Many people have grown up to believe that the term haole comes from: hā (breath) ʻole (without). To add confusion to that even some Native Hawaiians have accepted this and in the wikipedia entry also mentions this. But it is an incorrect and superficial rendering of the word. The word “haole” does not mean “without breath”. Any one who is familiar with the Hawaiian language, Hawaiian grammar and basic Austronesian linguistics knows that that word can not be broken apart in that way linguistically because ‘ole can not made ro create an elison (slurred with the preceding word). ‘Ole consists of four letters (‘ + o + l + e), begins with a consonant (‘) and the stress is on the ‘o. Pau’ole (end-less) for example is never pronounced as “Paule” by manaleo or native speakers of Hawaiian. Without getting heavy into piliʻōlelo (Hawaiian grammar), elisons in Hawaiian are only created by two vowels and mostly occurs when a preceding definite article (ka/ke/nā) is followed by a noun that begins with a or e.
In addition, traditional Hawaiian mele and mo’olelo never use that term in the context of being “breathless” nor as a marker of race, “mana” or religious practice. It actually had no racial connotations prior to the 1840s. The idea of race itself was not within the traditional Hawaiian way of thinking which emphasizes genealogical kinship particularly to the land. Nor did it have any negative connotations until the 1860s when Henry Whitney, founder of the Commercial Advertiser (today’s Honolulu Star Advertiser) complained about assertive Hawaiian newspapers like the “Ka Hoku Pakipika” because of their nationalistic content and his newspaper was beginning to lose subscribers. It is also interesting to note that “Ka Hoku Pakipika” preferred to not to use word “haole” and instead used the terms kōlea and malihini to describe specific actions that foreigners were doing towards Native Hawaiian culture and language. In fact, the first major complaint about “racism” was not from Native Hawaiians but were directed to Native Hawaiians and specifically against King Kalākaua himself by members of the “Missionary Party” because originally the king had wanted to take two Native Hawaiian cabinet members on his world tour in 1881. This allegation would be used against him throughout his reign because the king had a habit of trying to appoint cabinets composed of 50% Native Hawaiians and he tried to bring Chinese and Japanese into his Privy Council of State. Previously, cabinets were primarily composed of non-Native Hawaiian. Asians were almost absent from the government, though many were becoming naturalized by the 1870s. It was at that time that the term “haole” acquired its modern negative and racial connotations by Native Hawaiians and Asians due to politics of the time. Before that, historically and in Hawaiian mythology, it existed but had nothing to do with race but was merely a trait or a classification of peoples who one does not share an immediate (meaning eight generations or less) genealogical connection to or speaks an unfamiliar language. In other words, something (yes, it can be used to describe an object) or someone “different” than yourself, uncommon in Hawai’i, or originating outside of Hawai’i. It was not a racial term.
The Kumulipo, for example, uses the word “haole” no less than seven times in describing peoples born of different traits. Kamapuaʻa is actually described as being haole because of his bright brown eyes and in some accounts, his ʻehu complexion and hair (reddish-brown). In other words, a physical trait. There are a number of name chants that use the term “haole” to describe either traits or peoples who speak language that could not be understood. For example, in the 600 line mele honoring Kuali’i, one of the greatest O’ahu kings and who unfortunately does not even have a school named after him, there is an account of Kuali’i’s voyage to strange lands:
“O Kahiki, ia wai Kahiki? Ia Ku!
(Kahiki, to whom belongs Kahiki? To Ku!)
O Kahiki, moku kai a loa, Kahiki,
(island far out in the ocean,)
Aina o Olopana i noho ai.
(Land where Olopana dwelt.)
Iloko ka moku, iwaho ka la.
(Inside is the island, outside is the sun.)
O ke aloalo ka—la, ka moku, ke hiki mai.
(In that land the sun hangs low in the sky.)
Ane ua ike oe? Ua ike.
(Perhaps you have seen it,)
Ua ike hoi au ia Kahiki.
(I have indeed seen Kahiki.)
He moku leo pahaohao wale Kahiki.
(An island with weird unearthly voices is Kahiki)
No Kahiki kanaka i pii a luna.
(Of Kahiki are the men who ascend up.)
A i ka iwi kuamoo o ka lani;
(To the backbone of the sky.)
A luna, keehi iho,
(Up there they tread,)
Nana iho ia lalo.
And look down below)
Aohe o Kahiki kanaka;
(No human beings in Kahiki.)
Hookahi o Kahiki kanaka, he Haole
(One kind of men in Kahiki, the haole)
Me ia la he akua, me au la he kanaka.
(He is [acts] like a god, I like a man)
He kanaka no.
(A man indeed.)
One thought on “On the term "Haole".”
Thank you for this post!