My 5 favourite Hawaiian words


I don’t speak Hawaiian. I know, however, many words, many songs and chants that I sing during massage. Hawaiian is quite a difficult language for me to learn – not only because it has only 13 letters (5 vowels and 8 consonants) so words sound similar to each other, or are very long. But also, Hawaiian words usually carry more than one meaning. Often the meaning of a word is very complex and in fact one word is used to describe a whole vast concept.

Here are my 5 favourite Hawaiian words – and they are favourite because of the elaborate meaning that they carry.


Of course, ALOHA is one of my favourite Hawaiian words and one of the most famous words in the world . Aloha means both hello and goodbye and it is really commonly used in Hawaii as a greeting both to friends and strangers. Another meaning of aloha is love, but also affection, compassion, mercy, sympathy, kindness, pity, grace, sentiment… and many more. The full meaning of aloha is beyond words. Aloha is the spirit and soul of Hawaii, and penetrates everything there. Aloha is being a part of all and all being a part of me.


ʻOHANA means family and family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten. This famous quote from Disney animation “Lilo and Stitch” perfectly explains the meaning of this word. ‘Ohana are people bound together not only, or not at all, by blood, but by love, friendship, responsibility, care and common goal. ‘Ohana can be your blood-related family, adoptive family or family of choice – people who are dear to you. In ‘Ohana we care for each other, support each other and nourish our bond.


MANA is, well, mana – power. Everything has mana, from a grain of sand to the highest mountain. Every object, plant, animal, place, every person, everything that exists – has mana, life force. Some places have more mana than others – we would call them sacred places. Some people have more mana than others – these are the people who are strong-willed, inspiring and charismatic. You always notice them even in a crowded room.

You can inherit your mana from your ancestors (in Hawaii your linage, meaning who your ancestors / ‘ohana are – is very important). You can also get mana through various life experiences, through food, through visiting sacred sites (Mauna Kea, the sacred Hawaiian mountain was a place where high chiefs would go in search for mana). You can also lose mana by what you do, what decisions you take or how you behave towards people. So basically everything you do affects your life force – remember that and take care of your mana.


ʻĀINA is your land, is the earth. ʻĀina can be your country, your homeland. ʻĀina is where you are from, where you belong, it is your place on earth. Aloha ʻĀina they say in Hawaii – love your land. Malama ʻĀina – respect your land. Take care of it so it will take care of you and give you everything you need, from food to shelter to sense of belonging and identity.

Just a fun fact: Iceland – where I live – in Hawaiian is ʻĀina Hau (hau meaning ice) and Poland – my homeland – is Pōlani (it also means beautiful, handsome, clean ad pure. Really!)


MAHALO, like aloha, is very commonly used in Hawaii. Mahalo – as “thank you” – is used to express everyday gratitude, but also to show this deep, heart-to-heart thankfulness to people and the world, or to pay respect and admiration to somebody. I like this word a lot because I always have a feeling that it carries much more that just simple “thank you”. It is like saying “thank you” with everything that can’t be really expressed with words – all this deep appreciation, admiration, gratefulness, love, praise, connection and care.


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