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Haole

by Hugh D. Mailly
In the islands of Hawaii, the word haole is occasionally used to annoy people whose skin is all white. In the past, it was a more broad label stuck on everyone who was not kanaka maoli, a true-person-from-here. But a very long time before that, words in the oldest Hawaiian language had much more special meanings, many to do with occult matters. There were no written letters then, and everything was communicated by sounds-from-the-mouth. In a way, understanding was simpler. Not only could things be shared through sight and sound, but also by feeling the way words were uttered.

It was then that the word haole meant "who-do-not-breathe". In fact, it was used to describe the dead. Sometimes with the truly physical meaning, other times in a more subtle spiritual sense. Often, the two perspectives were mixed together, such as to describe a ghost, or a god.

In the year 1778 of the haole calendar, Captain James Cook of the ship HMS Resolution, and his band of Englishmen came ashore at Kealakekua Bay on what is now known as The Big Island of Hawaii. There is no recorded proof that this landing was deliberately planned as to timing and location. But Cook had already visited several other parts of the island group. He may have been fully aware he was arriving at a sacred place whose name in Hawaiian meant "where-the-god-comes-and-goes", and that he was doing this in the middle of the annual festival to Lono-i-ka-makahiki, supreme head of the pantheon of Hawaiian gods. Lono himself had supposedly left the area a long time prior, but with a promise to return one day, on a floating island. Like the ship Cook sailed in on.

The skin of the English was as white as the huge squares of bleached cloth tied to the masts of their ship. This was considered to be more proof that they were spirits, because only men who do not breathe could possibly be so pale. And so they were called haole.

Despite Cook forbidding it under severe punishment, many of his crew slipped ashore, and infected local wahines with venereal disease they had picked up the year before from a Tahitian-French connection. The Hawaiians had no cure for this new sickness, and thousands eventually died horribly, decimating the native population. Thus, the Hawaiian islands were totally and irrevocably changed, by the coming of the dead ones.


Article details:

  • Pronunciation:
    hah-o-lay

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