A luau at OUTRIGGER Kona Resort and Spa on Island of Hawai'i
A luau at OUTRIGGER Kona Resort and Spa on Island of Hawai'i

Hawai‘i cultural traditions and language

Hula, flower lei and lū‘au are among the traditions visitors can experience during their Hawai‘i holiday. It's also worth learning a few Hawaiian words
A hula dancer from Traditions Hawai'i at the opening of OUTRIGGER Kona Resort and Spa on Island of Hawai'i
A hula dancer from Traditions Hawai'i at the opening of OUTRIGGER Kona Resort and Spa on Island of Hawai'i

Hula

Hula is the traditional dance of Hawai‘i, and performances can be seen everywhere from shopping centres to lū‘au held at hotels and resorts, with many also offering classes. Native Hawaiians have oral traditions where stories are passed on through song, chant, and dance, and the hula helps preserve Hawai‘i’s history and culture. Dances often depict Hawaiian legends, the achievements and deeds of royalty, the beauty of nature, or love. There are two main styles — hula kahiko is often referred to as traditional hula, while hula ‘auana is referred to as modern hula. Deeper practice of hula often involves stewardship of the environment – for example, caring for the forests where ferns and maile (a fragrant vine used to make lei) grow.

Lei making at Kaanapali Beach Hotel on Maui
Lei making at Kaanapali Beach Hotel on Maui

LEI

Flower lei are commonly given to greet people arriving in the Hawaiian Islands, and to say goodbye when they leave. The flower garlands, which are worn around the neck or sometimes on the head, are also given to guests at lū‘au, and at special occasions such as birthday parties, weddings and graduation ceremonies. Lei-making classes, which are offered at many shopping centres, hotels and resorts, offer visitors a chance to engage in this enchanting Hawaiian custom.

A musician playing guitar on Kauai Image Heather Goodman Hawaii Tourism Authority
A musician playing guitar on Kauai Image Heather Goodman Hawai'i Tourism Authority

Music

Hawai‘i also has a strong musical culture and heritage. The global influences on music in Hawai‘i are evident, both in traditional Hawaiian music and local music, which stems from the arrival of immigrants who brought their customs with them. Native Hawaiians write songs about their home, loved ones, gods, and people of significant rank including ali‘i (royalty). Hawaiian music is celebrated at events that pay homage to the Islands’ musicians, songs, and instruments. They include the ‘ukulele, which was brought to the Hawaiian Islands by Portuguese immigrants at the end of the 19th century and is still a fundamental part of the musical landscape. The Ukulele Store at Waikīkī Beach Walk offers free 15-minute introductory lessons daily at 4.30pm for guests aged 12 and older. No reservations are required.

Tables set for a luau at Montage Kapalua Bay on Maui
Tables set for a Lū‘au at Montage Kapalua Bay on Maui

Lū‘au

A visit to the Hawaiian Islands is not complete without experiencing a lū‘au – a traditional party and feast featuring music and cultural performances, such as hula dancing. It’s a great chance to try traditional dishes such as lomi salmon, chicken long rice, poi and kālua pork – a smoked, shredded meat cooked in an underground oven.

Common Hawaiian words

  • aloha – the word for love, affection, peace and compassion that is used as a simple greeting and farewell
  • e komo mai – welcome, come in
  • keiki – child
  • lū‘au – a Hawaiian celebration and feast
  • mahalo – thank you
  • ‘ohana – family
  • ‘ono – delicious
  • kāne – man
  • wahine – woman
  • wikiwiki – quickly, fast

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