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Honi (pronounced HO – nee) is the traditional Hawaiian greeting.

The english translation is “to kiss”, but actually, the original greeting was touching forehead to forehead, nose to nose and exchanging breath.

So here’s the question…

“How do I know when it’s okay to honi someone like a client or patient?”

Growing up, my dad would always say “oh, kiss your auntie, kiss your uncle” and we would kiss one time on the cheek. And hug. It felt a little awkward at times because I wasn’t asked to kiss and hug every grown up. In certain circles, we would just say hello, shake hands or give a “hi 5”.

It’s so important to understand the context before you can offer the appropriate greeting.

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Cultural Context

In other places throughout the world, there are similar greetings. The Maori people, indigenous to New Zealand, greet with hongi. When you hongi, you touch forehead to forehead, nose to nose and exchange breath.

In the Eskimo tradition, the Inuit people, rub noses. This practice would likely be seen with an elder and child, someone that is family. The energy of this greeting is very intimate and familial.

The Hawaiian people exchange honi this way as well. It’s how you would greet someone honored, loved, and esteemed. It is a sign of respect to receive a honi.

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Practice of Honi

When we touch forehead to forehead, we touch alo to alo, bone to bone, with our makaloa, third eye, nose to nose. The third eye is the potent, intuitive center of the body. By touching forehead to forehead, we can read someone else’s intention.

Hawaiians believe that our ancestral DNA is contained within the bones. When we connect bone to bone, we’re connecting the lineage of both parties. In other words, it’s a way of identifying the person in front of you and connecting with them on that very deep level.

Finally, we exchange breath. The ha, divine breath, is held within each of us. When we exchange divine breath through the nose, it is the part of us that comes directly from Spirit. The breath of God.

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Historical Significance

When the western contact happened and we were greeted with a handshake instead of honi, it was very unusual to the Hawaiian. The gesture had no breath.

I believe that is one of the ideas behind the word, Ha’ole

Another possible explanation is when the Hawaiian saw pale skin they saw a similarity to when someone was not well. A person without life force. The Hawaiians referred to these foreigners as  Ha’ole, which means no breath.

It was without breath as we shook hands with the western sailors, Captain Cook and his men. And somehow that word has continued to stick overtime, but I believe it had to do with this greeting as well.

Modern Dilemma

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Honi is a greeting that was traditional here in Hawaii. I’ve noticed that honi is one of our ancient practices that we’re seeing more and more nowadays. Still, some Hawaiians are hesitant when they go to greet someone as to whether the person is open to greeting them in this very intimate, familiar way.

Remember, there was a time in our history where many Hawaiian cultural practices were suppressed. Hawaiian elders have had to sit on a timeline with many changes.

From the migrations of the Pacific to the Missionary period, to the time when Hawaii became a U.S. territory, many Hawaiians were not able to practice our traditions. In fact, some were not proud of our traditions as a people trying to assimilate into American culture.

Hawaiians have now begun to really embrace our Hawaiian-ness our traditions, and cultural practices.

My Personal Experience with Honi

In the past, I’ve found myself holding back. I will not typically go towards someone unless I know them well like a student and I’m the one who is offering that greeting. Hawaiian elders deserve my respect, so I will wait until they approach me and then I receive it.

Honi is an honor, a gesture of respect and acknowledgement in the life the other person carries. If you are in a situation where you aren’t sure what to do, hang back, see what comes and be ready for anything.

The original question had to do with whether to honi patients,  clients, or those unfamiliar with the practice. If someone doesn’t know the deeper meaning of the gesture, it may be an opportunity to educate someone in a very beautiful way of acknowledging the God within someone else. Be mindful of the other person’s comfort level.

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Be Mindful

Honi is a mana exchange and it has to do with our essence.

So, the next time you greet someone, whether you’re offering a honi, a kiss, or a hug, just do it with aloha. Greet one another from your heart and acknowledge the spirit within the other person. Their divinity. The breath of God.

The meaning of Aloha

What is Aloha?

This week, I began an exciting project to find the meaning of Aloha.  I gathered my information from many sources:  All ages. Local non-Hawaiians. Hawaiians. Tourists and Malihini, transplants to Hawaii.

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Aloha in Hawaiian language is something you are…

The Elders

In an unexpected twist, when I spoke with the elders, they had very little to say.  Their answers were very simple.  Consistently short and simple. 

The Makua

People in my generation and older, the Makua, had a very scholarly interpretation. An expressive, articulate interpretation of the word aloha and what it means to them.


In a discussion with my cousin about my observation she said, “You know, it’s because our kupuna, elders, they lived aloha. It wasn’t even something you needed to talk about.  Aloha was just a part of you. Something you were raised with. How you lived. A way of being.  In this generation, Aloha is something you are.

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7 of my favorite insights about aloha

Aloha means to be in the presence.

When we are in the presence or spirit, we radiate the divine in everything we do, everything we are, and everything we say. Since great spirit is love, when we embrace that truth, we open ourselves to serving with love. It influences everything.

Aloha is the breath of life. 

It gives us purpose. It forever will be and has always been a part of who we are. We can connect to Aloha and extend it to everyone in any situation.

Aloha means to venerate

Venerate?  I didn’t even know what that meant! Venerate means to uplift, to lift up or raise up. We can raise ourselves up with love or aloha. We can raise others up with love or aloha. We can help each other to be more and to be better, to be more closer to the spirit that we truly are.

Aloha is the experience of being welcomed

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This was fascinating because the explanation came from a visitor. It’s the experience of being welcomed, loved, and accepted as family instantaneously.  Not after a period of time of getting to know someone, but instantaneously and unconditionally. It’s a feeling that is projected from the people here.

Aloha is just a way of life.

This Aloha definition in Hawaiian is one of my favorites. Aloha encompasses the our values:

malama – to care, nature or be caring.

Lokahi – unity. It also has to do with your character, something that’s instilled in you.

Ha’aha’a – humility.

Kokua, being helpful and of service.

Pono – being in alignment and balance with yourself and with all things.

The combined experience of these values instilled in one’s character is the living and being in aloha.

Aloha is the sense of peace, beauty, wellbeing, and genuine kindness that comes when we respect ourselves, everyone else and all things. It’s greeting people with kindness, even just the smile. Aloha Hawaiian meaning is doing what is right in humility.

Aloha is to love yourself and others

One of our kupunas, Auntie Bernadine, says this is the only way. You have to love yourself in order to have the capacity to love others. Then, you can give freely with acceptance, no matter the race, religion or creed.

Aloha is like a bubble of kindness

It’s not just a word. Aloha in Hawaiian is an embodiment and a feeling of warmth and oneness. Aloha is compassion and love that we can be embraced by.

My conclusion…

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Aloha is something we all want. A gift we can cultivate. Take a moment to draw in that divine breath of God.

Take in the presence of spirit and acknowledge that spirit within you. As you acknowledge that spirit within you, understand aloha is an embodiment. A way of being. A way of living. 

It’s a feeling. An emotion. Something we can extend to others. As you bask in the present, allow that aloha, that love, that unconditional aspect to embrace you in warmth. 

Having respect for yourself and others, bringing in a reverence of that divinity and allow yourself to extend and expand.

We have always been aloha  

It has always has been a part of us and is our birthright.  We can extend it out to help illuminate and ignite that same feeling and presence in others. Help others remember who they are as true embodiments of this spirit of aloha.

I want to mahalo, thank, all of the people who shared their mana’o, knowledge and insights, with me.

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