A ubiquitous word that has become entwined with the identity of Hawaiÿi, aloha symbolizes more than an
amicable greeting, luxury seascape holiday, or nostalgic gift shop find. With an enchanting allure unique to
the Hawaiian Islands, the Aloha Spirit contains deep cultural roots that embody a universal message. Whether
experienced by faraway visitors or homegrown locals, aloha holds a legacy of its own.
What is the Aloha Spirit?
Attempting to describe the Aloha Spirit is near impossible, like explaining the feeling of a rapturous scarlet-tinted sunset, or the soothing remedy of human touch. It goes beyond definition and is without a location—an
omnipresent energy that lives everywhere. Outwardly (excluding trendy island ware) the Aloha Spirit may be
perceived in simple acts of kindness, hospitality, truth, integrity, and steadfast patience in otherwise agitating
paradise-laden traffic jams. Core values in family, reverence for nature, and the foundational understanding
of the connectedness that binds humanity, all allude to the transcendental Aloha Spirit.
“The spirit of aloha affects everything we do, not so much in words, it doesn’t come from the mouth—it
comes from the action. To show you have aloha is from your action and how you deal with things. Aloha is the
center of all things Hawaiian,” describes Naÿauao Paneÿe, a Hawaiian Language teacher at Brigham Young
Hawaiian History, Ethics and Western Influence
Ancient Hawaiian values were centered on a foundation in the Aloha Spirit. As a core element in cultural
ideology, practices and spirituality, aloha directly translates from the root word hä, which means “the breath of
life.” This breath penetrated every aspect of Hawaiian existence and resulted in a way of life where appreciation,
gratitude and the spirit of generosity prevailed. Some may disagree with the genesis since aloha isn’t actually
alohä. Some etymologists believe it’s more likely to have originated from the Samoan word “alohfa” or the
Mäori word “aroha,” which both words mean love. Mary Kawena Pukui in the Hawaiian Dictionary defines
aloha as “love, affection, compassion, mercy, sympathy, kindness, grace, charity and greeting.”
Aloha ÿäina (love for the land) was also an essential understanding that illuminated a sincere respect for the
earth. Hawaiians emphasized the recognition of mana (spirit) found within nature’s bounty, and that how we
relate to it is imperative. Communing with nature was a metaphor for family values, such as honoring kupuna
(elders) and ancestors, while guiding children in the aloha tenets. Underlying these interpersonal relationships
was the pivotal connection one had with their self. By cultivating a perceptive awareness and understanding
of one’s own being, Hawaiians affirmed all areas of life would prosper.
When Westerners arrived in Hawaiÿi, this sturdy foundation of aloha was hugely compromised. In 1778,
Captain Cook’s famed discovery occurred, which led to an influx of Western thought and influence. The
concept of aloha became a way to coin the dignified nature of Hawaiian culture. Along with ships, sailors and
disease came Christian missionaries who found common threads in aloha ideology to suffuse their religious
beliefs. Many Hawaiian rulers were Christianized and a new set of community, cultural, and political values
soon took precedence.
For decades that ensued, the arrival of immigrants and other settlers led to a diluted expression of the
Aloha Spirit that barely permeated island culture. However, when Hawaiÿi became America’s 50th state in
1959, a revival in the acknowledgment of aloha arose.