Posted on 10/25/2023

6 Hawaiian Words You Should Know Before Visiting Maui

Hawaii is the only state with two official languages (English and Hawaiian). The Hawaiian language is an integral part of Hawaiian culture. It is worth learning about while you're on the tropical island of Maui.

Here are 6 Hawaiian words you should know before visiting Maui to get the most out of your time in this tropical paradise!

What you should know about the Hawaiian Language

Originally developed from a South Pacific Polynesian language, the Hawaiian language is classified as critically endangered.

This is particularly tragic as it is an essential aspect of Hawaiian culture. When the United States annexed Hawaii, the government enforced an English-only learning system.

Having tragic consequences, by 1985, only 32 island children under the age of 18 spoke Hawaiian!

Since then, multiple initiatives have been formed to preserve the people's native tongue (and, by extension, culture).

Hawaiian immersion schools and establishing Hawaiian as an official language have been important steps in righting the wrongs.

For anyone planning on visiting Hawaii, learning the Hawaiian word for something is a beautiful way to show respect and learn about the rich culture present.

The Hawaiian alphabet, developed in 1822, only uses 13 letters. It has 8 consonants and 5 vowels. There are also two special symbols— the 'Okina and the Kahakō.

The Kahakō is a stress mark that elongates vowels, and the 'Okina is a glottal stop. Not only do these change the pronunciation of a word, but they also change the meaning!

6 Hawaiian Words to Learn

The following 6 words are ones that you'll probably see or hear a lot while on the island, so they'll be helpful ones to familiarize yourself with before going.

Hawaiian culture is rich, and there's so much to learn. Knowing these words will hopefully pique your interest so you can ask good questions.


You've probably heard the word "Aloha" before. But do you know about its rich meaning? Used as a greeting (and goodbye), the definition of Aloha includes peace, love, and compassion.

It's a way of life more than anything— an energetic presence of love that is all-encompassing. Living with Aloha means treating others with love and respect.

When you say "Aloha" to someone, you are conveying feelings of affection and care. It's a beautiful thing to speak over other people!

The aloha spirit draws so many to the Hawaiian islands— you'll surely experience this genuine love and care while you're here!


Mahalo is the Hawaiian word for thank you. It's a common word that you'll hear used daily.

The rich meaning behind mahalo is "to live in thankfulness for the abundant blessings of life."

Essentially, you're expressing gratitude without expecting anything in return. Talk about beautiful!


Pono means righteousness and balance. When you hear it used, it's commonly talking about living harmoniously with others and the world around you.

Being Pono means being virtuous and faithful to one's nature.


Kokua is a phrase you'll see a lot on the islands! It means to extend help sacrificially, to have consideration for others, and to be helpful.

You'll see it often on signs asking you not to litter, use reef-safe sunscreen, or request that you take action to benefit others or the island.


Kapu means forbidden. It also refers to the ancient Hawaiian code of conduct. This universal system dictated lifestyle, gender roles, politics, religion, etc...

When you see it now, it's often used to tell you what you shouldn't do. A sign saying an area is "kapu" is the same as a no trespassing sign; please be respectful.

Wahine and Kane

Wahine (vah-hee-neh) is Hawaiian for women, and Kāne is for warriors (or men).

Bathrooms on the islands often use these words to tell you whether it's for men or women!

If you need clarification, don't worry- there are also symbols.


The Hawaiian language is lovely. As you explore Maui, I hope these 6 essential Hawaiian words come in handy and enable you to learn even more about the rich culture and heritage on the islands.

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