Discover the Essentials of Hawaiian Culture and Customs

Are you seeking to enhance your Hawaiian holiday? One of the best ways to do just that is to get to know the true Aloha Spirit by connecting with the people. Not only will it make your vacation be a better experience, it may even change your perspective on life.

Each of the islands offers its own unique beauty, but they all share the same Aloha Spirit. While they’ve been a part of the United States for more than half a century, mainland values aren’t necessarily found here. Hawaii’s culture is one of the strongest remaining on the planet and is very evident when visiting the islands.

The tropical breezes, brilliant island flowers, idyllic beaches and sweet aromas of ginger wafting through the air will not change, but by immersing yourself in Hawaiian culture and customs, you’ll be more likely to have the getaway that dreams are made of.

Hawaiian Beliefs and Customs

The Hawaiian Islands are filled with incredible beauty, and both the land and surrounding waters should be treated with respect. Hawaiians have respect for their environment, and while visiting, you should too. A few of the most important things to remember are:

1. This should be obvious, but visitors frequently ignore this rule: Never litter. If the locals see you doing it, you might get scolded, and rightfully so.

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2. Don’t approach sea turtles, monk seals, whales or other marine life. They have no immune system to protect them against bacteria transmitted by humans. Visitors are required by law to keep a 15-foot distance from turtles and a 100-yard distance from whales while in the water.

3. Out of respect, do not remove any lava rock or black sand from the land; legend has it that anyone who takes it home with them will be cursed by the volcano goddess Pele.

4. Respect private property, and never cross someone’s yard to reach the beach or other areas. Find a public access and use that instead.

5. Treat the lei respectfully.

  • The lei greeting is not something that should be made fun of; it’s a Hawaiian tradition for greeting visitors. It is also a part of celebrations, such as weddings or graduations. Don’t remove the lei in front of the person who gave it to you, and never refuse it.
  • If you don’t want to look like a newbie, be sure to wear it properly. A lei shouldn’t hang around your neck, but should be draped evenly over your shoulders across the front and back.

6. Adopt local mannerisms.

  • One of the easiest ways to spot a tourist is to listen. Natives tend to be soft-spoken and don’t instantly reveal everything about their lives.
  • In Hawaii, people who are too loud are viewed as rude and self-centered. Try not to call attention to yourself too much.
  • It’s also rude to ask direct personal questions, such as what a person does for a living. Instead, listen and watch.
  • Take the time to make friends and really get to know them. By showing respect and earning their trust, the locals may even let you in on some of the island’s secrets.

7. Two of the most important words you should know before you go are aloha and mahalo. You’ll hear them all the time, and Hawaiians will show appreciation to travelers who use them too.

  • Aloha has a number of meanings but is mainly used to say “hello” and “goodbye.”
  • Mahalo means thank you; use it often!

8. Observe local customs when visiting a Hawaiian’s home.

  • If you are fortunate enough to be invited into a local’s home, always bring a small gift and make sure you remove your slippers (you may know them as flip-flops).
  • If you attend a party, it’s acceptable to bring food back with you as long as everyone has already eaten.
  • When attending a birthday party or wedding, it’s customary to give money in an envelope instead of a gift to help the family pay for the celebration.

9. Typical attire includes aloha shirts and flowery dresses with matching leis.

10. Don’t touch someone’s head. You might be thinking, “Why would I do that?” However, when visiting a family with small children, many people instinctively want to pat a cute kid on the head. This is considered bad taste, as the head is sacred in Polynesian culture.

11. Drive courteously.

  • Don’t honk your horn while you’re driving, because it’s considered extremely rude, and Hawaii even has a law dictating when honking your horn is allowed. It should only be used for an imminent emergency and never as a greeting or as a way to get someone who hasn’t reacted quickly enough moving.
  • Many tourists tend to drive too fast through neighborhoods and too slow on the main roads when they want to gaze at the beautiful scenery. Be sure to let locals pass you if you’re driving less than the speed limit, and slow down in residential areas.

12. The famous hula dance is not just something used to entertain tourists, but a sacred dance that preserves Hawaiian traditions, stories and culture.

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If you keep these guidelines and beliefs in mind during your trip to the islands, you’ll get along famously with the locals. There’s no better way to ensure your trip is as fun and relaxing as possible.