Learning from a Hawaiian historical writer in Kona

I was in Kona, Hawaii recently on vacation, and there was a word I wanted to track down. It sounded like “How-lee,” and was used by Hawaiians to describe white foreigners. Okay, I admit, I learned this from watching Hawaii Five-O. Yes, I admit to watching this, but only when I need to put my brain on pause.

The first person I asked about this word, was an American, living in Kona for the past 7 years. He said the word referred to all whites, and was because the Hawaiians thought the whites were so white, they had an almost “Halo,” around their heads. Thus the word was born. Okay, the guy sold tours, was originally from Portland, and I thought, there must be some better description.

I was lucky enough to run into Boyd Bond, a local historian on the Big Island, whose family goes back seven generations on the island. Boyd cleared up the definition for me. He said that Hawaiians considered their breath sacred. They expelled air before they enter their holy places, and they exchanged breath when greeting one another, a term they call, “honi.”

The word I thought was How-Lee, is actually Haole, and means without breath. The Hawaiian’s thought the Europeans were, “breathless.” I tracked this down on Wikipedia, and one professor, went so far as to say, it implied that foreigners were aloof and ignorant, and had no spirit of life within.

What a difference in two definitions. I hope when I return to Kona, I’ll perhaps meet the person who told me about the “Halo,” and set him straight. As a further acknowledgement, I want to thank Boyd Bond, the very informative historian, who is writing a book of historical fiction. I’m sure with his wealth of knowledge, he will do very well.

Now, as I realize, that the Hawaiians were right, many of the Europeans, perhaps were without breath, and did not realize the spirit within them. After all, they came to the Paradise of Hawaii, and tried to change it into their own. How much more of “without spirit,” could that be?

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Lyle Nicholson is the author of four novels, two novellas and a short story, as well as several articles published in Canadian Magazines and Newspapers. His path to his writing was first as a terrible actor in a Johnny Cash movie, called Gospel Road. He played Andrew the Apostle and apologizes to all who see him in the movie.
He was also a disobedient monk for several years and left the monastery to work at several jobs he’d was highly unsuccessful at until he started his own sales agency, where he finally had success. This was to the delight of his wife and his mother.
He retired in 2011 and took up writing full time. He now lives with his lovely wife in Kelowna, where he writes, cooks and indulges in fine wines.