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A version of this article with Hawaiian words respelled using modern orthography, and other changes, is accessible here.

Hawaiian Almanac and Annual [1883] pp52-58




[with 81 additional proverbs and notes by C.M. Hyde]

Dean French, in his valuable work on the proverbial sayings of different nations of Europe, very truly remarks (in effect) that more can be learned of the real characteristics of a people or race by a study of their proverbs than by any other means. The ancient Hawaiian tongue was rich in pithy sayings, short and energetic, that were much in use among the chiefs, but which, with the disappearance of the alii class, have mostly become forgotten. The following collection of Hawaiian proverbs, figurative phrases, and rhetorical epithets, comprises a few only among many which may still be remembered by others.

1.Hilinai Puna kalele ia Kau.Trusting to Puna is leaning on Kau.The application is to one who is credited on account of his backers.994
2.Ua lea kaena a ka lai, ua malie.Everything is pleasant and smooth.(Satirical.)
3.Nui kalakalai, manumanu ka loaa.Much hewing, resulting only in a lot of chips.Synonymous with "A great cry and little wool."2348
4.Na manu kolea kau ahua."Birds of a feather flock together."
5.Aohe loea i ka wai opae.No skill required in catching shrimps.
6.Ka lele aau o na manu o Kiwaa.The scared flight of the birds of Kiwaa.Applied to a general panic.
7.Make auanei i ka moana a pae kupapau i Lanai.Die in the ocean and his corpse float ashore on Lanai.Referring to a person embarking in a hazardous enterprise.2103
8.He akuahanai ka rama.Rum is a poison-god.
9.Aia i kula i ka alaalapuloa.[Gone on the plain to gather ʻalaʻalapūloa]The alaalapuloa, sometimes called uhola, is a species of useless shrub, and hence the proverb — Gone on a fool's errand.49
10.Alaalawa na maka o ka aihue.The eyes of a thief look every way.[An expression of suspicion toward a shifty-eyed person.]104
11.Aohe pilipili aina mai.No where's near land.Meaning one who is very far from obtaining what he desires.(204)
12.Pili nakekeke.Literally, Loosely fastened.Unreliable person, not permanent.
13.Ua hele i ke alamaaweiki.He has gone along the untrodden path.When one dies.
14.Kuipeia e ka makani apaa.Knocked flat by the wind apaa. [ʻĀpaʻapaʻa]Sudden disaster.1884
15.Ehuehu ahiahi.The red sky of evening. — applied to old age.295
16.He eleelepi — ka waha o kanaka.Dashing of the waves in different directions.Spoken of men of totally different minds.(And.)
17.Pohaku eleku.stone easily broken; [a dark lava rock]and hence, a good for nothing, cowardly person. [a dark-skinned person]2674
18.Hawawa ka heenalu, hai ka papa.The awkward person breaks the board in riding on the surf — applied to those who undertake something with which they are not familiar.504
19.Oheke ole kanaka wahi alii.People about the chief are without modesty,presuming. (And.)
20.Hapala ia i ka hawena.Daubed with white — applied to a grey headed man who has but little sense.483
21.Mai noho a hele kikaha aku.Don't walk hither and yon.Don't act without an object.
22.Mai noho a makamaka ilio, i ka huelo ka ike.Don't be friends with the dog, for the tail will show it.Applied to disreputable acquaintanceships.
22.Ua kaha aku la ka nalu o kuu aina.The surf has pressed upon my land:— meaning that one is in adverse circumstances.
23.Kahihi ka puka e ka upena nanana. The entrance is stopped with a spider's web.Applied to a person who is slandered.(1307)
24.Pau ka pali, hala ka luuluu kaumaha. Past the precipice, past the fears.An expression of congratulation on trouble ended.2607
25.He alamakahinu.A greased forehead.Applied to a person who goes frequently to a chief for favors.(528)
26.Ke hui nei kalo i ka nawao.The eatable of the worthless taro are mixed;hence, good and evil joined.
27.Pai na lima, ae na waha.The hands strike, the mouths assent;a solemn promise.
27.Aohe pilo uku.Nothing wrong in the pay;meaning that any reward is acceptable.205

Note. — I have made quite a collection of Hawaiian sayings, some of which it might be well to add to these which Mr. Sheldon has furnished. These are not all maxims or gnomic sayings. Many are rhetorical allusions, or even perhaps slang phrases. Some are snatches of old meles or poems. These have come to be by-words. Some have gained general currency, and are known all over the group. Others are of local origin, and are familiar only in certain districts. Just as we have various names for these sayings, adage, aphorism, apothegm, axiom, so the Hawaiians call these variously, olelo hoonaauao, poeko, poleko, poweko, mikolelehua, mikololohua, palolohua, loea, hookaau, hoohuakeo, maa, kuluma. There are many used as expressions of admiration.

28.Uwene ke kolopa,"The crow-bar rings sharply," applied to successful [54] effort. 2889
29.Pali ke kua, mahina ke alo,"A back straight as a precipice, a front round as the moon,"is a favorite phrase in praise of a well-formed person.2595
30.Oni kalalea ke ku a ka laau loa,"The top of the tall tree waves proudly,"is said in praise of good scholarship.2520
31.Lila ka maia no eʻa: will ka oka'i,"The banana looks withered, but it has an excellent flavor,"is much like our allusion to "singed cats," better than they seem.2003
32.Maemae i ke kai ka pua o ka hala,"The pandanus blossom is fairest by the sea,"is like our common saying, "The rose that all are praising, Oh! that's the rose for me."(2035)
33.Kiilili pua hau o Kalena,"Well dressed as the flowers of Kalena,"(a hill at Makawao, near a beautiful sheet of water, Kiowai).1792
34.Ke aalii kumakani o Hopoe,"The stately tree of Hopoe,"(a famous rock in Puna,) is the laudatory epithet of a well-formed man.
35.Niniu Puna po i ke ala,"Puna renowned for its loveliness,"is a similar expression.2316

The Hawaiians like to bestow flattering titles on their chiefs, and one of Kalakaua's epithets among his adherents is "Kauliluaikeanu." "The dark blue mountain top," in allusion to one of their admiring epithets of Waialeale, the mountain on Kauai, which is as beautiful to a native of that island as Fusiyama is to the Japanese.

These last sayings bring out one peculiarity of the Hawaiians,— their local attachments and the high esteem in which certain places are held. These are often spoken of only by such fancy names, as in the United States are given to the Old Bay State, the Land of Wooden Nutmegs, the Elm City, the City of Churches, etc. We have in Hawaii,

36.Ke kai wehe poli o ka leiewaho, as the name applied to the sea between Oahu and Kauai.
37.Ke kai malino mai Kekaha a hiki i Milolii, is the calm smooth water between Kekaha and Milolii.
38.Ke kai hawanawana o Kawaihae,"The whispering sea of Kawaihae."[Said of Kawaihae, Kohala]1719
39.Malihini au i ke kai o Kuloloia,"I don't know much about the harbor of Honolulu,"which is simply a deep basin with precipitous sides in a shallow girdling coral reef.
40.O ke Ehukai o Puaena, Waialua (is called), after its gray seaspray.
41.Pulu elo i ka ua Kanilehua,"Getting wet with the rain that patters on the lehua blossoms."Hilo is seldom alluded to oratorically, without speaking of the...2737
42.Huai ka malu ulu o Lele i ka malie,"The grove of breadfruit trees rises in the grateful warmth,"Lahaina is spoken of with loving admiration,(1117)
43.Ka puu panoa i ka la."The hillside lying bare in the glare of the sun,"(while) Lahainaluna is
44.Ka makani kuloio o Hamakua brings to mind the strong trade wind which blows over Hamakua;
45.Ka ua Kipuupuu o Waimea.[The Kipuʻupuʻu rain of Waimea]while Waimea is equally well-known for its drenching rain,1571
46.Wailuku i aloha nui ia o ka malu hekuwawa.Wailuku is "Shaded by the Westering sun,"(2912)

Different nationalities have their appropriate epithets.

47.Na ahi maka kepau o Maikonisia alludes to "the glaring eyes" of the Micronesians.
48.Na hiena lehelehe eueu o Fiji in like manner notes "the projecting lips" characteristic of the people of Fiji.
49.Ka poe Pake o Waapaa"The soft and weak (!) people of Waapaa,"The Chinese are... and Pake is their universal appellation.
Of course, these personal allusions will run into nicknames, given because of some personal peculiarity.

[55] There are a great many derisive phrases. The Hawaiians are experts in the use of taunting allusions.

50.Kolekole kou maka,"Your eyes are red,"is a common taunt when any one has asked a favor and been denied.
51.E ku no ia ma kapuka o ka hoka,"He will stand at the door of disappointment,"is said of any one doomed to defeat.
52.I ke alo iho no ka ulu, a hala,"The maika stone was right in front but it missed,"has reference to the national game of bowling.1201, (1942)
53.Haumanumanu e ka ipu inoino e,"How full of holes is that dirty calabash,"is said of an ill-favored person.492
54.Kamalii ike ole i ka helu malama,"The child don't know the number of the months;"Ignorance is shamed by saying,...(1471)
55.Aia i ka mole kamalii,"Children always begin at the foundation;"the folly of children is no matter for astonishment.(40)
56.Ka poe unaunahi hee o Kula,"The backwoods people of Kula who tried to scale the hee"Awkwardness is commonly hit off by an allusion to... (heʻe: the squid, or more correctly, the octopus, which has suckers, but not scales).
57.Ka hee o kai uli, ka pae ka alaala,"The squid of the deep blue sea has a peculiar bunch."While plumpness is admired, excessive corpulence is ridiculed by such phrases as...
58.Ka puhi o ke Ale, ahu ka olo,"That eel from Ale is all wrinkled up."A man with a double chin is called...1545
59.Wehea iho maluna o Hihimanu,"Mount Hihimanu is all clear on top."For some reason bald-heads are a butt for frequent witticisms.
60.Ka ia nuia kaua i kipukaone,"Our big fish is on that spot of shining sand."(baldness)
61.Ka ua pookea i ke oho o ke kiwainui,"The hoar-frost is fallen on the top of this big ki plant"A double play on words is that which calls a bald head...
62.Kapuahi heu ia e ka pueo,"The owl's oven,"(baldness) in allusion to the fact, that the Hawaiian oven is in the ground which must be cleared of weeds and all vegetable growth, just as an owl scratches bare the place where she is going to make a nest.

There are many sly hits at people who are quarrelsome.

63.Lele liilii ka lehu o kapuahi,"He is scattering the ashes of the fireplace."[Said of one whose wrath sends everybody going in all directions to get out of his way...]1986
64.Ku ke ehu o na wahi auwaa liilii,"How the spray dashes up before that fleet of little canoes!"is like our "tempest in a teapot."1900
65.Pii ka ihu o ka naia i ka makani,"The porpoise always holds his nose up to the windward,"is an allusion to the manifestations of rising anger.2635
66.E o mai ana ka ua lipuupuu lipalawai o Lihue,"The rain of Waimea will wet through,"is said of quarrels that hurt both parties.
67.I hooluu hoohualei ia e ka makani,"The wind will stir up all the loose dust,"is an allusion to the fact that angry people will tell what they had better keep concealed. 1168
68.I hooluu hoohualei ia e ka makani,"The wind will stir up all the loose dust,"is an allusion to the fact that angry people will tell what they had better keep concealed. 1168

69.Maloo na iwi o Hua ma i ka la,"The bones of Hua and his company are dry in the sun,"is an allusion to the legend of a chief and his followers who set out on a war-party, but passing to the leeward of the volcano were suffocated by its sulphurous fumes. The discovery of their bones explained the mystery of their sudden disappearance. It is applied to such discovery, or to disappointment in one's schemes.1986
70.Ka auwaa panana kau i Kapua,"The flat bottom fleet has to land at Kapua,"that is, cannot beat to windward. Kapua is the landing place for Kapiolani Park, leeward of Leahi.
71.Mai pii oe i ka lapa manu ole,[56] "Don't go to the ridge where there are no birds,"is like our "going on a wild-goose chase."
72.Awapuhi lau pala male,"The ginger root has a leaf that rots quickly."[Said of a weakling who withers easily, or of anything that passes too soon.]247
73.Hele poala i ke anu o Waimea,[Going in a circle in the cold of Waimea]is an allusion to the wandering around and around, back on one's track, in going to Waimea in the fog.757
74.Hoihoi ka paakai i Waimea,"Oh ho ! you are taking your salt back to Waimea;"A similar saying... the Waimea people taking their poi to the seaside to exchange for salt, but getting lost in the fog would turn back on their track and take their load back to the place they had only just left.1028

Pride is a frequent subject of ridicule, although the Hawaiians with all their shiftlessness, have a genuine admiration for a well-to-do man.

75.He lani iluna, he honua ilalo, onioni ia kulana a paa,"Heaven above, earth below, and his own position firmly fixed,"is their way of applauding a thrifty man.718
76.Ke lino a nei ke kehau o Waiopua,"He glistens with the fine dew of Waimea,"is applied to a man once poor, but subsequently wealthy;1766
77.Ke kaha pili a ka Iakea, while in allusion to a poverty-striken place on Molokai, the Hawaiians say,... like our "came to grief."1715
78.Elieli kulana o Ainaike, A place on Kauai is equally famous for good living, and a thrifty man is... like our saying "He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth."339
79.Kalaiakamamu, And a similar phrase is... a place near Kaunakakai, like our "living on Nob Hill."[PN]

There are many pat phrases of encouragement.

80.Umi ia inui ke aho,"Press hard and take a long breath."(encouragement)(2875)
81.Alu ka pule ia Hakalau,"Let's all join in the prayer of Hakalau,"an old Hawaiian noted for the fervency and efficacy of his prayers.(?)115
82.Aohe keiki hele wale o Kohala,"Your Kohala boys don't travel without making suitable provisions for contingencies." 
83.Haha poele ka papai o Honolulu,"Honolulu people know how to feel for crabs"(in their muddy water).407
84.E ku'i ka mama i loaa o Kaohele."You must hurry up if you would catch Kaohele"(a famous runner in olden time).326
85.Aohe hana a Kauhikoa, ua kau na waa i ke aki,"Kauhikoa has done his work and put the canoes back on their stools.""Everything is lovely, and the goose hangs high," is reproduced in the Hawaiian, ... 139
86.Haa ka mikioi i ke kai o Lehua,"It takes a skillful sailor to go to Lehua,"is a warning not to undertake what you have not the ability to accomplish;
87.Ka ikaika i ke ki, e kuu pokii, la ola,"Pull hard at the ki root my boys, you'll get it at last,"is the Lahainaluna scholars' expression for a student's perseverance till he obtains the mastery, very much like our "grubbing at Greek roots."
88.Ka ikaika i ke ki, e kuu pokii, la ola,"Pull hard at the ki root my boys, you'll get it at last,"is the Lahainaluna scholars' expression for a student's perseverance till he obtains the mastery, very much like our "grubbing at Greek roots."
89.Ako Nuuanu i ka hale halauloa a ka makani. Ako Manoa i ka hale a ka ohu."People thatch their houses in Nuuanu if the wind does blow, and in Manoa in spite of the mist"Perseverance is recommended by such sayings as...101

Many proverbs need acquaintance with Hawaiian national habits and life to fully appreciate their raciness.

90.O ke aloha ka mea i oi aku ka maikai mamua o ka umeke poi a me ka ipukai ia,"Love is far better than the poi dish or the fish bowl."  
91.He kapa maloo ka ili,The skin is a kapa, (Hawaiian cloth) that does not wet through,like our saying if it rains, "l am neither sugar nor salt."672
92.Kau ke poo i ka uluna, o [57] Welehu ka malama, "Put your head on your arm, (i. e. go to sleep, in Hawaiian fashion), this is the month of November"(the rainy season interfering with out-door work, and giving a show of reason for indolent people to indulge their laziness).1617
93.Makaala ke kanaka kuhea manu,"He must be quick-motioned who would snare birds,"alludes to one of their favorite occupations.2087
94.E nihi ka hele i ka uka o Puna,"Step carefully when you are travelling inland through Puna;"for that region is full of cavities, pitfalls for the unwary traveller.360
95.E pupukahi ka manao,literally, "Only one shell for all.""Be of one mind,"
96.Paki ke kepau, oo ka ulu,"When the gum exudes, the breadfruit is ripe;"or as we say, "He has cut his wisdom teeth."2584
97.Pulu elo i ka ua o ka holio e;"Wet with the rain of distilled liquors,"A drunkard is euphemistically said to be...2584
98.Noho i ka hale Kamala, while a man who has committed some misdeed and run away is said to have "gone to Texas,"... , just as foreigners now speak of being sent to the Honolulu prison as "going on to the reef."
99.Huli ka ua kapakea, huli i Mololani. When a wife leaves her husband and "goes off with a handsomer man," the phrase is...
100.Nani ka oiwi o ka laau i ka luaiele ia e ka makani,"How beautiful that tree is, even when stripped by the wind !"If the husband finds no fault with such a fickle, flirting wife, he receives the commendation,...
101.Pua ka wiliwili, nanahu ka mano,"While the wiliwili is in blossom, the sharks will bite,"An old saying, ... is applied now to those who will run the risk of illicit love, and find themselves nabbed by the officers of the law.2701
102.O ka pohole i ka iniki a ka ipo, he hao kuni ia a ke aloha..."the brand mark of love,"A curious style of endearment among the Hawaiians, pinching or biting the neck, is the foundation of the saying,... calling this "the brand mark of love," in allusion to the custom of branding cattle on the neck with their owners mark.

The frequent allusions to mountains and aerial phenomena mark the people's careful observation of the beauties of a Hawaiian landscape, and their sympathy with Nature's varying moods.

103.Ua kookoo-u i ke anu na mauna,"The chilling storm is on the mountains,"designates a time of sorrow.
104.Kukulu kalaihi a ka la i Mana.[The sun sets up mirages at Mānā]The mirage at Mana furnishes a simile for the discomfiture of pretentious persons,...1908
105.Hanohano Paliuli i ka ua noe,[Majestic is Paliuli in the misty rain]is like our " Blooming roses quickly fade."471
Many similes are taken from the fishermen's occupation.

106.Nana kee ka ia i ka maunu ekaeka,"The fish looks sideways at the filthy bait,"has been applied to a poor specimen of sermonizing, for the Hawaiians are good judges of good preaching.2269
107.Hauhili ka ai a kawelea,"We've lost our chance at the kawelea," (a long fish, highly prized,) when during a squabble in the fishing boat, the fish has made off with the bait. 486
108.Aohe hemahema iki o Hoohila,"We're all safe on Hoohila," a rock on the shore of Kauai;if strangers walking on the shore beneath the precipitous cliffs, are caught by the rising tide, they can find safety on this rock.
109.He make no ke kalo a ola aku i ka naio,"The kalo root is dead, but there are live maggots enough,"formerly applied to battles in which the bravest had perished, has in these modern times been applied by scoffers to the overthrow of paganism and the growth of Christianity in its place.

[58] There is one curious instance of the "mythical theory" in the application of an Old Testament phrase, Haggai 1:6, "He that earneth wages, earneth wages to put it in a bag with holes." I have heard some gravely explaining this "eke Hagai," as a kind of purse, which was carried by an old Hawaiian chief Hakai, who was a great cheat. Another amusing instance of the difficulty of getting correct interpretations, or versions of old sayings, has come to my notice in preparing this article. I had been told of the saying, Hokai ka auwaa panana ole, kau i Kapua, a different version from the one given in the first part of this article (70). The proper meaning of panana, flat bottom, was not known, and it was supposed to mean a compass, and though this was an article utterly unknown to the Hawaiians in olden times, the negative ole was inserted, and I was told the phrase meant "canoes without a compass;" and that Kapua was a waste, desolate place on Maui. Judge Andrews in his Hawaiian Dictionary has given (under the word ilio) a very different rendering of the proverbial saying, Mai makamaka ilio (22); but Mr. Sheldon's seems to me the true meaning.

I have only begun to make a collection of these quaint sayings, and have given but a few samples out of hundreds noted down. The list might be indefinitely extended if it embraced single words, epithets that yet involve a whole realm of fanciful resemblances.

North Pacific Missionary Institute, Honolulu.