10 Hawaiian Words to Know Before You Go

I’d like to share a few Hawaiian words you need to know before coming to the Islands or a refresher if you are already here:

Pakalolo is marijuana, literally the crazy weed (paka = weed, lolo = crazy). This probably doesn’t need explanation, but I wouldn’t want you to eat a pakalolo brownie by mistake because no one told you what that herb was…

Ukus are the little varmits that live in da keiki hair, otherwise known as lice. If the word uku is mentioned or someone is scratching their head like crazy, get out of there and wash your hair with the Listerine. Literally soak your head in a tub of that amber-colored Listerine and then comb with a fine-tooth comb. Why Ukulele? Because da fingers jump like ukus on the strings.

sunset on maui over the ocean

Lanai is the veranda or patio. Lanai is also the name of one of the islands you can see from Lahaina town.

oceanview lanai on maui

Kama’aina – A kama’aina is a local or someone who lives in Hawaii, but now it seems to mean someone with a Hawaii driver’s license who qualifies for a discount.

Haole – Caucasian, or visitor. Apparently means “no breath” in Hawaiian but we use it widely just to mean a white person… for me, “haole” has a connotation of being a kook, as in “they came into the restaurant, all haole’d out.”

road leads toward mountains on maui

Mauka – Toward the mountains. This is important when receiving directions in Hawaii since no one really uses street names or highway numbers… “Head upcountry, we live just Mauka of the Pukalani farmer’s market…”

a bicycle by the ocean

Makai – Sea side. Locals are not going to say “park on the West side of the driveway” but “park makai.”

sign reads "malama da aina" in front of mountains

Malama means to take care, and it’s often used in regards to the land: Malama Aina. Please remember we are all visitors here on these sacred islands, so let’s make good decisions to protect our lands for future generations. Easy ways to help: reduce, re-use and recycle… cut down on single-use plastic: water bottles, plastic bags, plastic straws, and plastic cutlery. Pick up trash on the beaches; try beach plogging!’

sign reads "mahalo kapu respect sacred"

Kapu = keep out. Traditionally, Hawaiians didn’t have the concept of private property. Kapu is often used for sacred spots or burial grounds.

sign reads "aloha and mahalo are still magic words"


Mahalo means thank you. Some people think it means “trash” because it is written on so many trash cans…

Bonus word #11: Aloha is the breath of life…Love, hello, goodbye, greetings… “ha” is breath.

rooster in parking lot in hawaii

Which way — Mauka or Makai?

Some Tips

I suggest using Hawaiian or pidgin words sparingly… You wouldn’t visit New Jersey and suddenly start speaking like Robert De Niro and saying “fuhgeddaboudit”… Don’t throw in more than one pidgin or Hawaiian word in each conversation. It can be perceived as being patronizing. Avoid overused words like Aloha and Mahalo, and especially not both together. If you just moved here, avoid using too many Hawaiian words on your voicemail greeting or as your email address, (no mo’, and do consult a kumu (teacher) first before giving your child a Hawaiian name or getting a Hawaiian expression tattoo. You’ll understand what I mean a year or two later after living here!

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Ivan Jeftić

June 21, 2021


Anna Severson

June 25, 2021

> You are welcome! Aloha Friday


June 24, 2021

Love your Blog Anna!
I remember those pictures!

Anna Severson

June 25, 2021

> D’Ann, thanks for the comment- Aloha Friday!

Lei Dilliner

June 25, 2021

Hi Anna, couldn’t stop laughing at “park on the west side of the driveway”… for one, where’s West? Secondly, it’s too many words, ha ha…thanks for the humor 😁 it was great.Aloha, Lei, Kailua

Anna Severson

June 25, 2021

> Lei, mahalo! Glad you appreciate da kine!

Beth Robinson

July 26, 2021

Well done, Anna!

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