Ancient Hawaiians believed in the sacred power of words and the sacred energy in all life. Out of the 40,000 words in the spoken language, a profusion of them describe the ancient Hawaiian’s close harmony with nature. In old Hawaii, man believed that his spiritual inheritance was to be guardian or kahu of the ‘aina or the living earth.
Thus, there are several words for all aspects of nature. There are words for every plant or animal species that are endemic to the islands, words to describe different kinds of rocks, minerals and the types of soil and the different types of lava.
There are names for different types of winds and the directions they blow from. There are words for the untamed forces of the hurricane and another to describe dead stillness. There are words to distinguish a pineapple mist from a torrential downpour.
The language of the wayfinder
Along with the renaissance of the Hawaiian language, the ancient ways of the wayfinder or the seafaring navigator/priest are also being resuscitated that sailors may navigate the oceans without maps again, but by listening to the voices of the living planet.
These modern day wayfinders are reviving the ability of their ancestors to sense distant atolls beyond the scope of their vision by the way the waves beat against the hull of their boats.
The ancient wayfinders had 32 names to describe the different types of sea swells, and they navigated by the light of 250 named stars in the night sky. They got their guidance from the different colors of the oceans, each of which was named, and derived knowledge from the patterns of bird flight.
They found clues in the shape and color of the clouds and where they were placed. Rain would be predicted if there was a halo around the moon caused by light shining through clouds heavy with moisture. The fewer the number of stars, the worse the intensity of the storm. Less than ten stars means torrential rain and fierce winds. If there is a double halo, there is double the trouble in the form of a gale.
Because the language contained different words to describe the different subtleties of light, the wayfinders could tell by the rainbow colors around a star and the way they twinkled and dimmed the arrival of a storm.
The Language of Gratitude
Just as the Hawaiians have a word to describe just about everything in nature, they have a word to describe thankfulness and gratitude for all life.
In the Hawaiian language, there are multiple levels of meaning to a word and deciphering the magic or sacredness of a word to find its kaona or hidden meaning comes from examining the root words. Breaking a word down to its basics helps to manifest what the word stands for.
However, while the root words give us clues to the sacredness and meaning of a word, its true power has to be experienced. In ancient Hawaii, words had sacred energy and the prayers of a kahuna would invoke help from the spirits or gods only if his verbal presentation was word perfect. There is an old proverb which says that a word spoken in anger or “thrown as a spear” may boomerang and “slay the speaker”.
Mahalo, like Aloha, is one of the most powerful and sacred words in the Hawaiian language. Although it is generally interpreted to mean “thank you” or an expression of gratitude and conveys esteem and respect, its sacred meaning is loaded with great power.
Root words of Mahalo
There are three root words in Mahalo. The first ma means “in”, the second ha refers to “breath” or “life energy” and alo which means “in the presence of”. Therefore Mahalo invokes a divine blessing which means “may you be in the presence of the divine breath.” It acknowledges the divine as Creator and the divine within as well.
Mahalo is therefore a form of giving thanks for breath or life force. It expresses gratitude for life and a celebration of all forms of life.
Popular current day phrases you will hear are “Mahalo nui loa” and “mahalo a nui” both of which mean “thanks very much”. If you are at a wedding or a celebration, you may hear this phrase expressed by the hosts - “Mahalo nui loa na ho'olaule'a me la kaua” which means “thank you for joining in this celebration with us.” As a guest, you say “Mahalo no kou ho`okipa” or “thank you for your hospitality.”
Feel the intent and the gratitude when you say Mahalo. The more you give thanks with sincerity, the more the Universe will give you something to be grateful for.