Definitions

Haole

Haole

[hou-lee, -ley]
Haole, (pronounced: How-leh) in the Hawaiian language, means "foreign" or "foreigner"; it can be used in reference to people, plants, and animals. The origins of the word predate the 1778 arrival of Captain James Cook (which is the generally accepted date of first contact with westerners), as recorded in several chants stemming from antiquity.

Haole, in its current definition, first became associated with the children of Caucasian immigrants in the early 1820s. It unified the self-identity of these Hawai'i-born children whose parents were as much culturally different as they were similar. For Haole children whose first language was Hawaiian, their parents were generally either religious missionaries or secular businessmen, and hailed from both Europe and North America, not necessarily speaking the same language or English dialect.

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, "Haole" evolved into a term that was often used in contempt. Though its first usage in such context had to do with classist origins, it has evolved further to racial meaning, erroneously replacing "malihini" (newcomer) in addressing people of Caucasian descent who move to Hawai'i from the U.S. mainland. Today it is often applied to any who are of Caucasian ancestry, or to those who think or behave in a foreign manner.

In current application, Haole can be used descriptively or as a racially derogatory word (often, if not generally, preceded by an obscene invective).

Origins and etymology

A common popular etymology claim is that the word is derived from "hāole", literally meaning "no breath". Some Hawaiians say that because foreigners did not know or use the honi (the Hawaiian word for "kiss"), a Polynesian/Hawaiian greeting by touching nose-to-nose and inhaling or essentially sharing each other's breaths, and so the foreigners were described as "breathless." The implication is not only that foreigners are aloof and ignorant of local ways, but also literally have no spirit or life within.

Some linguists believe that this etymology is erroneous, however, for these reasons:

  • There are innumerable citations from Hawaiian showing that haole simply means "foreign." For example, haole eleele means a dark-skinned foreigner, haole pake means Chinese foreigner. The term haole is found in ancient chants which pre-date European contact to refer to newcomers from elsewhere in Polynesia.
  • The Andrews Dictionary of 1865 refers to a white-haired pig as puaa haole.
  • The word 'breath' is (with a macron or kahakō over the a), not plain ha. The word 'not' is ole, with a glottal stop or okina, not ole, which means "fang." In spoken Hawaiian, vowel length is contrastive, and these are major differences in pronunciation. However, they would not appear in Hawaiian dictionaries using the older form of Hawaiian spelling, which did not use kahakō or okina (considered a consonant) to indicate vowel length and glottal stops. Only modern dictionaries show the kahakō and okina. It is possible that the folk etymology was created by someone with only a dictionary knowledge of Hawaiian, using an older dictionary.

However, as the word predates the first written Hawaiian dictionary by centuries, and pronunciations have evolved over that time, the debate continues, and each camp has its adherents.

St. Chad Piianaia, a Hawaiian educated in England, said the word haole implies thief or robber (from hao, thief, and le, lazy). In 1944, Hawaiian scholar Charles 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." (Kenn)

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." (Kenn)

The word has been adopted on many of the Pacific Islands to refer to non-local individuals. In practice, though, the word is not so highly charged in many of the other islands, such as Guam or Saipan. Other Polynesian languages, such as Tongan and Samoan, use the word pālangi or papālangi (ultimately linked to a word meaning Western European, or a Frank, see farangi).

Haole as a divisive ethnic issue

In the 20th Century, in some schools in Hawaii Haoles were teased, called names or beat up. But now, such blasphemy is regarded as taking back the Hawaiian Kingdom from the Haoles. Haoles who think that the local race of Hawaii are in every way inferior to them are also subject to unjust racial teasing withing local Hawaiian Schools. Comments such as, "go back to Texas you Longhorn" or "you Haoles ruin everything", or openly yelling out, "All Haoles are PAB's" are common within local schools in Hawaii. To do something like that now a days is really uncool, and if you do it, you are a super PAB.

Sources and further reading

  • "What is a Haole?" Charles W. Kenn, Paradise of the Pacific August 1944, p. 16
  • The Mainland Haole: The White Experience in Hawaii. By Elvi Whittaker. 1986. 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 6 273–285.
  • Judy Rohrer "Haole Girl: Identity and White Privilege in Hawai
  • Judy Rohrer (2006). ""Got Race?" The Production of Haole and the Distortion of Indigeneity in the Rice Decision". The Contemporary Pacific 18 1–31.

See also

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