Olelo No'eau

Proverbs of Hawai'i


The following are some Hawaiian proverbs which have been preserved and handed down from generation to generation through Hawaii's oral tradition. The sayings were gathered by Mary Kawena Pukui and can be found in 'Olelo No'eau , Bishop Museum Press.


E ho'a'o no i pau kuhihewa.

Translation: Try it to end the panic.

Explanation: Often we stress out just worrying about doing a difficult job. This proverb advises as an American saying puts it, "Just do it!"


Hahai no ka ua i ka ulula'au.

Translation: The rain follows after the forest.

Explanation: Destroy the forest, the rains will cease to fall, and the land will become a desert. If only our scientists knew this when the ancient Hawaiians did.


O ka makapo wale no ka mea hapapa i ka pouli.

Translation: Only the blind gropes in the darkness.

Explanation: If you have no direction in life, you'll get nowhere or another way to put it is, "If you're going nowhere, you're guarenteed to get there."


I mohala no ka lehua i ke ke'ekehi 'ia e ka ua.

Translation: The Lehua blossom unfolds when the rains tread on it.

Explanation: People respond better to gentle words than to scoldings.


Pupukahi i holomua.

Translation: Unite to move forward.

Explanation: By working together we make progress. This saying would be especially applicable to the Hawaiians on their canoes where each paddler would have to pull the paddles together on command in order to make the canoe move forward quickly forward.


E lauhoe mai na wa'a; i ke ka, i ka hoe; i ka hoe, i ke ka; pae aku i ka 'aina.

Translation: Paddle together, bail, paddle; paddle, bail; paddle towards the land.

Explanation: If everybody works together the work will be done quickly. On interisland trips, the two most important tools besides the sail were the paddles and the bailer. In heavy seas, the water would wash over the boat and so one or more natives would be constant bailing. Others would be paddling together on command to reach their destination in the shortest time.


I ka 'olelo no ke ola, i ka 'olelo no ka make.

Translation: In speech is life, in speech is death.

Explanation: In ancient Hawai'i, a kahuna 'ana'ana could pray someone to death or counter another's death prayer. The saying tells the Hawaiians that words can either be a source for healing or destroying and so we need to be careful with our words.


He puko'a kani 'aina.

Translation: A coral reef (hardens/strengthens/sounds out) into land.

Explanation: In their travels around the Pacific, the Hawaiians would pass by many coralheads which the the navigators would mark in their memories and pass on their apprentices. Eventually they would notice these small coralheads would grow into a full islands and so comes the advice that we can't expect to be full-blown successes right away, often we start small and over time, like a coralhead, we will mature and be successful.


He lawai'a no ke kai papa'u, he pokole ke aho; he lawai'a no ke kai hohonu he loa ke aho.

Translation: A fisherman of shallow seas uses only a short line; a fisherman of the deep sea uses a long line.

Explanation: You will reach only as far as you aim and prepare yourself to reach.


A'ohe hana nui ka alu'ia.

Translation: No task is too big when done together.

Explanation: United we stand, divided we fall.


Lawe i ka ma'alea a ku'ono'ono.

Translation: Acquire skill and make it deep.

Explanation: If you want to become really good at anything, you've got to study hard and practice long until it gets deep and becomes a part of you.


Kulia i ka nu'u

Translation: Strive for the summit.

Explanation: Strive for the very top of the mountain, strive for excellence. This was the motto of Hawaii's Queen Kapi'olani who did so much for her people.


Onipa'a

Translation: (Be) steadfast.

Explanation: Take your stand and be steadfast in doing what is right no matter what others say. This was the motto of Queen Liliuokalani who was overthrown by the Americans in 1893. Since 1993, the centennial commemoration of that event, Onipa'a has become a rallying cry for Hawaiians seeking redress and Hawaiian sovereignty.


'Ike aku, 'ike mai, kokua aku kokua mai; pela iho la ka nohana 'ohana.

Translation: Recognize others, be recognized, help others, be helped; such is a family relationship.

Explanation: Many native Hawaiians live with their extended family and family is the most important part of life for them. This saying teaches why they should put family first...In the Ohana or family, you know others and they know you, you help others and know you will be helped if there is anything you need.


Maka'ala ke kanaka kahea manu.

Translation: A man who calls birds should always be alert.

Explanation: The Hawaiian alii (chiefs) wore beautiful capes and headdresses crafted by weaving in thousands of tiny feathers. The Kanaka kahea manu, the bird-catcher, would imitate bird-calls to attract the birds to catch them, pluck out a small number of tiny feathers and let them go. Once he had called the birds, he had to stay alert and be prepared to catch them quickly when they came near. The saying advises one who wishes to succeed to be alert to any opportunity that should arise.