The first step when traveling to a new place is to research, and Hawaii is no exception. The Aloha State may be the 50th addition to America but it carries remnants of old Hawaiian customs. You will see it in the people as well as the language. Even though the locals speak English, Hawaiian is sprinkled in daily conversation and written in signs and official documents.
Before you book your trip to the Aloha State, make sure you do some research on the local customs. Hawaii is a blend of cultures, which has developed over centuries of immigration and social integration. If you want to learn more about Hawaiian traditions that can help you on your trip, then continue reading the sections below to prepare.
Learn Some Hawaiian
Did you know Hawaii is the only state with two official languages? Hawaiian and English are the main languages spoken on the islands.
Depending on the airline you decide to fly with, you might begin to hear Hawaiian on your first flight. Additionally, if you go to a bank or the DMV, you may find the option to read the prompts in Hawaiian. Luckily, you can also get around the islands speaking English.
Even if you can get by with English, there are some reasons why it can be helpful to learn some Hawaiian. Firstly, when you go into town you will notice some signs are in Hawaiian. For example, the sign for the trash can will be “opala” instead of its English counterpart. Restrooms signs will say “wahine” and “kane”, instead of “women” and “men.”
Another reason to learn a few words in Hawaiian is it shows respect for the local culture. Speaking a few words to a local can show them you are making an effort to understand and learn their customs. Here are two Hawaiian words you may use most often:
- Aloha – Can mean both ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’
- Mahalo – Means ‘thank you’
Moreover, one detail to remember is when you do not understand something is to just ask.
Hawaii Still Respects Royalty and Sacred Sites
As a mainlander, it may be difficult to understand why Hawaiians are so keen on honoring royalty. The majority of the monarchs of Oahu were – and continue to be – held at high regard.
Native Hawaiians respect their royalty to this day for a few reasons. One reason is Hawaiians continue to celebrate the special holidays dedicated to these monarchs. For example:
- Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana’ole Day is on March 26. Schools and businesses will close to observe this holiday and other Hawaiian holidays.
- King Kamehameha I Day is on June 11 and it honors and celebrates Kamehameha the Great for uniting all Hawaiian Islands under one kingdom.
Hawaii will hold parades or festivals on these dates so mark your calendars for the next time you visit.
Moreover, when you arrive in Hawaii, be respectful to royal sites and sacred sites. For instance, the Iolani Palace has become a national museum to honor Queen Emma, the last Hawaiian monarch. If you want to learn more and see artifacts from other monarchs, then you can visit the Bishop Museum in Honolulu.
Also known as “kapu,” sacred sites are generally areas where royalty once lived or are ancient burial grounds. Often times, these sites can look like a pile of rocks, but they are, in fact, sacred. When you arrive at sacred land, make sure to keep your voice down, do not walk on the sacred ground and do not leave trash.
You will see signs for “kapu” but also “heiau.” “Heiau” are Hawaiian temples and can vary in quality of infrastructure. Certain temples have been preserved well, while others look close to rubble.
Remove Your Shoes
While visiting a Hawaiian residence, you might see shoe racks lining the front porches. Furthermore, you might see signs asking for patrons to please remove their shoes when you observe certain local businesses. Businesses will want you to hang your shoes outside before entering.
This tradition came from the Japanese during the late 1800s. In this era, the lands in Hawaii were plowed to create sugar plantations and the Japanese joined plantations as workers. Immigrants had a huge influence on Hawaiian customs, including their housing customs.
If you are lucky enough to be invited into a Hawaiian home, then make sure to remove your shoes. Remember to place them outside before you enter. Keeping your shoes outside is another sign of respect for the home of the host and their culture.
Note: Your shoes also have germs and your shoes must stay outside to keep the house clean. The rule is especially enforced when a baby is crawling around the home.
Do not worry if you do not like the idea of walking barefoot in a stranger’s home or business. There are usually slippers at the threshold of the doorway, so you can keep your feet warm and clean.
Do Not Steal and Respect the Land
Respecting the land and its creatures are important parts of Hawaiian culture. The Volcanoes National Park on Oahu has a great array of geological formations. However, remember to leave the rocks and black sand where they are. Taking any national resource outside of a national park is a federal offense.
There is another, more mystical reason why tourists should not take from the land. According to Hawaiian myths, the goddess of volcanoes and fire Pele becomes enraged when someone takes from her. Individuals who take the lava rock are said to experience great misfortune as punishment.
Every year, more than a thousand rocks and bags of sand are mailed back to the national park. These items are even mailed to post offices, universities and Hawaiian Airlines with apology letters.
Another way to respect the environment and show respect for local customs is to wear reef-friendly sunscreen. You will not see locals using spray sunscreen, which is both inefficient in protecting the skin and pollutes the air. Make sure you use one that does not carry oxybenzone and octinoxate. These two are the main chemicals destroying coral reefs.
If you do not want to wear sunscreen, then you can wear long sleeves, sunglasses and a hat for sun protection.