Aloha & Mahalo: Two of the Most Important Words of the Hawaiian Language

Aloha & Mahalo
[Pronounced: ah loh' hah & mah hah' loh]
pronunciation guide

If you learn just two words in Hawaiian, learn these. They are two of the most important words in the Hawaiian language, representing paramount Hawaiian values.

In Hawaiian thinking, words have mana [pronounced: mah' nah], meaning spiritual or divine power], and aloha and mahalo are among the most sacred and powerful.

Say them often as they can be life-transforming and -enhancing. Be careful to use them ONLY if you truly feel mahalo or aloha within. Do not exploit these words for personal gain, and neither cheapen, nor trivialize their use by verbalizing them carelessly or without sincerity.

Aloha and mahalo are ineffable, indescribable, and undefinable with words alone; to be understood, they must be experienced.

Deeper meaning and sacredness is hinted at by the root words of these words. Linguists differ in their opinions as to the exact meanings and origins, but this is what was told to me by my kupuna (elder):

On a spiritual level, aloha is an invocation of the Divine and mahalo is a Divine blessing. Both are acknowledgments of the Divinity that dwells within and without.

Aloha
[Alo = presence, front, face] + [ = breath]
"The presence of (Divine) Breath."

Mahalo
[Ma = In] + [ = breath] + [alo = presence, front, face]
"(May you be) in (Divine) Breath."

Think of them as single-word blessings or prayers.

The following are dictionary definitions using English words, which are approximate translations, at best:*

 

 
Aloha. 1. Aloha, love, affection, compassion, mercy, sympathy, pity, kindness, sentiment, grace, charity; greeting, salutation, regards; sweetheart, lover, lover, loved one; beloved, loving, kind, compassionate, charitable, lovable; to love, be fond of; to show kindness, mercy, pity, charity, affection; to venerate; to remember with affection; to greet, to hail. Greetings! Hello! Good-by! Farewell! Alas!
    • Aloha `oe!
      [ah loh' hah oe!]
      May you be loved or greeted!
      Farewell or greetings to one person.
    • Aloha kâua!
      [ah loh' hah KAH'oo (w)ah!]
      May there be friendship or love between us!
      Greetings to you and me!
    • Aloha kâkou!
      [ah loh' hah KAH' kou!]
      same as above, but to more than one person.
    • Ke aloha nô!
      [ah loh hah NOH']
      Aloha indeed!
    • Aloha!
      [ Ah loh' hah!]
      Greetings!"
"Mahalo. 1. Thanks, gratitude; to thank.
    • Mahalo nui loa.
      [mah hah' loh noo'(w)ee loh'(w)ah]
      Thanks very much.  
    • `Ôlelo mahalo
      [OH' leh loh mah hah' loh]
      compliment
    • Mahalo â nui
      [mah hah' loh (W)AH' noo'(w)ee]
      Thanks very much.
2. Admiration, praise, esteem, regards, respects; to admire, praise, appreciate.
    • `O wau nô me ka mahalo,
      [oh vau NOH' meh kah mah hah'loh]
      I am, [yours] respectfully,
    • Ka mea i mahalo `ia, Laki
      [kah meh'(y)ah ee mah hah'loh ee'(y)ah, lah' kee]
      The esteemed Laki."

*Source: Pukui, Mary Kawena & Elbert, Samuel H., HAWAIIAN DICTIONARY, University of Hawai`i Press, Honolulu, 1986.

One of the most frequently requested translations is:

Aloha au iâ `oe.
[ah loh' hah vau' ee (Y)AH' oe]
I love you.

 

 

Ke aloha nô me ka mahalo kâua!
Aloha indeed with mahalo to you and me!


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