Do's and Don't's of Going to Hawai'i

By Kara Dung

Being born and raised in Hawaiʻi, you grow up learning about Hawaiʻi and the traditional and local cultures, and that there are some parallels with the two. You also learn about all of the tourists and you know just by simple social cues to tell if they are a tourist or not. Locals can identify a tourist by the way the talk and dress and often will poke fun at them without them knowing. Here is a list of five things that I know and have seen tourists do that are a big “NO” to locals in Hawaiʻi.

First of all, when you first arrive in Hawaiʻi you might think that you will see hula dancers in grass skirts and a coconut bra, people playing the ukulele in an aloha shirt sitting at a tiki bar or living in the grass hut riding dolphins or something of that sort. Those are all stereotypes of Hawaiʻi, please be respectful, because most of the stereotypes associated with Hawaiʻi are false. Do not wear a grass skirt and mock hula dancing while in Hawaiʻi. Hula is a very important part of the rich culture of Hawaiʻi and is an ancient style of dance that takes years of study to perform properly.

Second, tourists may attempt to understand and speak the native local language in Hawaiʻi known as Pidgin English/Hawaii Creole English. This is a big “No” when haole tourists (white tourists) try to use words or phrases like “Ho brah surfs up!” or “Hang loose.” Pidgin is a language only meant for locals of Hawaiʻi as it is legally a real language. Some words that you can use would be calling flip-flops “slippers” which is what we know them as in Hawaiʻi. Or saying you are a “haole” which means caucasian/foreigner. If you make fun of the way locals talk in Pidgin English in Hawaiʻi, we will make fun of you right back and you just will not understand. I would also recommend that you can try to speak Native Hawaiian, words like “Aloha” and “Mahalo” are Hawaiian words, do not feel the need to use them everywhere you go in Hawaiʻi. People in Hawaiʻi do not always say “Aloha” and “Mahalo” as a form of hello and thank you. We speak English just like the rest of the U.S. If you would like to speak Hawaiian, doing some research is always good, especially with the pronunciations of places in Hawaiʻi. If you are unsure of how to say the name of a place, feel free to ask a local. Another courtesy please do not constantly quote the movie Lilo & Stitch. Locals are aware that the movie takes place in Hawaiʻi and we know what ʻOhana means and have gotten very tired of that quote that has been overused way too many times.

Third is the issue is food, it is a big part of Hawaiʻi no matter if it is local food or traditional Hawaiian food. Traditional Hawaiian food like laulau (l-ow l-ow) which looks like a green lump but is chicken or pork wrapped in taro leaves with a piece of butterfish, squid lūʻau which is squid mixed with spinach into a green liquidy consistency, and poi which is mashed up and boiled purple taro that becomes a pudding-like consistency. These traditional Hawaiian foods may look “gross” to haoles and will disregard it at a first look, but is very ʻonoʻ or delicious if you give it a try. You do not want to verbally disrespect traditional Hawaiian food.  If you get a chance to try it and you make fun of the food, you may receive an invitation to not return to Hawaiʻi. For local food it is a little bit different. There is the classic plate lunch that no matter where you go will have two scoops of rice and mac salad (cold macaroni mixed with mayo and a few seasonings). Then the spam musubi, it is one of the local food staples of our state, it is a slice of fried spam on rice wrapped in seaweed. So if you are disgusted by spam please do not vocally express that you are disgusted by spam. It is found everywhere from the local seven-eleven to supermarkets and restaurants. If you are disgusted and have not tried it, hold your opinion until you try it. If you cook it and do not eat it out of the can like some crazy haoles do it is very delicious. Never underestimate the food in Hawaiʻi, the REAL Hawaiian local food. Do not be fooled, having pineapple or coconut in something doesn't make it Hawaiian.

Fourth, music is another part of Hawaiʻi, with traditional Hawaiian music and local “Jawaiian” music which is a mix of Hawaiian and Reggae/Ska. Traditional Hawaiian music is usually performed with just a ukulele and voice with the songs in the Hawaiian language. It is of great importance and many of the Native Hawaiian songs have been passed down for generations. Jawaiian music is a more modern and contemporary style, with most of the song lyrics in Pidgin English and Hawaiian. This music usually talks about love, with romance, palaces in the islands,and friends and family.

Both genres are sung in different styles with a Traditional Hawaiian artist like Israel Kamakawiwo'ole or “Bruddah IZ” as locals know him as, and Ledward Kaapana. With Jawaiian music, there are bands like Common Kings and Kolohe Kai. Both styles are played on the radio as there are multiple local Hawaiian radio stations in Hawaiʻi that solely play just these types of music.

Lastly, please do be aware that all people from Hawaiʻi are not necessarily Hawaiian. This is one of the most common misconceptions and labels I am met with when tell people: “I am from Hawaiʻi.” Being FROM HAWAIʻIi and being HAWAIIAN are two very different things. Being FROM HAWAIʻI means that you are born and raised in Hawaiʻi (like I am). It means you have lived in Hawaiʻi for a good portion of your life and consider the islands home. Being HAWAIIAN means you are of Hawaiian descent and are ethnically Hawaiian, Hawaiʻi is home and literally apart of you, having Hawaiian blood running through your veins. You are Hawaiian means that your ancestors have lived through the monarchy of Hawaiʻi and the annexation of Hawaiʻi. When visiting the islands or talking to people form Hawaiʻi you must be aware of the difference between being HAWAIIAN and being FROM HAWAIʻI.

These are just some of the five tips I tend to notice among tourists when I am home. When traveling to the islands there are just some of my personal tips to keep in mind. There are many more tips and tricks about being in Hawaiʻi, they are all apart of the rich culture that makes up the local and traditional culture of Hawaiʻi. Knowing some of these things and knowing what to do and what not to do will help you avoid disrespecting the l