Meaning of the Hawaiian word ‘Haole’

The word “Haole” literally means “a person without a country or a known beginning”.

So what does haole mean today?

It is frequently used today to identify a person of Caucasian/white ancestry but this is an incorrect usage. The Hawaiians are a very family-oriented people – check out the word ‘ohana for more on this. Their culture passes down stories across many generations. However, when the first Caucasian, Captain James Cook, arrived on the islands, he only knew 4 generations of his family (e.g. his Great-Great-Grandparents), which offended the Hawaiian Chief (ali’i), as it was traditional for Hawaiian people to recite their entire ancestry when meeting someone new.

The term haole was used to identify those persons who did not know their ancestry. Although the term can be used in a derogatory fashion nowadays, the original derivation is innocent.

13 replies
    KALENA says:

    The true meaning of of “HAOLE”:

    ha= breath of life.
    A’ole: none (without) or no.

    The first white man who met the chief extended his hand and did not offer the “ha” …. therefore, the breath of life was not present or offered.
    Thus, “haole” (ha’a’ole) shortened to “haole.”

  2. Malia Jones
    Malia Jones says:

    I , myself am native born Hawaiian. I am very proud of my heritage and want to learn the language of my forefathers. I’ve been able to learn some from my father and through investigation of history books. I plan on finding out more of my family tree, but can only do that by going back to the Islands. Which I can’t do anytime soon because of cost. I have kin there on several of the islands, but have lost contact with them. I now live in the state of Texas. Mahalo nui. Aloha ole

  3. lee gehrke
    lee gehrke says:

    Haole means without the abdominal breath, Ha Loa or eternal breath. The Ha is lost from eating the five cereal grains. Rice wheat millet rye oats. This is documented in the yellow emperors court the ancient document that outlines the acupuncture meridians and Chinese medicine. The five cereal grains are stated to rot the five internal organs, vex the soul, and stop the embryonic breath (abdominal breath we are all born with). The grains feed three energetic worms that exist in the third eye (pineal gland,) the Heart and lower abdomen. The document states, If you want to live long do not let the stench of grains touch your breath. Polynesians never had the grains in their genetic history and have been destroyed by them. They are the lost tribe of Israel who lived in the third garden paradise, and Lived awakened to the third eye. (let thine eye be one) Also see the great rendering. (hidden gospel)

  4. Alison
    Alison says:

    Drkwiat, language is a constantly evolving thing. You can tell the thirty kanakas hanging out this evening at salt pond, Kauai, that they are using “haole” incorrectly, and that wont change their usage of it! When they say it, it means caucasian. And depending on tone and context, it very often means “caucasian idiot.” In my observation, this is how the word is used and understood, by Hawaiians, island-wide. So, I’d say it is the “new”(evolved) “correct” usage.

  5. Dennis
    Dennis says:

    “Without the breath of life, unworthy”
    When you and I meet present the “Breath of Life”,
    we bcome friends.

  6. Beth
    Beth says:

    Aloha – Forgive me for posting this here, I can’t find any other place to post a comment/question on your website. I was showing this site to a friend to help them understand how to pronounce some Hawaiian words. Your voice is beautiful Kaumana and I appreciate your clear pronunciation.

    I did have one question. I lived in the Islands from 1971 to 2002 and my kids are all hapa Hawaiian with many other things mixed in. Aunty Mary Kawena Pukui was a longtime family friend and she gifted me a copy of her excellent 570+ page Hawaiian dictionary. Knowing her and listening to her chant is one of my most treasured memories of my time as a Kama’aina.

    So – I was confused when I saw that you have this on your site “na`au: pretty; beautiful” — I’ve never seen it defined that way. Pretty would be nohea, or huapala, maybe maika’i. As I’ve heard the Kupuna define the word Na’au, it means your gut or your ki or chi — the place where your soul resides just below your solar plexus. The place where you “know” things and hold the entirety of life’s experiences.

    I’ve always loved that word. Na’au is a place I go to when I meditate. I imagine it as a golden room that holds the records of my soul; a place for healing and coming home to myself.

    Perhaps in the making of the list you accidentally placed that definition there. Your site is very helpful and I appreciate all you have done to help people understand the beauty of the language.

    Mahalo for listening,
    A hui hou

  7. drkwiat
    drkwiat says:

    Thank you, Beth! I like your definition far better and will incorporate yours into the site. We are always looking to improve.


  8. Kalani
    Kalani says:

    This is incorrect. The ancient meaning is foreign. In ancient chants Haole was used to describe plants, animals, and people not Native to Hawaii. Years later it was broken up Ha’ole then givin the meaning without breath.

  9. Heath
    Heath says:

    Thank you for this Kalani! I was taking Hawaiian 101 at UH Mānoa and the kumu kept calling me Haole but was using it as a white person not a foreigner. I tried asking her doesn’t haole mean foreigner? I said and later on the Okina was added to turn make it into two different words meaning without breath? Because native Hawaiian used to greet each other by placing their foreheads together and exchanging breath the “ha”? and she adamantly told me “No, you are wrong” So I said I believe you are using haole as a white person when you keep calling me that she said well you ARE white….I said I am not, I am an indigenous American from the Iroquois tribe. She called me a liar in front of the entire class and told me I had no native features. I said true I don’t have native features because my whole face has been reconstructed. She asked me if I was ashamed of my native features and I said no, I had no choice because 6 guys decided to shatter my face for being gay so I had my face reconstructed out of necessity rather than for cosmetic purposes. I said I lost my sense of smell and the feeling in the right half of my face for being gay so I would appreciate it if you would stop calling me white. I said I came here to respect and honor native Hawaiians, learn their language and respect the culture and their land and because native Hawaiians are the closest I can get to being around my own people. So I mean no disrespect when I say you could pass as Puerto Rican. She said don’t ever say that again. I said again I meant no disrespect to you, your class, or your culture…but now you know how I feel when you keep calling me white. She never understood how I, the haole, who had never been to Hawaii before could answer questions about Hawaiian culture, food, language or about specifics with some of the historical sites and royalty when I had never been to the islands before. As a Native American spirit talker, I felt like I had been there before and when I landed I felt as though I had finally returned home. I freaked out some locals and tourists with some of the information I would give to people who were just asking questions….I gave them the answers and the locals were like but wait, you have never been here before and this is your 2nd day here….I’d say yes. Then they would tell me that the information I gave was correct….I never toured Iolani Palace but I could answer questions about it and that first day I found myself in front of a beautiful building on a church property and started crying while I was on the phone….I was asked what was wrong and if I was ok….I said I am fine then why are you crying the person on the phone was asking. So I explained that I was standing looking at this beautiful building and didn’t know what it was and then the answers started to pour out of me. I said I was standing in front of the first elected monarch’s mausoleum, King Lunalilo and the reason he is buried here and not at the royal plot was he wanted to be close to the people who loved and elected him. The local woman next to me said you have never been here before??? I said no this is all new to me. She said you just gave me goosebumps. I asked why and she told me to go read the plaque that was on the sign…I freaked myself out. And I will one day figure out what my connection to him is..because no matter where I went, whenever I would just start to cry for no apparent reason and the hairs on my arms would stand up, I would look up or look around and realize I was on a street that bore his name (like the day I decided to run Koko Head….most intense thing I have ever done (Lunalilio Home Road)) or near a building with his name on it or I got turned around and ended up on the backside (cemetery side) of his mausoleum. So finally, every time I ended up crying I would say, “Ok where are you?” and look around and sure enough there would be his name on something. So perhaps in another life I knew him, or worked for him….but I firmly believe that I have been to Hawaii in a past life because it would be like seeing two images: the one I am physically looking at and the second one like a transparent image that overlays the first one and they match….that is my symbol that I’ve been there before….it was all familiar. I walked and hike everywhere and it was always just a little bit familiar and I never got lost. Sorry for my digression off topic.

  10. Suzanne
    Suzanne says:

    Thank-you for your sharing. We all have places of beauty and places of ignorance. I’m sorry this “teacher” laid her ignorance on you. Healing to all concerned.
    Aloha Nui

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