Letters 3-25-2013


Haole

The last word on the controversial word?

Has it really come to this, where we have to bicker back and forth in the newspaper over a single word?

Speaking from a Caucasian point of view, if history serves me correctly, we the “haoles” came here from the mainland as explorers and visitors, long before the islands became a U.S. state and as you read further you will see that it all comes down to how the word is used or meant by the person speaking it.

As you will see in the last paragraph, which explains how the word came to be, you will see that it was used simply to describe a person who was foreign to the Hawaiian custom of noses touching noses and inhaling to share each other’s breath.

So, I think to sum up the entire issue, if the word is used in a derogatory way, than, yes, you can consider it wrong or offensive.

However if you use it in a nonderogatory way, such as trying to point someone out in a crowd, then, no, it is not derogatory.

When my realtor, who I consider a friend, who was born and raised on this island, calls herself a haole girl I’m pretty sure she is not meaning it in a derogatory way.

With that being said, can we please quit wasting our breath on a moot point?

Please read the following and get over it: Haole — in the Hawaiian language, is generally used to refer to an individual that fits one (or more) of the following: “white person, American, Englishman, Caucasian; formerly, any foreigner; foreign, introduced, of foreign origin, as plants, pigs, chickens.”

The origins of the word predate the 1778 arrival of Captain James Cook (which is the generally accepted date of first contact with Westerners), as recorded in several chants stemming from antiquity.

Its use historically has ranged from descriptive to racist invective.

Historically, 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. 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, “haole” evolved into a term that was often used in contempt.

It evolved further to racial meaning, replacing malihini (newcomer) in addressing people of Caucasian descent who move to Hawaii from the U.S. mainland by the 1860s.

A 1906 phrase book sometimes translates it to “English (language)”. Today, it is often applied to any who are of Caucasian ancestry, or to those who think or behave in a foreign manner.

Etymology: A common popular etymology claim is that the word is derived from the literal meaning “no breath.” Some Hawaiians 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, 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.

Ben Schaumberg

Kailua-Kona