How to Pronounce Words in Hawaiian (‘Ōlelo Hawai’i)

A“ah” like “Car”
E“eh” like “Met”
I“ee” like “Feet”
O“oh” like “Hole”
U“oo” like “Boot”
AE“ah-eh” like “Wyatt”
AI“ah-ee” like “Bike”
AO“ah-oh” like “Cow”
AU“ah-oo” like “Out”
EI“eh-ee” like “Babe”
IU“ee-oo” like “Few”
OI“oh-ee” like “Toy”
OU“oh-oo” like “Row”
In general…
If a word begins with “W” or if it follows “U” or “O”, it is frequently, but not always, pronounced as in “Water” (e.g. Wailuku – Wahyee-loo-koo).

If “W” follows “I” or “E”, it is usually pronounced as “V” as in “Valor”.
(e.g. Ewa Beach — Eh-vah)

If “W” follows “A”, it might be pronounced as “V” or “W”.
(e.g. Lawa — Lah-vah;
Makawao — Mah-kah-wow)
The ‘okina, which is often written with an apostrophe (‘), signifies a glottal stop. The ‘okina breaks-up vowels, so they don’t become diphthongs. It is almost like there are semicolons in the middle of words which separate syllables. The ‘okina can totally change the meaning of a word.
(e.g. Lānaʻi — Lah-nah-ee = Name of Island off the coast of Maui;
Lānai — Lah-naee = Porch or balcony;
Ka’i –Kah-ee = To coach, train, march;
Kai = Kaee = Saltwater, ocean water)
The kahako is a macron which is written as a line above certain vowels that indicates a vowel that is held creating a stress in the pronunciation of a word. (e.g. Haleakalā – Ha-le-a-ka-LA)

Roles of Paddlers in the Canoe

Seat #1Stroker (Mua) who sets the pace for the rest of the paddlers
Seat #2Second Stroker who follows the pace set by Seat #1 and is followed by Seat #4
Seat #3Part of the Engine Room and is usually also the Caller who does the kāhea (i.e. calls the changes)
Seat #4Part of the Engine Room who helps to move the canoe
Seat #5Part of the Engine Room and backup Steersperson
Seat #6Steersperson (Ho’okele)

Paddling Commands

Walk the canoe forward/
Walk it back
While seated in the canoe at the boat launch ramp, use your hand to move the canoe forward or back along the dock. Don’t let go of the dock.
on the
Rest your paddle on the gunwale of the canoe. Almost immediately followed by Mākaukau/Paddles up. Place your paddle with the blade on the opposite side of the person in front of you. Generally, the Stroker will begin on the left, so Seat #2 will begin on the right, etc.
Mākaukau /
Put your paddles in ready position, that is, above the water and prepare to begin paddling. This command literally means “Ready, prepare, able, competent, capable, handy, efficient, proficient, versed, adept, skilled, qualified; to make ready, to prepare.” As you put your paddle and yourself in ready position, you can respond, “‘Ae,” (pronounced, “eye”) “Yes, consent, agree, approve, confirm.”
Paddles up /
Hoe hapai
See Mākaukau / Ho’omākaukau
Huki“To pull.” Begin paddling.
HitBegin paddling or take only 1 stroke if you are doing Hit Drills
Hut/HoThe kāhea said by the Caller (usually the paddler in Seat #3) to initiate everyone changing sides on which they are paddling. After you hear “Hut,” generally said that the top of a stroke, respond by saying, “Ho,” as you take one more stroke on the side of which you are currently paddling. Then immediately switch sides.
LawaStop paddling. Literally, “enough, sufficient, adequate.”
Hold waterAn action to stop the canoe from moving. Plant your paddle in the water on the left side of the canoe with the blade perpendicular to the gunwale.
Back paddleStroke on the left side of the canoe starting from the back and moving towards the front. Stay in time with the Stroker.
Buck it overThis action moves the canoe laterally to the right. Place your paddle in the water against the left side of the canoe with the blade parallel to the gunwale. Then push your paddle to the left towards the ama.
KahiLiterally, “to cut.” Place your paddle in the water away from the canoe with the blade parallel to the gunwale. Then, push the blade under the canoe. This draw stroke is generally done by Seats #1 & #2 and usually on the left. On the Steerperson’s command, it could occasionally be done by Seat #1 on the right while everyone else leans left.
DrawSee Kahi. The Steersperson will usually indicate which side to stroke, e.g. “Draw left” or “Draw right.”
Power up /
Dig in
Put more pressure on the blade; bring your paddling effort up to 100% power. This command is often used when the Steersperson is fighting strong wind or current to make a turn or maneuver to the dock.
on the left
All paddlers paddle on the left side of the canoe. If you are already paddling on the left side, stay there; if you are paddling on the right side, immediately switch over to the left. This command is used to put more pressure on the ama and make the canoe more stable usually when making a turn in choppy water.
MahaloLiterally, “gratitude; to give thanks.” Done at the end of practice when the canoe returns to the dock. The Steersperson will count to three (in English or Hawaiian) and everyone is invited to express gratitude for a safe paddle by saying “Mahalo” often accompanied by tapping tenderly on the side of the canoe.
PostReach out and place your paddle in the water on the left side of the canoe away from the gunwale. Your blade should be parallel to the side of the canoe or slightly turned out. This is can be done by the Stroker to help turn the canoe left or by the Steersperson to turn the canoe right. If the Steersperson has to do a hard poke on the right, Seat #5 may be asked to post on the left.
KauLiterally, “to put, to set, to place.” See Post.
UneLiterally, “to lever.” Generally, this is done by Seat #1 to assist the Steersperson in turning the canoe around a flag during a sprint race. Seat #1, places the blade of his or her paddle against the right side of the canoe parallel to the gunwale. This is similar to when the Steersperson pokes to turn the canoe.
I mua
Literally, “to go forward, progress.” Everyone paddles forward. This command is usually given after the canoe has made a turn around a flag during a sprint race and the Steersperson wants the canoe to go straight.
PokePlace your paddle flat against the side of the canoe. If done by the Steersperson to turn the canoe, try to angle the blade forward. See Une above done by Seat #2 during a sprint turn.

Hawaiian Words

‘AeYes, consent, agree, approve, confirm.
AkamaiWisdom, skill; wise, smart, skillful
ʻĀkauRight, right side; north, nothern
AlohaLove, affection, compassion, mercy, sympathy, pity, kindness, sentiment, grace, charity; greeting, salutation, regards; sweetheart, lover, loved one; beloved, loving, kind, compassionate, charitable, lovable; to love, be fond of; to show kindness, mercy, pity, charity, affection; to venerate; to remember with affection; to greet, hail. Greetings! Hello! Good-bye! Farewell!
HeleTo go, move, walk, act.
Hele MaiCome towards me
HemaLeft, left side; south, southern
HikinaEast, eastern
Ho’okeleSteersperson, navigator; Seat #6
HuliTo flip or turn over
‘IkeTo see, perceive, recognize, feel, experience, show, make known, display, announce, notify, inform, reveal; knowledge, understanding, learning
KāheaTo call, cry out. This is what we refer to as “calling the changes,” i.e. “Hut! Ho!” usually said by Seat #3.
KaiSaltwater, ocean water, sea
Ka’iTo train (for as for racing), lead, direct, lift up, carry, march in a procession; coach
KialoaA long, light, and beautifully finished canoe; a tall, well-proportioned, beautiful woman
KomohanaWest, western
Ku’auShaft of the paddle
KuleanaResponsibility (often within a reciprocal relationship)
KupunaAncestor, grandparent, respected elder regardless of familial relation; starting point, source
LaulauBlade of the paddle
LimaHand, arm, finger; sleeve
LuaToilet or restroom
Mahalo“Thank you!” Gratitude, admiration, praise, esteem, regards, respects; to admire, praise, appreciate, thank
Maika’iGood, fine, all right, well
MālamaTo take care of, tend, attend, care for, preserve, protect
MeleSong, anthem, or chant of any kind; poem, poetry; to sing, chant
MoanaOcean, open sea, lake
MuaSeat #1, the Stroker. Literally, “before, ahead, forward, in advance, future, front, first, former, foremost, primary, principal.”
OliChant that was not danced to, especially with prolonged phrases chanted in one breath; joy, exultation, gladness, delight, pleasure, rejoice
PauDone, finished, completed, ended, terminated
PōheoheoT-grip knob at the top of the paddle
PonoGoodness, uprightness, morality, moral qualities, correct or proper procedure, excellence, well-being, equity, true condition or nature, duty; moral, fitting, proper, righteous, right, upright, just, virtuous, fair, beneficial, successful, in perfect order, accurate, correct, eased, relieved; should, ought, must, necessary
PulePrayer; to pray
Wa’aA general word for canoe
Wa’a KaukahiSingle hull canoe with one outrigger
Wa’a KauluaDouble hull canoe

Parts of the Canoe & Paddle

The image above is from the Kihei Canoe Club.

Wa’aGeneral word for “Canoe”
Wa’a KaukahiSingle hull canoe with one outrigger
AmaOutrigger float
‘IakoWooden boom that connects the main hull of the canoe to the ama
MukuThe end of the ‘iako on the right side of the canoe
‘AhaRope, cord
Kaula LikiniRigging; lashings
Kino/Ka’eleHull; “body” of the canoe
WaeSpreaders on which the ‘iakos are attached to the hull
Ihu Wa’aBow (front end of the canoe)
Manu IhuNose, forward piece of the canoe
Pale KaiSplash guard to divert waves from going into the canoe; don’t hold when you are moving or lifting the canoe
Hope Wa’aStern (back end of the canoe)
Manu HopeTail, aft piece of the canoe
PōheoheoT-grip knob at the top of the paddle
Image from Pa’a Pono Miloli’i