- greeting or farewell

halau -- school

hale -- house or building

heiau -- Hawaiian temple or place of worship

kahuna -- priest or expert

kamaaina -- old-timer

kapa -- tapa, bark cloth

kapu -- taboo, forbidden

keiki -- child

kupuna -- respected elder

lanai -- porch or veranda

lomilomi -- massage

mahalo -- thank you

makai -- a direction, toward the sea

mana -- spirit power

mauka -- a direction, toward the mountains

muumuu -- loose-fitting gown or dress

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. "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). But because pidgin is really the province of the locals, your visit to Hawaii is likely to pass without your hearing much pidgin at all.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.