Hawai’i: land of lomi lomi wrapped in ti at a ‘aha’aina
If there’s one thing I like about traveling to foreign lands, it’s learning about the culture, language and history of the place.
In the Cayman Islands, I learned how to eat turtle soup and say “mon” at the end of all my sentences.
In Mexico, I learned how to say “Quiero una cerveza, por favor” and “Donde esta los banos? No manana! Ahora! Ahora!”
And on a recent trip to Hawaii, which qualifies as a foreign land because it’s in the middle of a no-man’s land called the Pacific Ocean, I learned to suppress a cry of anguish when the waiter brought us our bill for appetizers and how to make people laugh when paramedics hauled me off after I tried hula dancing.
But I couldn’t master the language. And for this I apologize in advance to all those of Hawai’ian descent.
Our little trek across the Pacific Ocean – Polynesian for “vast expanse of nothingness, kind of like Kansas” – brought us to Honolulu, one of very few words we could pronounce.
The others are lu’au, native for “big party on the beach,” and mai tai, which is local for “Watch out; this drink will kick you on your butt, and blablork bleh gorfin koah huh?”
The only reason we could pronounce Honolulu is because it is the state’s capital so you hear it much more often than, say, the popular state park of Pu’uhonua o Honaunau.
The problem with all the words in Hawaii – which is actually spelled Hawai’i and pronounced “Havaiki” – is that there are only five vowels and seven consonants.
The Hawai’ians have no problem with stringing several vowels together, as in the town of Kaaawa, which we couldn’t figure out if it was pronounced Kaaaaaaaaa’wa or Ka’a’a’a’a’a’wa Opupululu.
They regularly use things called kahakos and okinos. Kahakos are a dash over a vowel that makes the vowel long; okinos are a kind of hiccup in the middle of a word – not to be mixed up with people who have had too much to drink – and signified by a backward apostrophe. Okinos are usually used between dipthongs, a native term meaning tourists in bathing suits.
We learned that saying “aloha” and “mahalo” are the two most essential words on the island. Aloha means everything from hello to yee-haw! Mahalo means “Here’s your change.”
We stayed in Waikiki (Motto: City of Tall Buildings, Many of Which Obstruct the View from Your Balcony), between Kalakaua and Kaiulani streets and with easy access to the Kalaniana’ole Highway, the onramp of which we missed several times because we kept getting it mixed up with Kanekapolei (definition: Haha, you dumb haolo!) Street. I liked driving down Likelike (“Licky-Licky”) Highway.
I got a real lesson in Hawai’ian when I went diving. My goal was to spot a trigger fish, known locally as (Reader Alert: This is for Reals!) the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a, a Hawaiian word I never heard pronounced the same way twice.
Another word we liked was popokee, which means cat. The word originated when a white woman rescued her cat from a rainstorm, all the while muttering, “Poor, poor kitty; poor, poor kitty.” The locals, having no “r’s,” “t’s,” or “y’s” in their alphabet, dropped the unnecessary letters to form popokee.
Based on that premise, we developed a few new Hawai’ian words of our own.
We figured cows on Hawai’i must say, Mo’o, which is pronounced Moo.ooo. Cats say Me’ow. Dog’s say “Woo! Woo!” being as there is no letter for “f.”
But from there on, we were useless.
We pronounced Wai’anapanapa State Park “Wai’alalalalalaalalapapapapapapa State Park.
We pronounced Kaka’ako State Park, “Kakakakak okoko” State Park.
We decided mahimahi was mahi’hahahaha.
We pointed a lot.
Next vacation, we’re going to Cancun. At least there, our waiter won’t bring us a taro leaf when we specifically asked for a lau lau wrapped in ti leaves and sauteed in huli-huli sauce.
Award-winner Jane Stebbins writes a Wednesday column for the Summit Daily News. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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