Understanding Aloha and Mahalo (and Other Hawaiian Words)

In Hawaiian, Aloha means "hello" and "goodbye" while Mahalo means "thank you".

But that's really just the cliff notes and language is never that simple.

These words actually mean a lot more than Google translate can convey, and it's important to understand their meanings if you want to better acquaint yourself with Hawaiian culture.


Hawaiian is a beautiful language.

It has likely existed for around 1,500 years and was born from a mixture of other Polynesian cultures back when the islands were first settled.

English speakers like to quote "Aloha" as being unique in that it means both goodbye and hello, as if suggesting some kind of symbiosis between the two—goodbye is never really goodbye, etc.,

It's a beautiful sentiment, but the Hawaiian language is not alone in this, far from it.

The French say "Salut" and the Italians "Ciao".

Many languages have words that take a variation of "with health" or "nice to meet you" and use them to mean both goodbye and hello.

Depending on your dialect, you may even be able to do it with English.

We typically say, "good morning" when we meet someone and "good evening" when we depart, but the two can be used for both greetings and fairwells, and if you're in Australia, you can use "Good Day!" to cover pretty much all bases.

What is more unique about this Hawaiian word is that it can also be used in other contexts, and not just a hello or goodbye.

It's often used to mean "love" and "peace” and is one of the most important words in the Hawaiian language.

It has been said that aloha is a way of life, which is where the "aloha spirit" comes into play.

In truth, it's a word that's hard to translate as a native Hawaiian would understand it and it's something that you just have to try and experience yourself.

Start by thinking of it as a translation of "hello", "goodbye", "respect", and "love", and then build from there.


Maloha is a little easier to translate. It is often used as a way to say, "thank you", although it seems to have come to the Hawaiian language rather late, with some claims suggesting that they didn't have a word to show their gratitude, even though they were considered to be a very gracious people.

Today, none of that really matters, as the word is definitely used to show appreciation and respect, like saying "thank you" or "your help is much appreciated", etc.,

Other Useful Words

Now that you understand two important words, it's time to look at a few other useful words before you head to Hawaii and converse with the locals:

Ono = Delicious

Ohana = Loved Ones

Honu = Green Sea Turtle

Kokua = Assistance/Help

Kakou = Everybody

Haole = Foreigner

Pono = Righteousness (like "aloha", it's a word that can have many meanings and is hard to translate into English)

Kamaʻāina = Child of the Land

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