On Being Maikaʻi

Most people know the term “maikaʻi” in the Hawaiian national language and they know the term as meaning “good” or “fine” in English. Maikaʻi, however, is a term that actually does not translate well in English because there is an entire concept behind the term. Maikaʻi is actually more of a state of being, specifically of being in good health, fine disposition, living up to one’s moral compass and of good appearance. In other words, the total package of “goodness”.
The Hawaiian dictionary gives some examples. He wahine maikaʻi loa ke nānā aku, a woman very good to look at. E ʻai ā pau maikaʻi ka iʻa, eat until the fish is completely finished. One might scratch one’s head to understand why maikaʻi in one context refers to a beautiful woman and in another context, to a fully eaten fish. This is because in Hawaiian, nani refers to outward or physical beauty whereas maikaʻi can compliment not just a woman’s looks but her disposition, her character and her manners. In the fish context, the underline thought is that the fish was completely eaten–as it should be. Kanaka Maoli of old in particular only cooked exactly enough for what was required and throwing away food was seen as not only not pono, but insulting to the fishermen and to the akua themselves. So it is right and proper that one should eat the food given to you completely.
For Thanksgiving, the Hawaiian translation is “Lā Hoʻomaikaʻi”. Hawaiians used the term maikaʻi rather than mahalo because as a verb, maikaʻi means to recognize, praise and congratulate the goodness of another person. Lā Hoʻomaikaʻi means more like “day to recognize goodness”.
Next time someone asks you “Pehea ‘oe?” and you are about to reply “Maikaʻi nō” (as is taught in Hawaiian 101), take a moment to take a deep breath and reflect upon one’s health, one’s character, and one’s total goodness

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