Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Haole - One of the Most Loaded Words in Hawaii

Haole. This is a loaded word in Hawaiian history and local culture. Literally it means “without breath.” Sounds kind of strange, doesn’t it? Especially when it refers to Caucasians. Why would the native Hawaiians refer to white people in this manner? It sounds so disrespectful and callous.

Since brick walls are so uncommon (foreign looking) in Hawaii,
it seemed a fitting background for the word "haole."

Turns out, the Hawaiians watched how the Caucasians prayed. When native Hawaiians
prayed, back in the old days, before many of them died from illness or were converted to Christianity, they prayed while doing conscious breathwork. If you’ve ever done yoga you may have practiced similar breathing exercises. Breathing in a particular pattern and with intention was very important to the prayer practice.

Hawaiians noticed that white people prayed with words but not with their breath. Hence, the name, without breath.

Nowadays, the word haole has mixed connotations. It is commonly used for any person of Caucasian descent.  It also means foreign or foreigner. It’s one of the first words I learned growing up in Hawaii. So, by itself, it can be used in a neutral way, just to indicate someone’s race.  Haoles are also associated with the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and the annexation of Hawaii, so historically, there has been resentment towards them. I will explore this further in my “Xenophobia and Racism” post.

How is the word haole used?
As an insult like in “stupid haole,” it implies a white person who has no respect for local culture and is greedy and also stupid. 

As a term of affection, like among guys, you can also say, “f’ing haole” to someone who is a good friend of yours and in a teasing way. For example, if your haole friend pulls off some amazing but possibly dangerous stunt (like when a redneck says,“Hey watch this!”) and you are blown away by how brilliant and crazy he is, you might say “you f--king haole” with awe in your voice. Make sure you know this person really well!  I rarely use this term.  

There are also “local haoles” people who basically grew up in Hawaii or are "of Hawaii."  “Local haoles” are welcomed and accepted among other ethnic groups with no stigma. They follow the customs of Hawaii, including not wearing shoes in the house.  On the other hand are “mainland haoles” who moved here from another state and are still new, or act new. The term “mainland haole” has a slightly derogatory tone, and I would generally avoid using it. 

Then there are hapa haoles, people who are half haole and half of another ethnicity or race. This term is neutral. 

Can one act like a haole? Yes.

These are behaviors associated with being a “haole” Please keep in mind they are not bad, but they are not the norm in Hawaii:
·        Wearing shoes inside the house. Not taking shoes off when visiting a friend’s house.
·        Calling your “slippers” or “slippahs” “flip flops.”  Flip flops are a dead giveaway.
·        Being on “mainland time,” being prompt or even early to an event. (When we invite you to our house, we count on you being late! GRIN! )
·        Eating Uncle Ben’s or Minute rice, not Calrose or Diamond G style "sticky" rice.
·        Using a pot to cook rice instead of a rice cooker.
·        Eating your rice with butter. Shoyu or soy sauce is what’s normal here.
·        Honking your horn while driving.
·        Preferring potatoes to rice.
·        Not eating local food: adobo, spam musubi, lau lau, manapua, lumpia, saimin (ramen)…
·        Acting greedy, or valuing money more than family and/or people.
·        Not taking enough showers. The subtropical weather does a number on BO, so sometimes you need to shower twice a day.

Again, these are not necessarily bad qualities, but having them will make you stick out in Hawaii. By the way, haole is pronounced like "how lee."

If this has been interesting to read, you may also want to read last year’s A-Z Challenge post on N for Native, which talks about the term "Hawaiian" and “native.” 

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. Aloha from Canada Eh! Proud to be your newest follower :)

  2. I am so a Haole. However, I still call flip flops "thongs". If I ever get to Hawaii, I will keep all these in mind as I respect all cultures. The only one that's easy for me is the shoes. I hate wearing shoes.

  3. I love finding out about breathwork and intention in connection to a practice with as much meaning as prayer. How remarkable. Thank you for your attention to detail in this post, and for your comments on mine. I am off to read your post on "native."

  4. Aloha Julie, Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Interesting, especially the list of what would make you stick out, also glad you told us how to pronounce it as that's not what it sounded like when I said it in my head!


    Curling Stones for Lego People

  6. Thanks for stopping by and including your link!

  7. Hawaiian is tricky w/ all those vowels!

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  9. What another missing comment? From:

  10. Found this comment in the "comments folder" by It didn't post or show up!

  11. nancy the valkyrie


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