Non-native Hawaiians
Regions with significant populations
Hawaii, Guam
English, Hawaiian, Chamorro

Haole (/ˈhl/; Hawaiian [ˈhɔule])[1] is a Hawaiian term for individuals who are not Native Hawaiian or Polynesian. In Hawaii, it may mean any foreigner or anything else introduced to the Hawaiian islands of foreign origin,[2] though it is most commonly applied to people of European ancestry.[3]

The origins of the word predate the 1778 arrival of Captain James Cook, as recorded in several chants stemming from antiquity. Its connotations have ranged from merely descriptive to invective, while today it is often considered to be pejorative.


Haole first became associated with the children of European immigrants in the early 1820s. It unified the self-identity of these Hawaii-born children whose parents were as much culturally different as they were similar.[4] With the first three generations of Haole playing key roles in the rise of the economic and political power shifts that have lasted through the current day,[5] Haole evolved into a term that was often used in contempt especially after the missionaries imposed strict rules prohibiting games, singing, and playing. It evolved further to racial meaning, replacing "malihini" (newcomer)[6] in addressing people of European descent who move to Hawaii from the U.S. mainland by the 1860s.[7] A 1906 phrase book sometimes translates it to "English (language)".[8]


The 1865 Dictionary of the Hawaiian Language, compiled by Lorrin Andrews, shows the pronunciation as ha-o-le. A popular belief is that the word is properly written and pronounced as hāʻole, literally meaning "no breath," because foreigners did not know or use the honi (hongi in Māori), a Polynesian greeting by touching nose to nose and inhaling or essentially sharing each other's breaths, and so the foreigners were described as breathless. The implication is not only that foreigners are aloof and ignorant of local ways, but also literally have no spirit or life within.[9]

St. Chad Piianaia, a Hawaiian educated in England, said the word haole implies thief or robber (from hao, thief, and le, lazy).[9] In 1944 Hawaiian scholar Charles W. Kenn wrote, "In the primary and esoteric meaning, haole indicates a race that has no relation to one's own; an outsider, one who does not conform to the mores of the group; one that is void of the life element because of inattention to natural laws which make for the goodness in man. In its secondary meaning, haole ... implies a thief, a robber, one not to be trusted.... During the course of time, meanings of words change, and today, in a very general way, haole does not necessarily connote a negative thought.... The word has come to refer to one of Nordic descent, whether born in Hawaii or elsewhere."[9]

Professor Fred Beckley
Professor Fred Beckley

Native Hawaiian Professor Fred Beckley said, "The white people came to be known as ha-ole (without breath) because after they said their prayers, they did not breathe three times as was customary in ancient Hawaii."[9]

New findings have proven all of these theories to be incorrect. The earliest use of the word "haole" in the Hawaiian language was in the chant of Kūaliʻi; in which a pre-European voyager from the island of Oʻahu describes Kahiki, a term used for all lands outside Hawaiʻi:

Ua ʻike hoʻi au iā Kahiki

He moku leo pāhaʻohaʻo wale Kahiki

ʻAʻohe o Kahiki kanaka

Hoʻokahi o Kahiki kanaka – he Haole

This roughly translates to:

I have seen Kahiki

Kahiki is an island with a puzzling language

Kahiki has no people

Except for one kind—a foreign kind

In this chant, the word "haole" has no glottal stops or elongated vowels. The pronunciation of the word to mean "breathless" is conjecture and should be disregarded as myth, as there is absolutely no evidence of anyone using the word "hāʻole" prior to Western contact.[10]


Among Hawaiian residents of color (often known as "locals"), the term "Haole" is a slang term used to describe people of European ancestry.[11] Though the term itself may have no pejorative connotations, it is commonly used in the context of a statement that in itself, is derogatory. Many visitors are viewed as "Haole" and may be targeted by criminals; this is because they are vulnerable tourists, and because there is an undertone of hostility towards people of European descent for past actions that resulted in the loss of Hawaiian lands and much of their culture.[citation needed] There are rumors that in Hawaii the last day of school is called "Kill Haole Day".[12] According to this rumor, on this day, "local" (nonwhite) children verbally and physically harass the "haole" or "white" children in their school. Although there is little to no evidence or documentation of incidents involving "Kill Haole Day" or of white students being assaulted on specific days, there is evidence that discrimination and violence have historically been a part of the white experience in the Hawaiian school system.[13] Hawaii schools have responded by saying that they take the initiative to achieve tolerance, safety, compassion, and acceptance for all students.[14]

Some from other ethnic groups have used the word "Haole" as a racial slur or insult in incidents of harassment and physical assault towards white people in Hawaii, including tourists, residents, and military personnel.[12]

See also


  1. ^ "Definition of HAOLE". Definition of Haole by Merriam-Webster. 2018-10-29. Retrieved 2018-10-31.
  2. ^ Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel Hoyt Elbert (2003). "lookup of haole". in Hawaiian Dictionary. Ulukau, the Hawaiian Electronic Library, University of Hawaii Press. Retrieved November 24, 2010.
  3. ^ Gamayo, Darde (June 10, 2016). "Haole: Is It a Bad Word?". Big Island Now. Retrieved 2020-10-31.
  4. ^ KE KUMU HAWAII 12 Nowemapa (1834) an article printed in a missionary newspaper describing a recital by haole children in November 1834, with Hawaiian royalty, the American Consulate, ship captains, other notable persons of Oahu, and many missionaries in attendance.
  5. ^ HOME RULE REPUBALIKA 6 Nowemapa 1901 p.4
  6. ^ Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel Hoyt Elbert (2003). "lookup of malihini". in Hawaiian Dictionary. Ulukau, the Hawaiian Electronic Library, University of Hawaii Press. Retrieved November 24, 2010.
  7. ^ Mark Twain (1966) [1866]. A. Grove Day (ed.). Letters from Hawaii. pp. 202–203. ISBN 978-0-8248-0288-2.
  8. ^ John Harris Soper (1906). Hawaiian Phrase Book: No Huaolelo a Me Na Olelo Kikeki Na Ka Olelo Beritania a Me Ka Olelo Hawaii. The Hawaiian news company. p. 64.
  9. ^ a b c d Kenn, Charles W. (August 1944). "What is a Haole?". Paradise of the Pacific. p. 16.
  10. ^ "Hawaiʻi: Center of the Pacific". Hawaiian Studies 107 Reader (2nd ed.). 2008.
  11. ^ "Denby Fawcett: Can A White Person Ever Be 'Local' In Hawaii?". Honolulu Civil Beat. 4 February 2020. Retrieved 28 February 2020.
  12. ^ a b Keller, Larry (August 30, 2009). "Hawaii Suffering From Racial Prejudice". Southern Poverty Law Center.
  13. ^ https://stopsexualassaultinschools.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/OCR-FOIA-cases-Hawaii.pdf
  14. ^ Cataluna, Lee (November 16, 2010). "'Kill Haole Day' myth diverts attention from real problems". Retrieved 2017-03-20.

Further reading