Understanding Aloha

By Sarah Waffle Gavin

As a lifelong traveler and fan of travel, I’ve always been super-intrigued by the Hawaiian notion of “Aloha.”

The word means “hello.” It also means “goodbye.” As our Expedia Viewfinder bloggers learned during our team-building summit on Maui earlier this year, the word also connotes the process of sharing breath, or life, with another person—of being in the moment and interacting with the soul of someone else.

Whichever definition you choose to embrace, you can’t dispute that “Aloha” is a powerful word.

Way back in April, when our team was on Maui, we announced an essay contest for island high and middle school students in conjunction with our friends at the Maui and Convention Visitors Bureau. As part of this contest, we asked participants to describe what “aloha” meant to them (in 250 words or less). We received more than 60 submissions. Finally, we have chosen two winners.

Both of the winning students received US$1,000 in travel vouchers to be used on Expedia.com—US$500 for themselves, and US$500 for their teachers. The students also won the honor of having their essays published here.

The first winning essay was submitted by Jeanne Riley from Olowalu. Here it is in its entirety.

       On Maui, Aloha means that you have compassion, that you’re loved and that you always go above and beyond to make sure people are at ease. Aloha is often used in greetings such as hello and goodbye; however to Native Hawaiians aloha means much more. It is a way of life sometimes called the “Aloha Spirit.” If you have Aloha spirit, you care for the island and ancient Hawaiian culture. Another meaning of Aloha is love back to you and your family. In modern days, people shaka and say Aloha to show their appreciation or gratitude.

      The feeling of Aloha is present when you spend much time in nature and give to the earth. As you swim with tropical fish, hike through a forest, and jump off ancient lava fields into the crystal-clear water, you feel at home with nature. Another way to show Aloha on Maui is to never litter and always keep our island clean. On Maui Aloha is shown by your respect for the island and the people.

       To me Aloha also means that you show respect to your elders and treat people the way you want to be treated. In my house we show Aloha by equally doing and sharing chores. Also, when my brother and I fight we equally agree that both of us are right. Over the years I was taught that Aloha means love, hello, goodbye, and gratitude. It’s a small word that will live forever.

The second winning essay was submitted by was submitted by Zoe Whitney, from Kula.

       “Auntie,” hesitantly, I smile from behind my phone. “We have extra,” hollers a little boy as he waddles towards me in giant rubber slippers. I glance at the noisy beach potluck behind him. One of the grandmas smiles at me and adds, “Come make a plate.” The family is inviting me, a total stranger, to join their meal. Awkwardly, I thank anyone who will listen while landscaping a bowl with rice ridges and shoyu seas. “You want some chicken?” a man calls over his shoulder to me from the cement park grill.

       The smell of charcoal and teriyaki swirl with trade winds. I look back uncertainly: he is offering me the first piece, before any of the actual guest. Politely, I try to decline. “It’s okay, I think my ride just got here.” “Here,” he balances a slice on my plate incessantly, “Take it with you.” And I did. I took with me the realization that I’ll always be surrounded by family in Hawaii.

       Aloha is the celebration of a life full of compassion. This spirit of aloha can only be described as an entire island living as loving family. Such a mindset spills into the language proudly and without apology. This is why Hawaii is the kind of place you can call complete strangers, “Uncle,” “Auntie,” “Sistah,” “Bruddah,” or “Cuz.” I returned a smile; that was the only thing a little boy needed to know before inviting me into his family. This is truly Hawaii, this is truly aloha.

We know that the greatest treasure of any destination is the people, and we feel that we all truly learned something about Hawaii by reading these essays. We hope you learn something, too.