Hawaiian Glossary: The Letter K

This glossary does not go from A to Z. The Hawaiian language only has five vowels and twelve consonants, out of which twelve letters, a, h, i, k, l, m, n, o, p, t, u, and w, are represented here.

This is the glossary chapter for the letter K. Below, there are links to various parts of the travel guide, but the best way to return to where you've just been is to use the "BACK" button or function in your browser.


*Words marked with an asterisk (*) are used commonly throughout the islands.

a tall pole topped with feathers, resembling a huge feather duster. It was used by an ali'i to announce his or her presence.
priest; sorcerer; doctor; skillful person. Kahuna had tremendous power in old Hawaii which they used for both good and evil. The kahuna ana'ana was a feared individual because he practiced "black magic" and could pray a person to death, while the kahuna lapa'au was a medical practitioner bringing aid and comfort to the people.
the sea. Many businesses and hotels employ kai as part of their name.
roasted underground in an imu. A favorite island food is kalua pork.
a child of the land; an old-timer; a longtime island resident of any ethnic background; a resident of Hawaii or native son or daughter. Hotels and airlines often offer discounts called "kamaaina rates" to anyone who can prove island residency.
A genealogical chant. When Hawaiians entered into a village which was not their own, they had to establish their connection to family and ancestors by intoning a kanaenae; if they could not, they would not be recognized as people. (The situation is analogous to trying to obtain health care at a hospital without intoning your insurance policy number.) Chiefs had special lineage chants for their sons, "linking them to their divine and earthly kin," which by their performative effect transmitted the sacred mana and confirmed their "rank, privileges, taboos, territory and power." (Katherine Luomala, "Polynesian Poetry," The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, Princeton NJ: Princeton U P, 1993.)
man or commoner; later used to distinguish a Hawaiian from other races. Tone of voice can make it a derisive expression.
means man, but actually used to signify a relationship such as husband or boyfriend. Written on a door it means "Men's Room."
any food that has been broiled or barbecued
forbidden; taboo; keep out; do not touch
In its broadest sense, kapu is anything in traditional Hawaiian culture that was forbidden or taboo. For example, certain things were kapu between the sexes: women could not enter men's houses, and it was kapu for a man to have intercourse before going fishing, engaging in battle, or attending a religious ceremony. Ali'i could also declare a kapu, and often did so. Even today, it is kapu for anyone to remove all the opihi (a type of limpet) from a rock. The great king Kamehameha I even placed a kapu on the body of his notoriously unfaithful child bride Kaahumanu. (It didn't work!) The greatest kapu was afforded to the highest-ranking ali'i: commoners could not let their shadows fall upon an ali'i, or enter their house except through a special door. Breaking a kapu meant immediate death.
a grandparent or old-timer; usually means someone who has gained wisdom. The statewide school system now invites kapuna to talk to the children about the old ways and methods.
slang word meaning food or chow; grub. Some of the best food in Hawaii comes from the "kaukau wagons," trucks that sell plate lunches and other morsels.
a landless, untouchable caste once confined to living on reservations. Members of this caste were often used as human sacrifices at heiau. Calling someone kauwa is still considered a grave insult.
a mildly intoxicating traditional drink made from the juice of chewed awa root, spat into a bowl, and used in religious ceremonies
child or children; used by all ethnic groups. "Have you hugged your keiki today?"
an algaroba tree from South America commonly found in Hawaii along the shore. It grows a nasty long thorn that can easily puncture a tire. Legend has it that the trees were introduced to the islands by a misguided missionary who hoped the thorns would coerce natives into wearing shoes. Actually, they are good for fuel, as fodder for hogs and cattle, and for reforestation, none of which you'll appreciate if you step on one of their thorns or flatten a tire on your rental car!
help. As in "Your kokua is needed to keep Hawaii free from litter."
kona wind*
a muggy subtropical wind that blows from the south and hits the leeward side of the islands. It usually brings sticky hot weather and one of the few times when air-conditioning will be appreciated.
a traditional Hawaiian game, similar to checkers, played with pebbles on a large flat stone used as a board
windward side of the island
a candlenut tree whose pods are polished and then strung together to make a beautiful lei. Traditionally the oil-rich nuts were strung on the rib of a coconut leaf and used as a candle.
homesite; the old homestead; small farms. Especially used to describe the small spreads on Hawaiian Homes Lands on Molokai.
ancient Hawaiian genealogical chant that records the pantheon of gods, creation, and the beginning of humankind.