Aloha and Mahalo (Pronounced Ah – Loh– Ha and Ma – Ha – Loh)
The emphasis, as with most Hawaiian words is on the next to the last syllable. These are probably the most used and possibly the least understood common Hawaiian words. Both seem very simple, translated into English, in general, as “Hello” and “Thank You”, respectively, and they do mean that, but also mean so much more.
In Hawaiian traditions, words have mana, spiritual or divine power, and aloha and mahalo are among the most sacred and powerful and to be properly understood, they must be experienced. Hawaiian language is very subtle, with poetic, spiritual and hidden (kaona) meanings to many words and phrases. Deeper meaning and sacredness is hinted at by the root words of these words. Linguists differ in their opinions as to the exact meanings and origins, but this is what was told to me by a kahuna-nui – an elder priestess – that I had occasion to work with a few years ago. She told me to think of them as one word blessings or prayers.
On a spiritual level, aloha is an invocation of the divine (ka akua) and mahalo is a divine blessing. Both are acknowledgments of the divinity that dwells within and without and is everywhere and in everything.
[Alo = presence, front, face] + [hâ = breath]
”The presence of (divine) Breath.”
Mahalo [Ma = In] + [hâ = breath] + [alo = presence, front, face] ”(May you be) in (divine) Breath.”
The following are dictionary definitions using English words, which are an approximation of the complexity of the Hawaiian meaning:
1. Love, affection, compassion, mercy, sympathy, pity, kindness, sentiment, grace, charity; greeting, salutation, regards; sweetheart, lover, lover, loved one; beloved, loving, kind, compassionate, charitable, lovable; to love, be fond of; to show kindness, mercy, pity, charity, affection; to venerate; to remember with affection; to greet, to hail. Greetings! Hello! Good-by! Farewell! Alas!
• Aloha `oe! [ah loh’ hah oe!] May you be loved or greeted! Farewell or greetings to one person.
• Aloha kâua! [ah loh’ hah KAH’oo (w)ah!] May there be friendship or love between us! Greetings to you and me!
• Aloha kâkou! [ah loh’ hah KAH’ kou!] same as above, but to more than one person.
• Ke aloha nô! [ah loh hah NOH’] Aloha indeed!
• Aloha! [ Ah loh’ hah!] Greetings!”
• Aloha au iâ `oe. [ah loh’ hah vau’ ee (Y)AH’ oe] I love you.
1. Thanks, gratitude; to thank.
• Mahalo nui loa. [mah hah’ loh noo'(w)ee loh'(w)ah] Thanks very much.
• `Ôlelo mahalo [OH’ leh loh mah hah’ loh] Compliment
• Mahalo â nui
[mah hah’ loh (W)AH’ noo'(w)ee]
Thanks very much.
2. Admiration, praise, esteem, regards, respects; to admire, praise, appreciate.
• `O wau nô me ka mahalo, [oh vau NOH’ meh kah mah hah’loh] I am, [yours] respectfully,
• Ka mea i mahalo `ia, Laki
[kah meh'(y)ah ee mah hah’loh ee'(y)ah, lah’ kee]
The esteemed Laki.”
*Source: Pukui, Mary Kawena & Elbert, Samuel H., HAWAIIAN DICTIONARY, University of Hawai`i Press, Honolulu, 1986.