Part of the way that each of us walks, I think, is a matter of culture.  The culture into which you are born and raised often has a lot to do with the qualities you bring to the way you walk in the world and interact with other people.  Many of your highest aspirations come from it.


I was born and raised in Hawaii and that surely affects my default mode of walking.  It’s a good way, I think.

The thing you have to know, first of all, is that Hawaiians have a deep, ingrained respect for the power of the word, and many of our words are descriptions of the character traits of the people in our lives.

“Kanaka Makua” — petroglyph rubbing by Netta Kanoho (rock carved by Fred Kanoho)

Let me introduce you to the concept of kanaka makua.

According to the author of NANA I KE KUMU:  Look to the Source, the highest aspiration of a Hawaiian is to be a kanaka makua, a person who is emotionally and mentally mature.

Aunty Mary Kawena Puku’i, the Hawaiian elder who was the resource for much of the knowledge that is recorded in scholarly books on Hawaiian thought and language, said, “A kanaka makua thinks.  He doesn’t jump into things.  He takes responsibility…  controls temper…is not scatter-brained …realizes that anger can cause hihia (an ever-widening, increasingly damaging network of ill-feeling)…sensible…kind…thoughtful….

But, most of all, the author says, a kanaka makua is hospitable with a hospitality that “connotes a warm and generous giving and sharing, whether of food or companionship or concern and comfort, always in a person-to-person way.  (He has outgrown the infantile grasping to get all one can and keep all one has….).


In any language, there are words and phrases, stories and proverbs that describe human character traits and qualities (admirable and not).

One person who collected such words was the Reverend Dr. Charles McEwen Hyde, a Congregational minister  who began teaching Native Hawaiian pastors from 1877.

Hyde developed a list of Hawaiian words and proverbs while conducting group discussions with his Hawaiian students at his North Pacific Missionary Institute.

Charles McEwen Hyde by Not Given {{Public Domain}} via Wikimedia Commons.

He wrote a number of articles in Thomas G. Thrum’s Hawaiian Almanac and Annual as well as the Hawaiian Gazette Monthly in the late 1800’s.  In them he included all the words he could discover.

Looking over his lists gives you a pretty accurate idea about what was considered admirable in a person during that time.  The nuances attached to the words can be interesting.


Probably a kanaka makua would be considered to be , proper and fit.  It is likely that he would be one who is kapukapu, entitled to reverence and respect, being dignified and separate from what is common.

The kanaka makua has a na’au pono (balanced mind) and is just, right-minded and upright.

“Wave Rider” by Jason Jacobs via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
He is also nakulu’ai, upright and praiseworthy.  (A chief or common person respected for virtuous conduct was called kolokolohai, a term of respect for someone who is thoughtful, humble and kind.)

Perhaps this person would be considered ka’oka’o — whole and undivided because he removes himself from wrongdoing.


Gentleness, harmony and humility were considered the most important character traits.  A person who is ‘elemino is “gentle, without noise or confusion, and easy in manners.” (The word implies “straightness” and “uprightness” as well.)

One who is gentle-mannered and soft-spoken is nahenahe, like a quiet breeze.  As one proverb says, “He ‘olina leo ka ke aloha,” (a joyousness is in the voice of love).  Love, it says, speaks in a gentle and joyous voice, not in harshness or gruffness.

Unity and harmony is often emphasized.  Someone who is kohukohu, “harmonious in opinion” is also considered to be noble, honorable and dignified.  One proverb admonishes, “I ho’okahi kahi ke aloha.”  (Be united in the bond of affection.)

“Shaka Aloha” by Ethan Chiang via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
One who lives quietly and is humble is ha’aha’a.  Such a person might say, “He paepae wāwae ko’u ‘ili nō kona kapua’i” (my skin is like the soles of his feet) as an expression of humbleness that acknowledges the superiority of some other person.

The word hilu also describes someone who is still, quiet, reserved and dignified.  Unlike ha’aha’a, it also implies elegance, power and magnificence.


Calmness and grace were prized.  One proverb says of one who remains calm in the face of difficulty, “He po’i na ka uli, kai ko’o, ‘a’ohe hina pūko’a,” (though the sea be deep and rough, the coral rock remains standing).

“True Beauty” by CRASH:candy via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]


Generosity, kindness, and benevolence was emphasized.  One who is manawale’a gives willingly, cheerfully and liberally, even giving generously to those who are undeserving.

Kahiau means to give away lavishly, from the heart, expecting nothing in return.

Kihikau means to give lavishly until everything is gone.  (This is listed as a positive human quality.)

One proverb quips, “he ‘ōpū hālau,” which is said of a person who is kind, gracious and hospitable.  The literal meaning of this phrase is “a house-like stomach,” but it means that the person has a heart as big as a house.

Hospitality, especially to strangers, is an outward sign of generosity.  One proverb says, “He ola i ka leo kāhea” (there is life in a hospitable call).

“Welcome Luau” (BYU-Hawaii) by Nathan Lehano via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
People who are generous to a fault are considered to be “disposed in feeling and action to do good”, lokomaika’i, and are likely to be benevolent and obliging.  Grace and good will are theirs.

As one proverb says, “‘Ino ka palu ‘a’ohe e mīkoikoi ‘ia e ka i’a.” It helps to know that palu is bait made of dried, mashed octopus liver when you’re told that this proverb says, “When the bait is not good, fish will not gather to eat it.”  In other words, goodness and graciousness always attracts attention.

One who is kindly and forgiving is considered to have na’au ali’i (the sensibilities of a chief).  One who is warm-hearted is called pumehana.


Skillful action, excellence in work, industriousness, and neatness or tidiness are also part of the kanaka makua ideal.

Being diligent in business and active is to be nakue.   (The word carries a connotation of being cheerful, hopeful, perhaps even thrilled.)

Men who are skillful, ingenious or dexterous with natural skill, wisdom or ingenuity are called maiau.  Women who have these qualities are called loea.

Someone who is miki, energetic, active, ready to act and diligent, is greatly appreciated.  One who is miki’ala is alert, punctual and ready for business.  Someone who is mimiki works with a will, is quick and spry and very industrious.

“Teaching Little Brother To Play” by Sarah Han via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
One who is prepared, energetic and active is pūlawalawa.


Intelligence is prized.  An intelligent person is called akamai, smart, or na’auao, which literally means “daylight mind” and implies enlightenment.

Being skillful and thoughtful in reflection, eloquent and moving in speech is being mikolelehua.

One who is thoughtful might also be called lana ka mana’o, hopeful and without worry, or kuano’o, comprehending and meditative.

“Thoughtful” by edward musiak via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
To understand, to see clearly and plainly, and to be insightful is to be maopopo.


Courage is prized in a warrior culture.  A person who is koapaka is valiant, brave and a success as a combatant.

Having a firm stance, being kuha’o (or standing like iron) is important, as is being maka’u ‘ole, fearless. The word kūo’o expands the idea of fearlessness to include being vigilant, ready, and prompt in action.  (Solemnity and dignity seem to be attached to kūo’o.)

Someone who is lālama, on the other hand, is fearless, daring and adventurous like a mountain climber.

“Courage” by Christian Michel via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
To be wiwo’ole is also to be bold and fearless.  One way to achieve clarity and be devoid of fear in the middle of danger, it is said, is mohala, to open or calm the mind.

A person who is kāmau has great endurance and perseverance especially in uncertain time.  This description implies constancy and loyalty as well.

Kūpa’a ka mana’o means “faithful in thought, settled in mind.”  Kūpa’a is steadfastness, faithfulness, loyalty and determination.  It literally means “to stand fast.”


One of the most famous words in the Hawaiian language is “aloha.” It has echoed through all the world, been turned into a slogan, a mission statement, an assortment of brands, and so on and so forth.  It’s become, alas, something of a cliché.

“Aloha” by Peter Liu via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
I find it interesting that the state of Hawaii has a law on the books that requires public officials to “contemplate and reside with the life force and give consideration” to an essentially native spiritual concept.

They call it the “Law of the Hawaiian Spirit.”

This is what the law says:

  •   5-7.5 “Aloha Spirit”. (a) “Aloha Spirit” is the coordination of mind and heart within each person. It brings each person to the self. Each person must think and emote good feelings to others. In the contemplation and presence of the life force, “Aloha“, the following unuhi laulā loa may be used:
    Akahai“, meaning kindness to be expressed with tenderness;
    Lōkahi“, meaning unity, to be expressed with harmony;
    ʻOluʻolu” meaning agreeable, to be expressed with pleasantness;
    Haʻahaʻa“, meaning humility, to be expressed with modesty;
    Ahonui“, meaning patience, to be expressed with perseverance.
    These are traits of character that express the charm, warmth and sincerity of Hawaii’s people. It was the working philosophy of native Hawaiians and was presented as a gift to the people of Hawaiʻi. ”Aloha” is more than a word of greeting or farewell or a salutation. ”Aloha” means mutual regard and affection and extends warmth in caring with no obligation in return. “Aloha” is the essence of relationships in which each person is important to every other person for collective existence. ”Aloha” means to hear what is not said, to see what cannot be seen and to know the unknowable.
    (b) In exercising their power on behalf of the people and in fulfillment of their responsibilities, obligations and service to the people, the legislature, governor, lieutenant governor, executive officers of each department, the chief justice, associate justices, and judges of the appellate, circuit, and district courts may contemplate and reside with the life force and give consideration to the “Aloha Spirit”. [L 1986, c 202, § 1]

Hawaii may be the only State in the Union that mandates that its public officials show love for the people they serve.  Hmmm….

Here’s a poem:



Kuli, kuli…too much noise,”

Tutu would always say

To the loud and curious grandchild

Who ran around all day,

Looking for the answers,

Wanting to know NOW,

Always looking for shortcuts,

Grumbling about ‘as how.


Too much questions,

Too much talking,

Too much namunamu.

Close your mouth, move your hands.

One day you will understand.


One day…


Lessons you learn in silence,

Watching hands move

With graceful skill.


Lessons you find in silence,

Hearing old voices,

Talking long and slow.


Lessons you see in silence,

By doing it over

Again and again.


Lessons you feel in silence,

Wondering, pondering,

While the old ones play.


Hawaiians teach by living.

It’s the only way they know.

If you want to learn, be still.

When you stop making noise,

They will show.

by Netta Kanoho

Header Photo Credit:  “Aloha – Company On a Long Drive” by Matt via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]



(Click on each of the post titles below and see where it takes you….)


Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you’d drop a comment or note below and tell me your thoughts.







26 thoughts on “WALK LIKE A HAWAIIAN

  1. Hi – When I first read the title of this post, I thought would be more of a humorous article on the way different people walk in this world. However, it’s really more about the power of words and more so, the different Hawaiian words that have a lot of impact.

    The words you have provided in this article provide a lot of character traits and qualities that people would want in the friendships in their life. These are the type of people that provide confidence and stability, as well as provide the kind of love we need every day. I really enjoyed reading this post and learning more about Hawaiian words and the type of people that they emulate. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Hey Jen:

      Thank you for your visit and your thoughts.  I do agree….

      Please do come again!

  2. Luna Bela Mori says:

    Wow… This was a very beautiful and insightful post.
    You have a way with writing that draws everything together very nicely.

    I especially like the poem at the very end. It was very lovely.

    You have a lot of heart in this post. 🙂

    I did not know half of these Hawaiian thoughts. My interests are usually in the Eastern countries. After reading this, I really want to read more about Polynesian culture. Apparently I’m missing out! lol

    1. Hey Luna:

      Thanks for your visit and your thoughts.  In my own studies, I’ve found a thread running through Polynesian thought that echoes Taoist and Buddhist philosophizing.  Historians tell us that we came on canoes across vast oceans from Malaysia.  Maybe there is truth in that. 

      Perhaps you will find similar echoes in the more esoteric paths that some Hawaiians and our Oceanic cousins walk.  I like finding the resonances between the Oceanic and Asian cultures.  They do sparkle.

      Please do come again….

  3. Very interesting! I really didn’t know much about the power of Hawaiian words. In fact, the only one I’d heard of was Aloha (very famous as you say!).

    Thanks very much for the lesson on Hawaii and aspects of its culture! It’s fascinating and not something I knew much about 🙂 do you live there now??

    1. Thanks for the visit and for your comments, Stephen.  I’m glad you found it interesting.

      I do live in Hawaii, on the island of Maui.  It’s my heart-place.  I was born on Kauai, raised on Molokai, educated on Oahu, and have spent most of my life on Maui.  Thanks for asking….

      Please do come again.

  4. Wow….  this article is full of thought provoking sayings and wisdom.   At first, I thought that I would try to memorize them.  However, you have shared so many that I will have to bookmark the page and refer to it from time to time.   I have yet to visit Hawaii.  People always talk about how beautiful it is.   Yet, you have made me realize that the people and the culture may be even more beautiful than the scenery.   Thank you.  

    1. Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts, Sondra.

      I really do think one of the best beauties about this place are the people who live here.

      Please do come again….

  5. This post is absolutely beautiful. What you’ve shared is profound and meaningful. Thank you so much!

    I lived in Hawaii for a short while and fell in love with the landscape, the seascape, the people, and especially their Aloha Spirit. I felt loved, even treasured. I hope to move back someday.

    I am currently writing music to sing along with my ukulele. Do you know where I can find some uplifting Hawaiian poems that I could put to music? It seems better than trying to translate my lyrics into Hawaiian.


  6. Scott Hinkle says:


         Thank you for this post.  At first, I thought you were talking about stride or gait and I had to take a look to see what you were talking about.

    I find the whole post very interesting and would even say, in reality, it’s about being the ideal person, especially when it comes to interacting and treating others.

    I really like the whole premise of this post and the examples.  It’s basically a template of what to strive to be.

    Thanks again,


    1. Scott, thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I’m glad the post spoke to you.  You are right…I was aiming to draw a template for an ideal person.

      Please do come again….

  7. This is a nice reminder of a mindful way to live – by walking hawaiian with the concept of kanaka makua. 

    All of these tenets of the concept feel like they promote a happier person and an warm, accepting environment. We can all benefit from following these principles and applying things like thoughtfulness, kindess, calmness, and balance in our lives.

    1. Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, Aly.  You are right, I think.  Mindfulness and participating fully in life reminds me a lot of my ‘ohana, my family, and their way of being.

      I do believe that thoughtfulness, kindness, calmness and balance add a fullness to ordinary living.  It has occurred to me if we can do that, then life becomes quite extraordinary, actually.

      Please do come again.

  8. Peggy Scott (True2U2) says:

    I enjoyed your web site.  Your information is so informative.  

    I never knew anything about your culture but my dream is to go to Hawaii on vacation.  I plan to research your culture so that I’ll be able to enjoy myself.  I love the food and I really enjoy watching the dances.  

    I love to write poetry and when I read your article on Calmness and Grace, it made me feel so warm inside.  You could say that I am pumehana. 

    I loved the way you offered the meaning of certain words and phrases.  You have a beautiful culture and I knew what Walk Like A Hawaiian meant before I started to read.  

    My first mother-in-law was Hawaiian and she taught me a lot about the culture.  I hope to learn more before I make the journey.  I plan to continue to follow your site to find out more.  

    1. Thanks for the visit and for sharing your story, Peggy.  I’m glad you enjoyed the post.  

      Please do come again….

  9. First, I’m a lover of poetry and I must admit, I’m really impressed with the poem at the end of the post. 

    Looking at the post itself Hawaii have been a place I have heard alot about and reading through this post gives me more interest in visiting. I love the few new Hawaiian words I have learned here and I’ll love to infuse some of it while I speak. 

    Thanks for sharing such nice post.

    1. Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, Dane.  I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

      Please do come again.

  10. Thank you very much for such inspirational teaching. It is a major contribution to the need for the rare combination of spiritual and intellectual approaches in knowledge acquisition.

    In a world where “noise” is becoming the cheapest commodity, we all need to listen to the advice of Tutu, this wise teacher whose insight is leading us to a smarter way of becoming skillful.

    You article is a great source of inspiration to all of us who are struggling with the multiple voices within when it comes to choice. Above all, it paves the way for a balanced intellectual life in which our emotions are not neglected in the pursuit of knowledge.

    Kudos to you. Keep it up.

    1. Prosper, I do thank you for your visit and for sharing your thoughts. I am pleased that the post spoke to you.

      Please do come again.

  11. Prosper ATEBA says:

    I would like to comment again on your beautiful article. It is a great message to our busy and noise driven generation. 

    We have become so “loaded” with information that acquiring it the right way has no sense whatsoever, as long as we have it at our disposal. Your article presents a rare spiritual and psychological balance in the pursuit of knowledge. 

    This is the real need of our present generation. When men who can display a real appreciation of love, truth, peace possess the skills to destroy the world, no one can worry.  But if the same knowledge lands in the hands of a psychopath, with a very high IQ, we should be concerned. 

    Kudos once more to you. We all should listen to the advice of Tutu, who unlike many teachers, get his loud and noisy grandchild to get to be self-disciplined before endeavoring to master any other discipline.

    1. Prosper, thanks for your additional thoughts.  I do appreciate them.

      Please do come again.

  12. Oh, such a great post you wrote here Nettta. It’s the very first time that I am reading anything from your website and I really love it. The way you’re able to use words is so cool and also very inspiring too. I’m sure I’ll be very frequent on your website. 

    I’m not a big fan of poems but I enjoyed reading yours.

    1. Suz, thanks for the visit and for your enthusiasm.  I do appreciate it.  

      Please do come again.

  13. Polynesian language has such a characteristic and resonant sound. The words are beautiful, and learning to pronounce them can also be quite fun! This is a great post you have provided about the deeper meanings to the Hawaiian language, words, and culture from which it is all derived.

    Kanaka makua, na’au pono, and kohukohu are all qualities that seem to be more important than ever today.

    1. Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts, Dbrae.  I do agree with you!

      Please do come again.

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