Aloha and Respect: Navigating Hawaiian Culture with Sensitivity

Experiencing a new culture is exciting, but it also requires sensitivity. While preparing for long, sunny days on the beach and Hula dancing under the stars, doing your homework on Hawaiian culture will benefit your experience.

The Hawaiian culture is vibrant and receptive, and you'll likely be welcomed graciously into their ohana. To ensure that you don't step on any toes, or make an ignorant faux pas, keep reading as we unpack the true meaning of Aloha, cultural traditions, and how you can respectfully embrace the culture of your hosts.

We've answered some common questions to help you navigate etiquette in Hawaii.


What Does the Lei Mean in Hawaii?

A lei is a Hawaiian symbol of love, friendship, greeting, celebration, or honor. Removing it in the presence of someone who's gifted it to you, or refusing it, can insult the giver. Instead, graciously accept the gift and gesture. 

Did you know? A lei should remain open for pregnant visitors to Hawaii, as a closed one represents an umbilical cord around the baby's neck. If you or someone you're with is pregnant, ask the giver for an open-ended lei. 


Can I Take Rocks, Sand, or Shells from Hawaii?

No, do not remove or desecrate any of nature. Hawaii is full of natural beauty, and you may be tempted to take souvenirs from the land. Not only is removing volcanic rock and other items illegal and harmful to the ecosystem, but it's also bad luck. According to legend, there is a belief that if someone takes things from the Island, they might incur a curse from Pele, the goddess of fire and volcanoes. 

Hawaiians believe that nature is sacred. There is a tradition of Malama ka ‘aina i ke kai (to take care of the land and ocean). Observe from a distance, be grateful, take a photo, and move on without leaving a mark. Respecting wildlife and the land honors the tradition of Malama ka 'aina i ke kai.


Why is the Hula Dance Important?

The Hula is a beautiful dance form, and you'll love witnessing gifted Hula dancers perform. The locals love to share their culture. However, the Hula is more than a dance; it's a sacred expression that symbolizes a connection and oneness with the land. This tradition is taught along with ancient wisdom, historical understanding, and respect. A story is told with each hip move, chant, hand gesture, and step. 

Tip: Enjoy the show! Do not copy the dance unless you're invited to join in. Avoid this cultural appropriation mishap. 


What Does Aloha Mean?

Aloha is a greeting you'll hear in Hawaii. Beyond its meaning of "hello," "goodbye," and even "love," there is an attitude and way of life that accompanies the word. The Aloha spirit is a beautiful one you'll soon become familiar with upon arrival. It's a unity with one another and a spirit of kindness, acceptance, respect, and love. It's care, warmth, and a genuine generosity of love without expectation. 


Tips for Navigating Etiquette in Hawaii

Here are some general etiquette behaviors to keep in mind:

  • Show your gratitude and tip well. A 20% tip is customary for meals and experiences. 
  • Take your shoes off. When entering someone's home or even your hotel room, removing your shoes is an essential Hawaiian custom that shows respect.
  • Surf like a grateful guest! Ask locals where you're welcome to hit the waves and be respectful and friendly to others.
  • Stick to hiking trails. Sacred and off-limit areas should be respected in the spirit of Malama ka 'aina i ke kai.
  • Be humble and curious. Asking questions, respectfully remaining teachable, and asking permission speaks volumes in Hawaii. Locals will happily guide you if you kindly and curiously show interest in their culture. 


Be Kind and Humble as You Uncover the Splendor of Hawaii

Cultural sensitivity comes with an open mind and humility. As you visit the vibrant shores of Hawaii, embrace the culture with gratitude, respect, and kindness. Greet people with the Aloha spirit in word, heart, and attitude.

Uncover the splendor of Hawaii with an affordable vacation at Waikiki Resort Hotel in Honolulu. We look forward to welcoming you.