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Haole (/ˈhl/; Hawaiian [ˈhɔule]) is a term, occasionally pejorative, used in the U.S. state of Hawaii to refer to an individuals of white ancestry, specifically in contrast to others of native Hawaiian ancestry. In the Hawaiian language, the term has been used historically (and sometimes currently) to refer any foreigner or anything else introduced to the Hawaiian islands of foreign origin[1] The origins of the word predate the 1778 arrival of Captain James Cook, as recorded in several chants stemming from antiquity. Its use historically has ranged from descriptive to race invective.


Haole first became associated with the children of Caucasian immigrants in the early 1820s. It unified the self-identity of these Hawaii-born children whose parents were as much culturally different as they were similar.[2] 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,[3] Haole evolved into a term that was often used in contempt especially after the missionaries imposed strict rules prohibiting games, singing, and playing. It evolved further to racial meaning, replacing "malihini" (newcomer[4]) in addressing people of Caucasian descent who move to Hawaii from the U.S. mainland by the 1860s.[5] A 1906 phrase book sometimes translates it to "English (language)".[6]


The word is derived from ʻole, literally meaning "no breath". Some Hawaiians[who?] say that because foreigners did not know or use the honi, a Polynesian 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.

St. Chad Piianaia, a Hawaiian educated in England, said the word haole implies thief or robber (from hao, thief, and le, lazy).[citation needed] 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."[7]

Professor Fred Beckley

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."[7]

Similarly, an early Christian is quoted, "Before the missionaries came, my people used to sit outside their temples for a long time meditating and preparing themselves before entering. Then they would virtually creep to the altar to offer their petition and afterwards would again sit a long time outside, this time to 'breathe life' into their prayers. The Christians, when they came, just got up, uttered a few sentences, said Amen, and were done. For that reason my people called them haoles, 'without breath,' or those who failed to breathe life into their prayers."[8]

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).


An alleged tradition in some schools is Kill Haole Day, in which non-white school children harass or assault white children on the last day of school prior to summer. The practice has led to the introduction of hate crime legislation intended to discourage it.[9] A similar incident was depicted in the 1998 film Beyond Paradise.[10] It was mentioned in an opinion of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2010.[11] Others claim that the day is an urban myth, since most reports are based on hearsay.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel Hoyt Elbert (2003). "lookup of haole ". in Hawaiian Dictionary. Ulukau, the Hawaiian Electronic Library, University of Hawaii Press. Retrieved November 24, 2010. 
  2. ^ KE KUMU HAWAII 12 Nowemapa (1834) an article printed in a missionary newspaper describing a recital by haole children in November 1834, with Hawaiian royalty, the American Consulate, ship captains, other notable persons of Oahu, and many missionaries in attendance.
  3. ^ HOME RULE REPUBALIKA 6 Nowemapa 1901 p.4
  4. ^ Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel Hoyt Elbert (2003). "lookup of malihini ". in Hawaiian Dictionary. Ulukau, the Hawaiian Electronic Library, University of Hawaii Press. Retrieved November 24, 2010. 
  5. ^ Mark Twain (1966) [1866]. A. Grove Day, ed. Letters from Hawaii. pp. 202–203. ISBN 978-0-8248-0288-2. 
  6. ^ John Harris Soper (1906). Hawaiian Phrase Book: No Huaolelo a Me Na Olelo Kikeki Na Ka Olelo Beritania a Me Ka Olelo Hawaii. The Hawaiian news company. p. 64. 
  7. ^ a b Charles W. Kenn (August 1944). "What is a Haole?". Paradise of the Pacific. p. 16. 
  8. ^ Madeleine L'Engle (1980). Walking on Water. Harold Shaw. pp. 181–182. ISBN 0-87788-919-8.  Mother Alice Kaholusuna quoted.
  9. ^ Craig Gima (March 24, 1999). "‘Kill haole day’ linked to hate-crime bill". Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Retrieved November 24, 2010. 
  10. ^ Burl Burlingame (April 13, 1999). "‘Paradise’ goes beyond believable". Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Retrieved November 24, 2010. 
  11. ^ Nov 15, 2010 (November 15, 2010). "Judges cite 'Kill Haole Day'". Honolulu Star Advertiser. Retrieved November 24, 2010. 
  12. ^ Cataluna, Lee. "'Kill Haole Day' myth diverts attention from real problems". Honolulu Star Advertiser 16 Nov 2010. Retrieved 4 June 2013. 

Further reading[edit]