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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 range from neutral and descriptive to invective, depending on the context in which it is used.


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 without breath. 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

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 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 some argue that it can be used in a way that is pejorative or discriminatory. It must be noted, however, that 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. Therefore, it could be argued that Chinese, Filipinos, and other 'locals' are also haole. However, haole has come to be a term for those of European ancestry. Also, it is associated with the 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 he is "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 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.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Definition of HAOLE". Definition of Haole by Merriam-Webster. October 29, 2018. Retrieved October 31, 2018.
  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 October 31, 2020.
  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. 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.

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.
  • Rohrer, Judy (2010). "Haoles in Hawaiʻi". Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)