Aloha was the first Hawaiian word I learned, long ago. As a kid, it was funny to have one word mean both “hello” and “goodbye”; in my young mind, those two things were very different.
Over the years, I’ve heard much reference to the “aloha spirit”. Like this 2013 Politico article that ponders whether Hawaiian native President Barack Obama lost his. And this New York Times article, also from 2013, on same-sex marriage in Hawaii. This made sense to me: not a hello/goodbye spirit, but perhaps a welcoming spirit.
For decades, this definition satisfied me. But then, on vacation in Hawaii, my family and I started seeing some buses in Oahu with the slogan “Driven with Aloha” on them. Driven with hello? Goodbye? Maybe: Driven with welcome? Not quite.
Honolulu, perhaps predicting this confusion about its most common linguistic export by its swarms of tourists, has provided an answer. Walking along the main streets in Waikiki, my mom noticed a sidewalk carved with the definition of aloha: greetings and regards (knew it!), as well as kindness, compassion, affection, and love.
Hawaii is pretty serious about its aloha. Beyond setting it in stone in Waikiki, the Hawaiian government has included it in its legislature. As guidance for state officials to remember when working with the public, the Hawaii Revised Statutes (State Law) [§5-7.5] defines the “Aloha Spirit” as:
(a) “Aloha Spirit” is the coordination of mind and heart within each person. It brings each person to the self. Each person must think and emote good feelings to others. In the contemplation and presence of the life force, "Aloha", the following unuhi laula loa [free translation] may be used:
"Akahai", meaning kindness to be expressed with tenderness;
"Lokahi", meaning unity, to be expressed with harmony;
"Oluolu", meaning agreeable, to be expressed with pleasantness;
"Haahaa", meaning humility, to be expressed with modesty;
"Ahonui", meaning patience, to be expressed with perseverance.
These are traits of character that express the charm, warmth and sincerity of Hawaii's people. It was the working philosophy of native Hawaiians and was presented as a gift to the people of Hawaii. "Aloha" is more than a word of greeting or farewell or a salutation. "Aloha" means mutual regard and affection and extends warmth in caring with no obligation in return. "Aloha" is the essence of relationships in which each person is important to every other person for collective existence. "Aloha" means to hear what is not said, to see what cannot be seen and to know the unknowable.
(b) In exercising their power on behalf of the people and in fulfillment of their responsibilities, obligations and service to the people, the legislature, governor, lieutenant governor, executive officers of each department, the chief justice, associate justices, and judges of the appellate, circuit, and district courts may contemplate and reside with the life force and give consideration to the "Aloha Spirit". [L 1986, c 202, §1]
So those tour buses, then, are driven with love, or patience, kindness, or maybe even modesty. Not bad for a company that has to deal with the complex demands of the tourism industry. But it’s not enough to live with the aloha spirit on vacation; I’m trying to bring it with me back home. So this post is written to you, with aloha.