Language Note: Ke ʻOluʻolu ʻOe

A lot of things do not translate well into English from Hawaiian because languages articulate a world view. This isnʻt to say that one is better than the other, but when one is switching from Hawaiian to English or English to Hawaiian, one has to switch oneʻs world view. Iʻll give two examples.

The first example is “ke ʻoluʻolu ʻoe” which is usually translated into English as “please” and normally appears at the end of a request. Actually, the French “s’il vous plaît” is a far closer translation of “ke ʻoluʻolu ʻoe”. “Ke ʻoluʻolu ʻoe” literally means if it pleases you or if it will be your pleasure. In English, “please” still implies that the requester has some level of authority. In Hawaiian, the requested has a level of authority and their empathy is being invoked.

The second example is “hoʻomālielie i ke kaumaha” which is usually translated as condolence. In English, “condolences” or “my condolences” is an expression of oneʻs sympathy. In many Western societies, people are too often told to “move on”, “things will get better”, and “time will heal”. Ancient Hawaiians did not share that view. Hawaiian “hoʻomālielie i ke kaumaha” or “e hoʻomālielie i kou kaumaha” are not merely expressions of the speakerʻs sympathy. Itʻs an expression that the speaker understands the grief and is acknowledging that grief. In Hawaiian, it was normal to be in grief for a year and to remember death anniversaries there after. People were allowed to show grief and openly showed their grief. Hawaiians in the olden times would cut their hair, get a new tattoo, and express their grief through kanikau or funerary chants. Grief was a normal reaction and was embraced as part of the cycle of life. In the expression “e hoʻomālielie i kou kaumaha” we find that understanding. Mālielie means to be soothed, comforted or calmed. Kaumaha means sorrow or grief. “E hoʻomālielie i kou kaumaha” therefore means “may you comforted in your grief” or “may you comforted through your grief”. So in that sentences, thereʻs an acknowledgement that you are grieving, that itʻs okay to grieve, and may there your feelings be comfort through the time of your grief.

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