Friday, August 28, 2009

HA - The Breath

Have you ever wondered what the name Hawai'i meant? Let me translate literally for you.
HA - the Breath; WAI - the water (fresh water); I - God
Therefore, the Breath and Water of God

A visual; the breath of God constantly and gently bathe the islands in tradewinds as He all the while provides life-sustaining rains and surrounding oceans and rivers filled with nourishment for the people of this land since the beginning of time.

From this translation we come to the word "haole." Ha - breath, ole - not, without, lacking; therefore, no breath. It is a word used to describe the foreigner by the natives in the early days of the arrival of explorers such as Captain Cook and the coming of the missionaries. The form of greeting between the Hawaiian people was the rubbing of noses and the exchange of breath. This exchange was meaningful in the sense of indicating camaraderie, trust between the parties, and sharing of their essence. The missionaries and explorers would not participate in this greeting; and were therefore, referred to as Haole. I cannot, in my research, learn why the early foreign visitors to Hawai'i did not comply with this traditional greeting. I would think that on discovering a new land, an explorer would not hesitate to learn and participate in a tradition of its people in order to understand the tradition and lifestyle of a newly discovered culture. Could it have been a matter of personal hygiene or just the fact that the gesture was far too personal to share with a heathen? Haole...not a derogatory term in itself, but it may have become more so in modern times as more and more foreigners made their way to Hawai'i.

A preliminary sketch of a piece I would like to do depicting “HA – the Breath.” The young Hawaiian warrior has returned home after an extended ocean journey in his double-hulled canoe.

My Hawaiian dictionary translates the word haole simply as "white person" be he American, Englishman, Caucasian...formerly any foreigner, i.e. of foreign origin. There is also the term ho'ohaole, which is to act like a white person, to ape the white people or assume airs of superiory. A term most often used toward the hapa-haole (half-white) Hawaiian. I am hapa-haole, raised in Hawai'i the Hawaiian way and as a young woman moved to the mainland. When I went home for a visit many years later, a couple of islanders used that term to describe me...a term I didn't take kindly to. Personally, I use the term to identify a white person, just as I would say Chinese or Japanese or Black to identify a person of that race. I've been told that such descriptive terms are not politically correct. It surprises me that someone would be offended by being described by their race.

Unknown to most are the underlying prejudices that exist among the Hawaiian people which have developed over the years since the coming of the white man. Those prejudices are still evident now in the 21st century. It is more than the original travelers not exchanging the is the capturing and demise of a is the loss of a is the demeaning of a once proud race brought to its knees by greed. The bright side is the resurgence of a people who are not willing to sit back and watch it all slip away. The renaissance of Hawai'i has come through King David Kalakaua and his reinstating of the hula. The renaissance has been fueled by those who truly want to know from where they came...a movement that continues to grow in strength to the point that peoples of other nations want and do share in the wonderful art form of the Hula.

His Hawaiian Majesty David Kalakaua wrote in February, 1887 about the Hawaiian people: "Within a century they have dwindled from four hundred thousand healthy and happy children of nature, without care and without want, to a little more than a tenth of that number of landless, hopeless victims to the greed and vices of civilization. They are slowly sinking under the restraints and burden of their surroundings, and will in time succumb to social and political conditions foreign to their natures and poisonous to their blood. Year by year their footprints will grow more dim along the sand of their reef-sheltered shores, and fainter and fainter will come their simple songs from the shadows of the palms, until finally their voices will be heard no more forever."

Sorry for the heaviness of the topic. It is worth knowing; however, why a word came into being.

Aloha nui loa for now.

> There are 3 ways you can make a real difference to this blog.
1. Share the link to this site with just one other artist, art collector, or someone who would be interested.
2. Post your thoughts in the Comments section.
3. Email your ideas and/or suggestions on what you would like to read/see more of at


  1. Aloha Aunty Loke. Have you gone to the online Hawaiian dictionary? You can find it at It is very useful when it comes to looking up English and Hawaiian words.

  2. Thanks so much Ahohui. I've bookmarked that site for the future. Will certainly come in handy.

  3. Lokelani, I really enjoy your writings, I find it very interesting and thank you for sharing.Your drawing is lovely and you have captured an amazing expression on the lady's face.

  4. Julie...I really do appreciate all comments made by my followers and sharing my life and culture is a privilege for me. Having people enjoy it is such a plus.