This is What We Call ʻŌlelo

Before Westerners came to Hawaiʻi, Hawaiians had a strictly oral language. The process of converting our medium of communication to text was unusual to us. But when we did, our language was titled, ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, a debatably westernized term that directly translates to “speaking Hawaiian.” This conversion did not only result in a physical form of our language, but also in the loss of some dialect due to the confinement of text.

Despite having our language transcribed in a foreign written form, we still refer to our dialect as an ʻōlelo, a speech. For our ancestors, it was through verbal dialect that our history and genealogy was held. Memorization was a key component to our people and never failed us. We evidently see this through chants of moʻolelo, stories, that could be about three hours long when recited.

Our language consists of 12 letters, resulting in a limited spread of word possibilities.  With that being said, we see the same word carry multiple meanings that connect to one another.

This glossary is purposed to define commonly used huaʻōlelo, Hawaiian Words, within our pieces for Hawaiʻi. Please note that these are only basic translations and that some words are not easily translated from ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi to English. 

To seek more information on certain huaʻōlelo, please refer to this online dictionary. This site is a compilation of several physical sources, including the Hawaiian Dictionary by Mary Kawena Pukuʻi, that helps define terms.


Aloha — n. Love, Greetings

ʻĀina  n. Land, Earth

Hōnua n. Earth, World

Kai n. Ocean

Kanaka n. Human beings, Person (usually of Hawaiian descent)

Kiaʻi n/v. Protector, to Protect

Kuleana n. Responsibility

Kumulipo n. Old genealogical story of the creation of Hawaiʻi

Lāhui n. Government, Community (refers to the sovereign government/state of Hawaiʻi)

Leo n/v. Voice, Speech

Mālama n/v. Care, to Care for

Manaʻo n. Thoughts, Idea, Deeper Meaning, Purpose

Mana n. Divine energy

Moʻokūʻauhau n. Genealogy

Moʻolelo n. Stories, History

ʻŌlelo n/v. To speak, Language

Poʻe n. People, Population

Wai n. Water




Read more from Aaron and Lexi:


Moʻolelo — Hawaiʻi’s Suppressed Stories: Kāne and his Four Waters


From the kūpuna and ʻāina of Hawaiʻi island to Maui where she was raised and currently lives, Lexi Kameko Figueroa strives to support and reaffirm the social and political consciousness of her lāhui as a kānaka. Art is just as much a call from her ancestors as it is from her community today. Through a mixed-media approach, she continues to awaken her naʻau and hopes to do so for her people, and those who want to learn more about Hawaiʻi, through ʻike kūpuna that she is honored to be learning.

Born and raised on the island of Maui, Aaron Veincent, also referred to by his Hawaiian name, Kahauolopua, finds himself on a self journey as a young kanaka, native Hawaiian. Amidst his journey through this thing we call life, he tunes in to his cultural identity as a foundation. Whether it be through his writing, photography, or designs, Aaron seeks to decolonize his mind whilst working toward the betterment of the Hawaiian people.