Definition of Haole

Haole is a Hawaiian term used to refer to individuals who are not Native Hawaiian, primarily applied to people of European or white ancestry. The word has been in use since before the arrival of Captain James Cook in the 18th century.

Origins and Meanings

The exact origin of the word "haole" is uncertain, but some theories suggest it may have derived from the Hawaiian words "hā" (breath) and "'ole" (without), implying that early Hawaiians perceived white foreigners as "breathless" or "without breath." However, this etymology is disputed by linguists. While the term can be used in a neutral or descriptive sense, it has also been used in a derogatory or discriminatory manner, depending on the context. Historically, it referred to any foreigner, but over time, it became more specifically associated with white Americans and Europeans.

Usage and Connotations

The connotations of "haole" range from positive, neutral, and descriptive to invective, depending on the context and intent. It can be used to describe:
  • White or Caucasian individuals
  • Americans or English-speaking foreigners
  • Introduced or foreign elements (e.g., plants, animals)
  • Behaviors, attitudes, or styles perceived as non-Hawaiian or "mainland" in nature
Some Native Hawaiians have used the term as an insult or racial pejorative, while others argue it is simply a descriptive term reflecting the history of racial oppression in Hawaii. In contemporary usage, "haole" is generally understood as a term for white or Caucasian individuals, particularly those of European or American descent living in Hawaii. The term "local haole" refers to those of European ancestry born and raised in the Hawaiian islands.
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