It can be easy to think of Hawaii as simply a pretty vacation spot, with white sand beaches, clear blue water, a few volcanoes, and a little hula dancing for the tourists. But beneath its gorgeous exterior, the state of Hawaii has a rich and multilayered culture, with Polynesian, Asian, and European influences and the highest “minority” population of any state in the US (it’s actually a minority-majority!)
So what unifies such a diverse citizenry? It can be summed up in one word: “aloha.” Known in English as a term that means both “hello” and “goodbye,” aloha, in Hawaiian, is much more than a simple greeting; it is a way of life. It refers to a spirit of love and compassion, giving and generosity that defines this friendly, easy-going, gift-giving culture. In a place where all dinners, parties, and luaus are potlucks, where returning with special gifts for friends and family after traveling is customary, and where aromatic leis (garlands) are frequently given to honor visitors and loved ones in times of celebration, it’s no wonder that such a diverse population can knit together. Aloha even pervades the roads – you won’t find any aggressive drivers blaring their horns here! In fact, there is even a law declaring that all citizens abide by the gentle spirit of the ancient Hawaiians.
As a tourist on the islands, you can be a part of the spirit of aloha, too. By being aware of a few simple customs and traditions, you will show your respect for the Hawaiian culture and people. With this in mind, here are some tips for tourists visiting the Aloha State:
- The people of Hawaii are very friendly and will often greet you with “aloha” and a greeting called shaka, where they extend the pinky and thumb of the right hand and curl up the three middle fingers (like the telephone hand sign). Don’t be afraid to say “aloha” back; the famous greeting is used universally in Hawaii.
- Leave your suits and ties at home; Hawaii is a casual place. With a Hawaiian print shirt, shorts, and sandals, you’ll fit right in!
- Don’t try to speak Hawaiian Creole English (or “Pidgin” English) unless you are fluent. It is insulting to assume that locals can’t speak Standard English, and imitating their dialect is considered by some locals to be mocking (the equivalent of a northerner imitating a southern American accent).
- Only refer to the native people of Hawaii as “Hawaiians.” People of other ethnicities who were born in Hawaii should be called “locals.” They might say that they are from Hawaii but would never refer to themselves as Hawaiians.
- If you are “white,” don’t be insulted if someone calls you a haole; it only means that you are Caucasian and is generally not intended as an insult.
- Malama ka ‘aina, or “take care of the land.” Clean up your opala (trash) and be careful not to upset any native species such as the Hawaiian green sea turtles, monk seals, and coral reefs. Leave rocks, shells, and sea creatures where you find them so that others can enjoy their beauty.
- Make sure to show proper respect to Hawaiian sacred sites, such as heiau (temples), petroglyphs, idols, ancient buildings, and caves. It should be all right to take a photo or two, but view the sites quietly and be careful not to disturb or take anything, including flowers or other vegetation growing in the area. If you’re unsure about what’s taboo, you can always ask a local! Better that than risk offending them accidentally.
- If you visit Kilauea National Park on the Big Island, do not take any black sand or lava rock, as it is said to anger Pele, a Hawaiian goddess. If you want to show respect to her, leave an offering at a crater or throw a flower over the rim (but not a flower picked in the area!).
Want to take a trip to Hawaii, but you’re not sure what you want to see or where to begin? Consider one of TakeTours’ Hawaii sightseeing trips and excursions, where you will be driven and flown to the islands’ best attractions, all led by a professional and knowledgeable tour guide. Come to Hawaii and become a part of the giving spirit of aloha! -by Emma Gifford
Emma Gifford is a full-time college student and a summer intern here at TakeTours.com. Her favorite travel destinations include Quebec City, Quebec and Paris, France, and she has plans to visit many more exciting places in the future.