In a recent interview,1 Brian Keaulana of
the famous Makaha surfing family said, "Aloha is enveloping someone with your
whole essence or aura. It's understanding the true essence of yourself and
giving it to others." His words resonated deeply for me as they came at the end
of a long dispiriting day playing my business role as a systems analyst and
general digital janitor. These are tough times in the world
of commerce and that pressure seems to bring out the worst in
people. The politics of our times are also increasingly bitter and
divisive with more name calling than cool rational thinking. There's a
scene in the Ghostbusters movies when a tidal wave of foamy purple ooze, pure
evil incarnate, is threatening to engulf New York. That's the metaphor that had
been haunting my day. If there were an exact opposite of Aloha, this would be
I've read explanations of the word Aloha that seem to dance around the
meaning without ever getting down to the essence of it. They say it means
hello, and also goodbye, empathy, patience... Basically every squishy caricature
of the laid back Polynesian lifestyle rolled into an easily digested fast food
meme. I used to work with a poser who always had a surfboard on his car,
came into the office wearing Hawaiian print shirts and invariably greeted
everyone with his trademark, "Aloha!!!" Embarrassing and sad to watch.
I can't pretend to any deep understanding of Aloha really, but I've
experienced the kindness and grace of the Polynesians personally and perhaps
that's the only way to really understand it. In any event, I thought I'd at
least try to add some insight.
The word Aloha is a contraction of two concepts. Alo means the
human face or presence and ha means breath, or the breath of life.
Brian Keaulana explained that in ancient times, Hawaiians would touch their
foreheads together and share breaths as a greeting, literally exchanging the
sacred breath of life to show respect and acknowledge their connection. In the
Hawaiian culture, words have an active spiritual power, known as mana,
and the action of Aloha is an invocation of the divine, a moment of mutual
reverence. A shared prayer.
I think that simple acknowledgment of the spiritually divine is at the root
of Aloha because it forces you to put yourself into perspective and reminds you
to behave in a humble, thankful and gracious manner.
Just for fun, here are some variations on the Aloha theme, courtesy of The
ah loh' hah oe!
May you be loved
Farewell or greetings to one person.
ah loh' hah KAH'oo (w)ah!
May there be friendship or
love between us!
Greetings to you and me!
Ke aloha nô!
ah loh hah NOH'
1 The Surfer's Path, Issue 76
2 Hawaiian Dictionary, Pukui, Mary Kawena & Elbert, Samuel H.,University of Hawai`i Press, Honolulu, 1986.