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Haole (/ˈhl/; Hawaiian [ˈhɔule])[1] is a Hawaiian term for individuals who are not Native Hawaiian, and is applied to people primarily of European ancestry.[2][3][4]


The origins of the word predate the 1778 arrival of Captain James Cook, as recorded in several chants stemming from that time.[4][5] The term was generally given to people of European descent; however, as more distinct terms began to be applied to individual European cultures and other non-European nations, the word haole began to refer mostly to Americans, including American Blacks (who were referred to as haole ʻele ʻele, i.e., "black haole").[4] Its connotations range from positive, neutral, and descriptive to invective, depending on the context in which it is used.[6] Of the Polynesian race, Robert Louis Stevenson said: "God's best — at least God's sweetest works..." and then wrote of the "beastly haoles". In correspondence to a friend, he stated, "What is a haole? You are one; and so, I am sorry to say, am I".[7][8]


A newspaper challenge in 1929 offered one hundred dollars to anyone who could satisfactorily explain to Dr. Theodore Richards what the word meant. James K. Keola stated that he believed the term only referred to white foreigners, giving as his own references such figures as Stephen Desha and Joseph M. Poepoe. Mr. Keola also believed the origins of the word came from the name Howell, part of Vancouver's team; however, today the name would be pronounced ha-wela.[7][8] John M. Bright also stated that the term meant white and was in use as early as 1736. He also defined the term to mean "without husk or waif". W. O. Smith stated that in his youth he was told the term came from a fish called ahole. Lorrin Andrews writes in his dictionary that the term only refers to white foreigners and that for Blacks the term haole eleele was used.[7][8]

"Without breath"[edit]

Professor Fred Beckley

A popular fable is that the word means "without breath". This meaning was attributed to Native Hawaiian Professor Frederick William Kahapula Beckley Jr. by Charles W. Kenn, in his 1944 article in the publication "Paradise of the Pacific". According to that author, Beckley states: "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][7][8]

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."[7][8] Albert J. Schütz, former professor of linguistics at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, believes that there is no documentation this ha-ole etymology is accurate and, based on that, states: "Thus, as far as we know, the word haole cannot be separated into shorter words".[9]


According to Juri Mykkanen of the Helsinki Institute of Urban and Regional Studies in his book "Inventing Politics: A New Political Anthropology of the Hawaiian Kingdom", Hawaiians, in trying to understand and make sense of changing alii, projected an entire cosmology onto everything they did and then passed down this narration to descendants. Under this belief, the origins of the term come from Kahiki, the ancestral lands of Hawaiians, stemming from the mele chant, "Kūkanaloa". In this chant a demi-god/hero from Kahiki is described as haole, as referenced in Samuel Kamakau's book Ruling Chiefs of Hawaii (1991), pages 114-115. As a symbol of origin, Kahiki had great significance to Hawaiians who saw themselves as descendants of a divine haole.[10]

Use of the word[edit]

Among Hawaiian residents who have descended from various ethnic groups who worked on the plantations (often known as "locals"), "haole" is a term used to describe people of European ancestry.[11] The term itself can be merely descriptive, but it can be used in a way that is pejorative or discriminatory. Haole is only one of several words commonly used in Hawaii to describe various ethnicities. Technically, haole means someone who is foreign, as opposed to someone who is local. Haole has come to be a term for those of European ancestry. Also, it is associated with peoples who exhibit traditions, accents, and habits of the continental United States, as opposed to those which are prevalent in the Hawaiian islands.[12] For example, if someone goes to the continental US and returns speaking with an accent typical of that area, people might say this person has become "haole-fied."[13] Certain foods typical of the continental US could be called "haole food," and if someone does something in a way that is not typical of what is done in Hawaii, that could be called "haole style."

Some native Hawaiians use the word "haole" as an insult or as part of a racial pejorative in incidents of harassment and physical assault towards white people in Hawaii.[14][15][16] Hawaiian nationalists and language advocates, including Haunani-Kay Trask, have claimed that the word cannot be understood apart from the history of racial oppression in Hawaii, with Trask saying, "It’s not pejorative — it’s descriptive.”[17][18][19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Definition of HAOLE". Definition of Haole by Merriam-Webster. October 29, 2018. Retrieved October 31, 2018.
  2. ^ Lind, Andrew W. (1980). Hawaii's people. University of Hawaii Press. hdl:10125/39974. ISBN 978-0-8248-0704-7.
  3. ^ Rohrer, Judy (July 22, 2010). Haoles in Hawaii. University of Hawaii Press. p. 59. ISBN 978-0-8248-6042-4. Retrieved July 12, 2021.
  4. ^ a b c Kimura, Larry; Wilson, William H. (1983). Native Hawaiians Study Commission: Report on the Culture, Needs, and ... - United States. Native Hawaiians Study Commission - Google Books. United States Department of the Interior. p. 216. Retrieved August 21, 2022. Haole originally meant any foreigner, and is clearly an old precontact word, since it occurs in old chants. Marquesan has a cognate, Hao'e, with a similar meaning. Captain Cook and even early Chinese visitors were termed haole
  5. ^ Rohrer, Judy (2010). Haoles in Hawaii - Judy Rohrer - Google Books. University of Hawaii Press. p. 59. ISBN 9780824860424. Retrieved August 22, 2022.
  6. ^ Schaefer, Richard T. (March 20, 2008). Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity, and Society. ISBN 9781412926942. Retrieved August 22, 2022.
  7. ^ a b c d e Kenn, Charles W. (August 1944). "What is a Haole?". Paradise of the Pacific: 16.
  8. ^ a b c d e Kenn, Charles W. (1961). The Hawaii Book: Story of Our Island Paradise - Google Books. J.G. Ferguson Publishing Company. p. 136. Retrieved August 23, 2022. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  9. ^ a b Schütz, Albert J. (January 1, 1995). The Voices of Eden: A History of Hawaiian Language Studies. University of Hawaii Press. p. 213. ISBN 978-0-8248-1637-7. Retrieved July 9, 2021.
  10. ^ Mykkanen, Juri (2003). Inventing Politics: A New Political Anthropology of the Hawaiian Kingdom - Juri Mykkanen - Google Books. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu. p. 34. ISBN 9780824814861. OCLC 473477780. Retrieved August 23, 2022.
  11. ^ "Denby Fawcett: Can A White Person Ever Be 'Local' In Hawaii?". Honolulu Civil Beat. February 4, 2020. Retrieved February 28, 2020.
  12. ^ "Haole: Is it a Bad Word?". Big Island Now. June 10, 2016. Retrieved May 17, 2021.
  13. ^ "Hawaiian English". Encyclopedia.com. April 15, 2021. Retrieved May 17, 2021.
  14. ^ "Hawaii Suffering from Racial Prejudice". Southern Poverty Law Center. August 30, 2009. Retrieved May 17, 2021.
  15. ^ Rohrer, Judy (July 22, 2010). Haoles in Hawaii. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 73–74. ISBN 978-0-8248-6042-4. Retrieved July 12, 2021.
  16. ^ McAvoy, Audrey (May 2, 2021). "2 Hawaii men indicted in 2014 hate crime case on Maui". AP NEWS. Retrieved July 12, 2021.
  17. ^ Ladao, Mark; Boylan, Peter (July 4, 2021). "Activist, retired University of Hawaii professor Haunani-Kay Trask fought for Hawaiian rights, causes". Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Retrieved July 9, 2021.
  18. ^ Essoyan, Susan (November 28, 1990). "RACE RELATIONS: Aloha Spirit of Love Gives Way to 'Yankee Go Home' : Professor's anti-whites stand sets off debate on racism in Hawaii". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 9, 2021.
  19. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "Haunani-Kay Trask Interview: Haole and the Colonization of Hawaii". YouTube.

Further reading[edit]

  • Elvi Whittaker (1986). The Mainland Haole: The White Experience in Hawaiʻi. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Ohnuma, Keiko (2002). "Local Haole - A Contradiction in Terms? The dilemma of being white, born and raised in Hawai'i". Cultural Values. 6 (3): 273–285. doi:10.1080/1362517022000007211. S2CID 144729410.
  • Rohrer, Judy (1997). "Haole Girl: Identity and White Privilege in Hawaiʻi". Social Process in Hawaiʻi. 38: 140–161.
  • Rohrer, Judy (2006). ""Got Race?" The Production of Haole and the Distortion of Indigeneity in the Rice Decision". The Contemporary Pacific. 18 (1): 1–31. doi:10.1353/cp.2005.0102. hdl:10125/13911. S2CID 143743704.