Don’t Call Me Haole… Unless You Mean It

Kudos to USA Today writer Martin Kosindorf for covering the La`au Point issue and giving a national audience some insight onto what has been happening politically on Molokai. Kosindorf’s article is, in all, a balanced estimation of the opinions of most of Molokai’s people regarding any type of development on the island, and provides a breakdown of the basic issues which should be easy for an off-islander to understand.

Even so; the article has it’s detractors, but not over the portrayal of opinions; this controversy is over language. Specifically, there have been questions asked about the term ‘haole’ and whether it implies racism. Molokai’s Annie Van Eps was quoted in Kosindorf’s story as saying "When you bring in rich haoles, there are problems. They're rude, they honk, they just don't fit in."

Ms Van Eps, who is white, says that she never used the term ‘haole’ and that Kasindorf, in paraphrasing her reflection on the social fabric of the island, made her come off as prejudiced because the term haole carries a certain connotation: “people who don’t know us may judge us by the color of our skin and not the color of our heart”.

The USA Today article has had a fair bit of feedback posted on their website in the form of comments related to what it means to use the term haole. Some say the term is merely descriptive and simply means ‘outsider’ and is not meant to be an insult. Others contend that the term can mean anything from ‘soulless’, to “white man” and find the term offensive.

As most cultural authorities will tell you, a language’s original meaning is almost utterly inconsequential; it is the colloquial employment of language which gives words their true power. Words like ‘Eskimo’, ‘Colored’, or ‘Indian’ (in reference to Native Americans) may have innocent origins, but their use today- by anyone other than those individuals about whom the term was meant to describe- in western society is frowned upon and will lead to an outcry if uttered by politicians, movie stars, or anyone else in the public eye.

The term haole, of course, has a few advantages: first, it generally denotes white people and, like the Mexican and Japanese terms gringo and gaijin respectively, has therefore remained in the public’s acceptable lexicon longer than terms referring to the ethnicity of non-whites. Second, many people use the term without the slightest hint of malice, and equally numerous haoles freely self-apply the term and are therefore not offended by its proliferation.

The fact that there are people who are offended by it, however, would suggest that its days could be numbered; political correctness has homogenized the way people speak everywhere in the world, and for an ethnic term that is frequently hurled about as an insult to survive the wave of change is unlikely.

The problem, of course, is that it is used in a derogatory sense. Nobody bats an eyelash if somebody calls a white person haole if they have a smile on their face and aloha in their tone. Hawaiian language is sacred, and it would be a shame if Hawaiians had to stop using their full vocabulary. What is needed then, if haole is to survive, is a new word– one perhaps, that denotes a bull-headed, cocky, selfish outsider who does not malama this land of its wonderful inhabitants.

To view Kosindorf’s article, along with reader’s comments, go to


3 Responses to “Don’t Call Me Haole… Unless You Mean It”

  1. Manoakua says:

    Adam’s commentary on the term ‘Haole’ and its applications is interesting, not least due to its recognition of the fact that acknowledged authorities on traditional Hawaiian culture offer a number of possible origins for the term, with no uniform consensus on its factual historic derivation. I would strongly agree that the context in which the term is used is the critical qualifier. F’instance, the term ‘haole’ used to address a friend or someone whom one knows, and especially if delivered in an obviously well-intended manner (say with a smile, etc.), is no more insulting than ‘Chicano’. If used in an obviously aspersive manner (i.e. ‘Stupid haole!’), with clear and unveiled animosity evident, it can be taken as a mild slur. I would agree, however, that as the times have changed, there is a significant need for not just one, but perhaps a couple of new words to differentiate between contributing, positive ‘haoles’ (who bring harmonious attitudes and awarenesses with them, as they acculturate to indigneous island sentiments and attitudes) and those whose privileged (so they think) upper-class mainland status and lifestyle presupposes arrogance and selfish disregard for the welfare of all Hawaiians (Kanaka Maoli, Kamaiana, AND FOB haoles). Might I suggest ‘Haole okole’ for the really unpleasant ones (he said, tongue carefully planted in cheek–and I don’t mean ‘okole-cheek’ here, either!) :)
    In ancient Hawaiian language usage, there were many terms used to describe the ocean and its constantly varying forms and appearances, just as in the Innuit language of the Arctic regions, there are dozens of words used to describe ice, and an equal number used in Saudi Arabia to describe sand. Perhaps that precedent suggests the addition of a few new terms to refer to these obnoxious haoles would be well advised, eh?
    “Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono”,

  2. locomoco says:

    What, you mean like “budahead” ‘cept for haoles instead? How ’bout like we used to say back in hanabata days, “coas’haole”. Y’know, “West Coast haole” kine guys. Noddawords, not local haole an’ neva onnastan’ da culture. Huhu cuz no mo’ Mickey D’s in Molokai, li’dat.

  3. gomolokai says:

    There is an indigenous population of native people in Hawaii. They are just as indigenous as are Native American Indians and Eskimo. A person born in Hawaii does not become indigenous just because they have a state of Hawaii birth place. The Hawaiian people have a long history going back at least to 650 AD. If you knew anything about Hawaiian history, you would know that the people who were the first foreigners were westerner sailors, first as explorers and later as whalers. There were English, French, Russian and American as early visitors to Hawaii, all foreign. The word came from the way that people greeted each other. The honi, is the greeting where the foreheads and noses meet face to face, while the people breath in. The westerners did not do this in their greetings, hence, no breath or haole. About ever 5 years, there is a debate about the word in which has to be explained it was never intended as a racial slur, only a descriptive word for a new group of people coming to Hawaii. So every so often, people have to be educated. In some sense, it means “your ways are not my ways”. But that is in the context of the origins where the sea captains and crews did not breath in nor greet face to face the way the ancient Hawaiians did.

    It is bothersome that people try to claim to be indigenous or native Hawaiian when they are not. That is because just like the American Indians and Eskimos, there are certain rights which go with being indigenous. Some of these rights are written into the state constitution because they existed before Hawaii became a state. These rights are necessary so that the native people do not become extinct which was a real possibility at one time in their history. In modern terms, it prevents cultural genocide which is the concern of Molokai people who are against La’au. The forced assimilation brought about by transmigration is a serious concern. Putting 200 houses in represents 400 new people. To put that in perspective, the population of Molokai increases by about 500 people every 10 years. It is currently at 7,200 according to the 2000 census. 400 rich people is a huge change in demographics and they bring with them their foreign ways. Although Hawaii is a state, the indigenous population has a culture which is very different than the American way. On Molokai, that culture is more evident than else where in the Hawaiian Islands. In other words, the Hawaiian culture has resisted western change the most on Molokai. Hence, no to La’au and the changes it will bring.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.