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Visiting Hawaii: The Happiest Place in America
I was visiting Hawaii for almost a decade before I decided to make this natural wonderland my home. I have had the pleasure of living on Ohau, Hawaii for almost three years now. The people, the land, the Hawaiian culture, are all overwhelmingly welcoming to all. This is one of the many reasons why Hawaii has been voted “Happiest Place in America” more than once. Although this land of enchantment awaits to fulfill all your paradise desires, there are some things to know when visiting Hawaii. I have learned all these things through careful observation and listening to locals. This is not definitive list. It is just some things this outsider has noted along the way.
When Visiting Hawaii: Respect Your Kupuna (Elders)
I know this seems like a given, as most humans generally respect their elders, but the Hawaiian culture goes above and beyond for their Kupuna (elders). Here, you will find many local people live in multigenerational homes, and all members of the family are expected to care for the elderly members in the household. When visiting Hawaii, please keep in mind the importance of caring for elderly. Show respect and offer a helping hand if the occasion calls for it.
When Visiting Hawaii: Respect the Aina (Land)
Hawaiian people regard the land with utmost respect. The land provides life for us; therefore, we treat it in high regard. If you are out exploring and have trash, you are expected to take it with you and discard of it in an appropriate receptacle. If you have recyclable materials, you are expected to recycle. This is one of many ways to respect the land.
Another way to show respect for the land is to be aware of sacred grounds. Hawaiian ancestral grounds are common all over the state, and many times the grounds look like simple lava or random rocks. If there is a sign designating sacred burial grounds, or Kapu, the expectation is to not step foot on the area. Local culture dictates leaving sacred lands untouched. Hawaiians feel their culture is being disrespected when caution isn’t practiced in these sites. Also, you don’t want to mess around and catch a haunting. That would be a bad day.
When Visiting Hawaii: Learn the Language
Although English has been officially spoken in Hawaii for many decades, the Hawaiian language is still widely used in everyday situations from greetings to street names. The Hawaiian language is unique, with only 13 letters in the complete alphabet, with 5 of the 13 letters being vowels. Learning the language is not expected of nonlocal folks because it can be very difficult, but it is appreciated when time is taken to at least learn the standard “Aloha” (hello/goodbye) and “Mahalo” (thank you). This is seen as a simple sign of respect. Also, it is used so widely, you might as well learn what it means so you aren’t standing there looking confused when it is spoken to you.
Also, Be careful not to confuse Hawaiian Pidgen with the Hawaiian language. These are two very different languages What is Pidgen? It is a mixture of different languages. Some time after the the Kingdom of Hawaii was overtaken, a creole language referred to as Pidgen was developed. As of 2015, it has been identified as an official second language in Hawaii. I have spent many hours trying to learn Pidgen words so I can understand conversations, but I would never try to use it myself in a conversation. If you want to insult a local real quick, try using “braddah”, “auntie”, “uncle”, “shoots” or “brah” at the wrong time. You can end up looking like this guy real quick: Haole in Hawaii Music Video.
When Visiting Hawaii: Respect the Culture
You will often find Hawaiian images showing men and women in lei, doing hula. Both of these are deeply embedded in the culture. It is a sign of affection to be greeted with a lei when visiting Hawaii. Lei are used in many celebrations, as well as welcome gifts. Anyone is permitted to wear a lei, and there are no official rules when it comes to wearing one. However, a few “unspoken rules” should be kept in mind when presented with a lei. 1) Never refuse a lei. It is seen as disrespect if refused. 2) Lei are not be be worn like a necklace. They should be draped over the shoulders to hang over both the chest and back. 3) You should not remove a lei you were given in front of the giver. If you must, do it discreetly, as to not offend the giver.
When it comes to hula, it is a very respected part of the Hawaiian culture. It is very serious business. Little boys and girls are taught the craft from an early age. You will find it is common to be invited to learn how to hula at celebrations; however, it should be taken seriously. Do not jest and/or make fun of the dance tradition. You will be labeled a jerk real quick. You may even hear a few choice words from locals if you try any funny business.
When Visiting Hawaii: Live with Aloha
When visiting Hawaii, living with aloha is a real thing. The Aloha Spirit is alive and well on this island. The idea of Ohana, everyone is family, is seen in every aspect of this culture. It is common to be invited into a home of a local for a friendly dinner, or be offered advice on amazing places to visit. Hawaii is one of the friendliest places I have ever had the pleasure to visit. But, keep in mind no one is in a hurry to get from point A to point B. Island time is real. Give yourself time. Don’t get frustrated. Lastly, appreciate the surroundings and count your blessings. You are in paradise. Act accordingly.
Hawaii is truly a unique place, almost undefinable. The people, the culture and the beauty cannot be overlooked. It should not be forgotten this is a place people live their real lives, though. They are not “lucky” to be here. They make daily sacrifices to call this place home. We joke it is called the “Paradise Tax”. Treat this place as your own.
- Be vigilant for petty crime. It is rare, but it does happen here.
- Take care of your mess.
- Don’t be a jerk.
- Get out of Waikiki and explore!
- Most of all, enjoy yourself!
For more on this topic, watch Andy Bumatai as he explains How to Make Hawaii People Mad.
If you are planning a trip and would like some family friendly hikes, click here.