Think of Hawaii and what comes to mind? Beaches, ukuleles, and...aloha! Aloha is practically synonymous with Hawaii: tourists on the islands might be tickled to find the word everywhere, from shop signs to advertisements. And even if you haven’t taken a visit to the island, pop culture has guaranteed that you’ve heard the word at least once.
It’s a common belief that aloha is simply a way to say hello or goodbye. But this usage of the word is relatively modern, dating back to the 19th century. If we if learn about the true meaning of aloha, we see that it is more akin to namaste in India or shalom in Judaism.
Aloha does not have an exact English translation, but some have compared it to the word love. While aloha is not quite as intimate as the Western concept of love, saying aloha is more than mere politeness.
To address someone with aloha is to express genuine warmth, affection, and compassion. In Hawaii, there is the saying that one must “live in the aloha spirit", and to do so is to embody these concepts in your relationships and interactions with others. Living in the aloha spirit means that you embrace individuals with kindness and mutual regard.
The aloha spirit is such a key part of island culture that it is actually written into Hawaii’s state constitution. If one reads through Hawaii Revised Statutes (State Law): [§5-7.5] Aloha Spirit, you can get a clear sense of what it is. The law not only provides an extensive definition, but also the following breakdown:
Akahai, meaning kindness to be expressed with tenderness
Lokahi, meaning unity, to be expressed with harmony
Oluolu, meaning agreeable, to be expressed with pleasantness
Haahaa, meaning humility, to be expressed with modesty
Anohui, meaning patience, to be expressed with perseverance
While the aloha spirit is written into Hawaii’s official law, it’s important to remember that this law is not so much an order as it is a reminder of the concept's significance. This is especially true for public officials who work in the service of the people. The law’s existence encourages them to extend a sense of warmth and love to their daily duties.
Some have said that the aloha spirit and its aura of laid-back warmth is one of the most appealing aspects of visiting Hawaii. But even if you don’t live on the island or plan on taking a trip any time soon, knowing the meaning of the word can make you appreciate it so much more. Aloha!