Saturday, April 5, 2014

E Komo Mai or E Kipa Mai? (Which is more welcome?)

E Komo Mai is a phrase you might encounter as a tourist. It sometimes shows up in glossy brochures and activity guides to Hawaii or on signs at events or luaus. Usually, it’s translated as “Welcome," which is what I’ve been taught. Then a native Hawaiian friend told me she never uses that phrase because she thinks it has an adult meaning. She prefers E Kipa Mai.

Who uses E Kipa Mai for welcome? It turns out, at Kahului Harbor, the Maui Visitors Bureau decided that E Kipa Mai was a more appropriate greeting.

E Kipa Mai sign at Kahului Harbor, greeting cruise ship visitors to Maui.

So I’ve been asking around. I asked another friend of native Hawaiian blood who scoffed at using E Kipa Mai for welcome and said it’s always E Komo Mai. I asked two Hawaiian language teachers and one student, who all agreed that E Komo Mai is more appropriate for inviting someone into your space. It literally means “come Inside” or “enter.” 

E Kipa Mai translates more closely to “Come visit” So if you wanted someone to feel welcome to visit, then E Kipa Mai might be a better choice.

But if you wanted to say "Welcome to Maui" or "Welcome to Hawaii?" E Komo Mai or E Kipa Mai? E Komo Mai is often used. But is it correct

Two more Hawaiian friends say no. Use E Komo Mai to invite someone to enter your house. Use E Kipa Mai to invite them to visit. To welcome someone at the airport, just say "Aloha!" Of all the answers I've heard, I think I like that one the best. If in doubt, aloha is not a bad way to go. 

E Komo Mai is still very popular in Hawaii. From upper left going clockwise: E Komo Mai in a recent Maui visitor publication from April 2014, at a Maui Body & Soil Conference in 2013, at the Haiku Flower Festival this past April,
and on a Maui website for horseback riding. I'm not a Hawaiian language scholar so it's not my call whether this is correct usage of E Komo Mai.

What if you wanted to say "You're Welcome" in Hawaiian? Another Hawaiian speaker says that phrase is not really said in Hawaiian, but you could say "He mea iki: It's a small thing" or "He mea `ole: It's nothing." 

Hawaiian apparently has a lot of complexity in the way that words are used. Sometimes a word can mean one thing or something rather different, depending on the situation and the speaker. While English also has some ambiguity, it appears that Hawaiian may be at the far end of the spectrum. I’ve read that Hawaiian words can even have meanings embedded within meanings.  Apparently nothing in Hawaiian is as simple as it initially looks.

By the way, Aloha E Komo Mai is also the name of the theme song from Disney's Stitch! The Movie (sequel to Lilo and Stitch). While some people may object to the Disneyification of Hawaiian culture, the usage of E Komo Mai does not seem incorrect (The lyrics after E Komo Mai are: "Aloha Cousins, come on in"). I watched both movies trying to find out where the Aloha E Komo Mai song showed up - it's in the credits of the sequel. 

A Big Mahalo to everyone who helped answer my questions during research for this post.

P.S. If you are blog hopping from the A to Z challenge, please include your link if you comment! I try to reciprocate comments as quickly as I can, though I did lag behind last year, especially towards the end.

P.P.S. I am running two mini-contests during the A-Z Challenge (and into part of May). Here's how to enter


  1. Love the phrase; 'you might encounter as a tourist'. I wish!

  2. i wonder if it's because Hawaiians translate concepts rather than words. I gotta remember He mea iki. :-)
    The View from the Top of the Ladder

  3. Good luck! It's hard for me to remember that and I live here, and it's not a common phrase.

  4. IT can be affordable if you plan right, in advance, and get affordable plane tickets. Sometimes the car rental can be just as expensive as the lodging, esp. if you wait till the last minute.

  5. Good stuff! It must be fun to live in a state with such a strong culture.

    I think it's interesting how "you're welcome" translates as something like, "it's nothing" in so many different languages, rather than, well, "you're welcome," y'know?

    ~Tui Snider~

    My blog: Tui Snider's Offbeat & Overlooked Travel

    I am also part of the #StoryDam team, a friendly writing community!

  6. I think maybe because it wasn't written until the missionaries came the subtleties were probably in intonation or hand and body language. Also there was a certain amount of isolation because of the geography so regional difference would happen. I like that words have multiple meanings. My favorite words are kuleana and pono.

  7. Yes, I think intonation was important. Ihilani says if you say "So pupuka" one way it means so ugly, or another way, it means so beautiful.

  8. Yes, the concept of "You're welcome" doesn't translate so well.


Comments are important to me, so mahalo for adding a comment! I will try to follow up when I receive one.