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The Hawaiian language contains many unique words that provide insight into Hawaiian history and culture. One such word is ‘au’, which has several meanings and uses within the Hawaiian lexicon. For those interested in Hawaiian language and lore, understanding the origins and usages of au can add depth to their knowledge.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Au is a Hawaiian word with multiple meanings, often used to indicate time or a current period. It can refer to an era, age, or season.

The Origins and Literal Meanings of Au

The Hawaiian language is rich in history and culture, and the word “au” is no exception. Its origins can be traced back to the Proto-Polynesian language, specifically the word “hou.” This ancient word referred to movement or travel, and it eventually evolved into “au” in the Hawaiian language.

Coming from the Proto-Polynesian Hou

The connection between “au” and “hou” is fascinating, as it shows the linguistic evolution of words over time. In Proto-Polynesian, “hou” referred to the act of moving or traveling, and it encompassed the concept of exploration and discovery. As the Polynesians migrated across the Pacific, they brought their language and culture with them, including the word “hou.” Over time, this word transformed into “au” in the Hawaiian language, retaining its original meaning of movement and travel.

To Swim or Drift

One of the literal meanings of “au” in Hawaiian is “to swim.” This usage reflects the deep connection between the Hawaiian people and the ocean. Swimming was not only a means of transportation but also a way of life for many Hawaiians. The word “au” captures the essence of the fluidity and grace associated with swimming, symbolizing the harmonious relationship between humans and the natural environment.

Another literal meaning of “au” is “to drift.” This usage refers to the movement of objects or substances carried by the current. It can be used to describe the drifting of a boat on the ocean or the floating of leaves on a stream. The concept of drifting conveys a sense of surrender and letting go, allowing oneself to be carried by the forces of nature.

A Period of Time

Aside from its literal meanings, “au” also has a figurative usage in Hawaiian. It can be used to refer to a period of time or an era. For example, the phrase “mai ka au i ka hopena” translates to “from the beginning to the end.” This usage of “au” highlights its versatility and adaptability within the Hawaiian language, encompassing both physical movement and the passage of time.

Understanding the origins and meanings of “au” in the Hawaiian language allows us to appreciate the depth and richness of Hawaiian culture. It reminds us of the close relationship between language, history, and the environment. So next time you come across the word “au,” whether in a traditional chant or a contemporary conversation, take a moment to reflect on its origins and the profound meanings it carries.

Specific Usages of Au

Au is a versatile word in the Hawaiian language, with various meanings and specific usages. Let’s explore some of its key applications:

Referring to a Period of Time

Au is often used to refer to a specific period of time in Hawaiian. For example, you might hear phrases like “au ikaika” which means “strong time” or “au maikai” which translates to “good time.” These expressions indicate a particular time frame characterized by a specific quality or attribute. It’s fascinating how the Hawaiian language uses au to encapsulate the essence of a period.

Indicating a Season

Au can also be used to indicate a season in Hawaiian. For instance, the word “aukai” signifies the season of the sea, while “auwena” refers to the hot season. This usage of au helps to convey the unique characteristics and experiences associated with each season, allowing for a deeper understanding and appreciation of the natural world.

Meaning ‘Era’ or ‘Age’

Another usage of au is to convey the concept of an era or age. For example, the phrase “ka au kahiko” means “ancient era” or “old age.” This usage helps to convey a sense of historical significance and the passage of time. It allows for the discussion of different epochs and the exploration of their cultural, societal, and environmental contexts.

Emphasizing the Present

Au can also be used to emphasize the present moment. When used in this context, it adds a sense of immediacy and importance to the topic at hand. For instance, you might hear someone say “auhea ‘oe?” which means “where are you?” This usage of au helps to create a sense of urgency and engagement in conversations, highlighting the importance of the present moment.

Au in Hawaiian Phrases and Expressions

The Hawaiian language is rich in phrases and expressions that incorporate the word “au”. This versatile word can be used in various contexts to convey different meanings and emotions. Let’s explore some common Hawaiian phrases where “au” plays a significant role.

Auhea oe? (Where are you?)

One commonly used phrase in Hawaiian is “Auhea oe?” which translates to “Where are you?” This expression is a way to inquire about someone’s whereabouts. It can be used when you are trying to locate a friend or family member, or simply to ask someone where they are at a particular moment.

For example: Auhea oe? E hele mai i ka hale. (Where are you? Please come to the house.)

Aloha au ia ‘oe (I love you)

The phrase “Aloha au ia ‘oe” is a powerful declaration of love in Hawaiian. It translates to “I love you” and is often used to express deep affection and care for someone. This expression is commonly used between partners, family members, or close friends.

For example: Aloha au ia ‘oe, e ku’u aloha. (I love you, my love.)

Auwe (Alas)

The word “auwe” is an exclamation used to convey sorrow, disappointment, or surprise. It is often used in situations where something unfortunate or unexpected has happened. This expression can be likened to the English word “alas” and is a way to express a sense of sadness or dismay.

For example: Auwe! I forgot my keys at home. (Alas! I forgot my keys at home.)

Learning and understanding the usage of “au” in Hawaiian phrases and expressions allows us to delve deeper into the richness of the language and its cultural nuances. It is a wonderful way to connect with the Hawaiian heritage and appreciate the beauty of the language.

The Importance of Au in Hawaiian Language and Lore

When exploring the Hawaiian language and culture, it is impossible to overlook the significance of the word “au”. This simple two-letter word holds a deep meaning and is used in various contexts, providing valuable insights into the origins, perspectives on time, and deeper meanings within Hawaiian traditions and beliefs.

Provides Insight into Origins

The word “au” plays a crucial role in understanding the origins of the Hawaiian people. It is often used to refer to oneself, emphasizing the individual’s connection to their ancestors and the land. By saying “au,” Hawaiians acknowledge their place in the lineage of their ancestors, recognizing the importance of their heritage and preserving their cultural identity. This deep sense of connection and respect for their roots is a fundamental part of Hawaiian culture and is reflected in the usage of “au.”

Reflects Hawaiian Perspectives on Time

In Hawaiian language and lore, “au” also reflects a unique perspective on time. While English tends to view time as linear, with past, present, and future, the Hawaiian concept of time is more cyclical and interconnected. The word “au” is used to express the continuous flow of time, emphasizing the interconnectedness of past, present, and future. This perspective encourages a deeper appreciation for the present moment and a recognition of the influence of ancestors and future generations on one’s own existence.

Essential for Understanding Deeper Meanings

A deeper understanding of Hawaiian culture and traditions requires an appreciation for the nuanced meanings conveyed through language. The word “au” is often used to express personal identity, emotions, and experiences, adding depth and richness to conversations and storytelling. It allows individuals to share their unique perspectives, connect with others, and convey the essence of their being. Without a grasp of the significance of “au,” one would miss out on the profound messages and connections embedded within Hawaiian language and lore.


For those interested in Hawaiian language and history, taking the time to understand words like au can greatly enrich their knowledge. Au has origins in Proto-Polynesian and literal meanings related to swimming and drifting, which provide clues into early Hawaiian life. Its specific usages show Hawaiian perspectives on time and seasons, while also emphasizing the present moment. And au appears in many common Hawaiian expressions still used today. Exploring the diverse meanings and uses of au within the lexicon provides a glimpse into the depths of Hawaiian language and lore.

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