More than just a greeting

There are certain moments in language learning where things click into place, where you learn something that just sticks and becomes part of your own speech and uderstanding. I wrote about the “messy mama bun” moment in my post on the word hikilele. A similarly funny moment of learning occurred for me in the office of my second year ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi teacher at UH Mānoa. It was probably funnier for him than me at the time, but now I can look back on it and have a good laugh.

Anoai nou kekahi aloha (Letter opening by L.M. Kamakau, Ka Elele Hawaii, 24 October 1848) – Greetings, for you a fond slautation

I didn’t realize it then, but I didn’t really know how to say “maybe.” He asked me a question to which I replied “Paha.” And he immediately replied, “Paha?! You can’t just say paha!” Ua piʻi ka ʻula (I turned red), and I remember feeling foolish, but in a normal beginning-language-learner kind of a way. He proceeded to  educate me on the fact that paha is not a word that can stand alone or start a sentence. It has to be in combination with other words, as in ʻae paha / ʻo ia paha (maybe, possibly), ʻaʻole paha (maybe not), hiki paha (maybe can), pēlā paha (maybe ladat), etc. 

O kela huaolelo, anoai he aloha imua o ke alii (He Moolelo No Umi, Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, 8 March 1862) – That term ʻanoʻai is a greeting to be said in the presence of a chief

Funny language foible that it was, it represents how much our first language gets unconsciously overlaid onto subsequent languages we learn. But as I continued learning ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, I learned the kinds of “maybe” that I had tried out with paha; words that can begin a sentence with that tentative feel: maliʻa, malia, malie, malama, and even our word for today, ʻanoʻai.

Alia oe e pepehi, anoai hoi auanei, he ai no ka ia nei, he ia no hoi, he kapa, he hale (He Moolelo No Manamanaiakaluhea, Ka Hoku o Ka Pakipika, 10 October 1862) – Hang on and don’t kill her just yet, maybe she has some kalo, and something to have with it, clothing, shelter…

Dare I call Hiʻiaka and Wahineʻōmaʻo opportunists?  You know, being on the road is tough, so you gotta get what you need where you can. Hehehe. But I like Wahine’s use of ʻanoʻai. I could apply it to my process of making ʻōlelo for our shirts: Alia au e haku, ʻanoʻai hoʻi he mau manaʻo hou aku ko kēia huaʻōlelo – I will wait to compose, as maybe there are other meanings of this word. (That’s kind of what I tell myself if I get really excited about a word or idea but have not yet finished researching it.) I remember being surprised when I learned that ʻanoʻai functioned like the other “maybe” words listed above. I was so used to hearing or reading it as a greeting.

“ʻO ka welina, he aloha nō ia, aia kā, inā hoʻi mai kekahi mea noho nō i luna o ka haka, ʻo ke aloha o ia ʻano, ʻanoʻai…Sometimes the spirit who possesses the medium, upon departure, that is the aloha, ʻanoʻai.” (Mary Kawena Pukui in conversation with Joseph Ilalaole)

And even as a greeting I thought is was just a “warm aloha” of some sort. Then I heard Tūtū Pukui talking about it on one of the many recordings she made for the Bishop Museum. I came across some notes I had from back when I worked with that waihona and was immediately inspired to write this post. The above quote is one of the few tiny bits I transcribed while re-indexing those recordings, but I wish I could transcribe them all. This particular quote is a prime example of how recordings of native speakers can help us to expand our understanding of the meanings of words.

Our ʻanoʻai post wouldn’t be complete without one of my other favorite meanings of ʻanoʻai, which is when something happens unexpectedly. I love this one because I feel like it filled in one of the little puka I had in my ʻōlelo. I needed the sentence below so that I had something to say for when I “ran into” someone by chance.

ʻAnoʻai kō māua hui ʻana – Our meeting was unexpected (Hawaiian Dictionary)

It is just crazy how many meanings there can be for certain words in our language. Oftentimes we glance them over in the dictionary, but they don’t stick. Seeing or hearing them used in other contexts is really the trick to getting them paʻa (fixed within us). No ia kumu nō, e noiʻi nowelo kākou! (And for that reason we must dive deep and seek knowledge!) Let us keep peeling back the layers of meaning of words and exploring them to their fullest. E ola ka ʻōlelo a nā kūpuna!

This week’s modern examples:

ʻAnoʻai paha ua haʻalele ʻē kou mau hoa – Maybe your friends have already gone

ʻAnoʻai ke aloha e nā makamaka – Greetings and regards, dear ones/close friends

E ola ka ʻōlelo o ka ʻāina!