Updated: November 1, 2023
Aloha is more than just a greeting, it is a philosophy on how to interact with the world. Live the aloha way and find harmony with the world around you and peace within yourself.
If you can grasp the true meaning of aloha, then you will understand the heartbeat of Hawaii, which is after all nicknamed the “Aloha State”.
In this article, you will learn:
- How to use aloha and greet someone when visiting Hawaii.
- The philosophy of aloha as it has been passed down through generations.
- How the spirit of aloha became a law.
- Three ways you can honor Hawaiian culture and practice aloha in your life.
Aloha Meaning and Connection to Hospitality
Hospitality (Hoʻokipa) is valued in Hawaiian culture. Aloha is an important word in the Hawaiian language that embodies the ingredients of hospitality—a recipe that Hawaiian children are taught at an early age.
An old Hawaiian proverb written down by historian Mary Kawena Pukui speaks to the importance of welcoming others.
He ʻai leo ʻole, he ʻīpuka hāmama.
Food unaccompanied by a voice, a door always open.
Hawaiian culture dictates that anyone who walks through that door would be greeted with aloha: a welcoming spirit of respect, kindness, and generosity. The same greeting we give you when you visit our islands.
3 Ways to Greet a Person in the Hawaiian Language
The word aloha is used in many ways and you are probably familiar with a few.
You may have used it to describe a type of clothing, the aloha shirt, that symbolizes the bright colors of Hawaiian style.
Or perhaps you used the “spirit of aloha” to describe a relaxed lifestyle or a positive attitude associated with island life.
But most commonly, aloha is a word that means hello or goodbye.—a word you will hear numerous times a day when you visit Hawaii.
Here are three ways to use the word aloha in a greeting:
- Aloha kakahiaka means good morning
- Aloha ‘auinalā means good afternoon
- Aloha ahiahi means good evening
But no matter how you use aloha, if you are not intending mutual regard and express warmth to the recipient, you are missing a beautiful lesson.
More Than a Word, Aloha is a Philosophy
In the Hawaiian language, aloha is an expression with many meanings: love, compassion, mercy, peace, kindness, and even gratitude.
Embedded in the aloha is the Hawaiian word alo, which means face, and ha, which means breath. Ancient Polynesians believed that all people are connected and that mana (power) resides in the breath of life.
Sharing breath upon greeting is a traditional practice that many native Hawaiians still practice today, Honi ihu is a greeting in which two people touch their noses and breath in, strengthening their bond.
Aloha is the verbal form of that greeting, meaning the presence of divine breath that creates unity between all people and nature. It is a prescription for how we are meant to behave toward one another.
Furthermore, when we say aloha with intention, we emote good feelings and breathe kindness and compassion into the world.
What is the Aloha Spirit?
The spirit of aloha is Hawaiiʻs heartbeat—and it is also the law.
In 1986, the Hawaii State government codified aloha into law—the main purpose was to remind government officials to treat Hawaii’s people with the same respect and compassion valued by their Hawaiian ancestors.
Included in the legislation is a laua lōa (mnemonic device) that encapsulates the spirit of aloha as a working philosophy of Hawaiian values and appropriate behavior.
- Akahai, meaning kindness to be expressed with tenderness;
- Lokahi, meaning unity, to be expressed with harmony;
- Oluolu, meaning agreeable, to be expressed with pleasantness;
- Haahaa, meaning humility, to be expressed with modesty
- Ahonui, meaning patience, to be expressed with perseverance.
3 Ways You Can Practice Aloha Today
The world could use more aloha and that can start with you. Here are three Hawaiian words or terms that can point you towards a practice of aloha in your daily life.
- Hoʻoponopono: forgiveness and reconciliation. Think about someone you are close to and exhale compassion and unconditional love in their direction. Inhale gratitude for your shared life force and unity.Do it again for someone you find challenging; breathe out kindness and breathe in tenderness
- Aloha ʻĀina: respect for nature.Take the time to appreciate nature. Watch a sunset, plant a seed, take a hike, or care for an animal.Contemplate how our collective existence is bound up with the environment. Think about nature as a partner that sustains our life force—not as a resource to be exploited.
- Hoʻokipa: the practice of hospitality.Cultivate a deeper connection to others through hospitality and generosity. Invite someone over for a meal.Listen to a kupuna (elder) talk story or ask them the meaning of the aloha spirit.
Imagine the collective empathy and harmony if everyone’s heart beat to the rhythm of kindness and compassion.
Like so many other words in the Hawaiian language, the word aloha is not just a word with a distinct definition. The meaning of aloha is a lesson passed down for generations and it is there for anyone who wants to breathe it in—including you.