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The rich culture and traditions of Hawaiian history often reveal themselves in the Hawaiian language. The color red carries deep symbolism and meaning that traces back centuries.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The Hawaiian word for red is ‘ula’ and it symbolizes power, strength, passion, and royalty in Hawaiian culture.

In this approximately 3000 word article, we will explore the origins and symbolic meanings behind the color red in the Hawaiian language and culture. We will look at how these associations developed historically, the roles red played in ancient Hawaiian society, and how color is woven into Hawaiian legends, songs, and sayings today.

The Origins and Meanings of the Word ‘Ula’ for Red

In the Hawaiian language, the word for red is ‘ula’. The origins of this word can be traced back to the ancient Polynesians who first settled in Hawaii. ‘Ula’ is believed to have come from the Proto-Polynesian word ‘ula’, which means red or reddish-brown. This word has been passed down through generations and is still used today to describe the color red in Hawaiian.

The Etymology of ‘Ula’

The word ‘ula’ has a rich history and carries various meanings in Hawaiian culture. Apart from describing the color red, it is also used to refer to certain types of red-colored objects. For example, ‘ula’ can be used to describe a red feather, as feathers were often used in traditional Hawaiian clothing and adornments. Additionally, ‘ula’ can also refer to red fruits or berries that are found in the Hawaiian islands.

The etymology of the word ‘ula’ can be further explored through its usage in Hawaiian mythology and folklore. In ancient Hawaiian stories, ‘ula’ is often associated with the fire goddess Pele. Pele is said to have a fiery temperament, and the color red represents her passion and power. This association with Pele and the color red has made ‘ula’ a symbol of strength and energy in Hawaiian culture.

Symbolic Associations with Red in Hawaiian Culture

Red holds significant symbolic associations in Hawaiian culture. It is often associated with life, vitality, and power. In traditional Hawaiian ceremonies and rituals, the color red is used to represent the life force, or ‘mana’, that flows through all living things. It is believed that wearing or using red objects can help to enhance one’s own mana.

In addition to its associations with life and power, red is also linked to love and romance in Hawaiian culture. The vibrant red color of a hibiscus flower, for example, is often seen as a symbol of love and passion. Red flowers are commonly used in Hawaiian weddings and other celebrations to represent love, joy, and happiness.

Red as a Color of Rank and Royalty

The Significance of Red Feather Cloaks and Helmets

In the Hawaiian language, the color red is known as “Ula.” It holds a special significance in Hawaiian culture, particularly in relation to rank and royalty. One of the most iconic symbols of Hawaiian royalty is the red feather cloak, known as “ʻahuʻula.” These cloaks were made by meticulously attaching thousands of vibrant red feathers to a base material. The process was time-consuming and required a deep understanding of the cultural significance of red. The red feather cloak was a symbol of power, authority, and nobility, and only the highest-ranking chiefs and ali’i (nobles) were allowed to wear them. Additionally, red feather helmets, called “mahiole,” were also reserved for the ali’i and were adorned with red feathers as a symbol of their high status.

Red Reserved for Hawaiian Ali’i Royalty and Chiefs

The color red was exclusively reserved for Hawaiian ali’i royalty and chiefs. It was believed to represent the gods and the divine power they possessed. As such, commoners were prohibited from wearing red clothing or using red materials in their possessions. This strict distinction between the ali’i and the common people helped maintain the hierarchical structure of Hawaiian society. The use of red in the attire and regalia of the ali’i served as a visual reminder of their elevated status and authority. It was a way to distinguish them from the rest of the population and reinforce their position as leaders.

Throughout Hawaiian history, the color red has remained closely tied to the concept of rank and royalty. Its significance can still be seen in traditional ceremonies and cultural practices today. The legacy of the red feather cloak and helmet continues to be honored and celebrated as a symbol of Hawaiian identity and heritage. To learn more about the rich history and cultural significance of the color red in Hawaiian language, you can visit

Red Representations in Hawaiian Legends and Traditional Sayings

The color red holds significant cultural and symbolic meanings in the Hawaiian language. It is often associated with powerful emotions, forces of nature, and divine figures. In Hawaiian legends and traditional sayings, red is frequently used to depict intense passion, love, and vitality. Let’s explore two fascinating examples that showcase the representation of red in the Hawaiian culture.

The Legendary Figures of Pele and Hi’iaka

One of the most prominent figures in Hawaiian mythology is Pele, the goddess of fire and volcanoes. Pele is often depicted wearing a red hibiscus flower in her hair, symbolizing her fiery nature and the intense heat she brings to the land. Legend has it that wherever she walks, the ground turns red with lava, leaving a trail of destruction in her wake. Hi’iaka, Pele’s younger sister, is also associated with the color red. She is known as the goddess of dance and chant and is often portrayed wearing a red feather cloak, symbolizing her connection to the volcanic eruptions caused by Pele.

‘Ula i ke kai – Red By The Sea’: A Traditional Hawaiian Saying

A popular Hawaiian saying, ‘Ula i ke kai, translates to “Red By The Sea” in English. This saying refers to the stunning red coloration that can be observed in the ocean during certain natural phenomena. One such event is the blooming of the red algae species known as “limu kohu.” When these algae bloom, they create a reddish tint in the water, giving rise to the saying ‘Ula i ke kai. This saying is often used to describe a captivating and awe-inspiring sight, emphasizing the beauty and power of nature in the Hawaiian culture.

The Enduring Legacy of the Color Red in Hawaii

The Cultural Significance of Red

In Hawaiian culture, the color red holds significant cultural and spiritual meaning. It is associated with passion, power, and strength. For the ancient Hawaiians, red represented the fiery power of the volcano goddess Pele, who was believed to reside in the active volcanoes of the Big Island. Red was also associated with the sun, which was considered a symbol of life, energy, and vitality.

The color red was incorporated into various aspects of Hawaiian life, from clothing and adornments to traditional ceremonies and rituals. It was often used to symbolize important milestones or events, such as birth, marriage, and victory in battle. The Hawaiians believed that wearing or displaying red would bring them good fortune and protect them from harm.

Red in Nature

The Hawaiian islands are known for their breathtaking natural beauty, and red plays a prominent role in the island’s flora and fauna. One of the most iconic red symbols in Hawaii is the Lehua blossom, which is the flower of the ‘Ōhi’a tree. The Lehua blossom is vibrant red and is considered sacred in Hawaiian culture. Legend has it that the goddess Pele transformed her lover, ‘Ōhi’a, into a tree after he spurned her advances. The red Lehua blossoms are said to represent the tears of Pele for her lost love.

In addition to the Lehua blossom, there are other red flowers and plants found throughout Hawaii, such as the ‘Ilima flower and the Pōhutukawa tree. These vibrant red blooms add a splash of color to the Hawaiian landscape and are celebrated for their beauty and symbolism.

The Red of Hawaiian History

The color red has also played a significant role in Hawaiian history. During the reign of King Kamehameha I, the first monarch to unite the Hawaiian islands, red was used as a symbol of royal power and authority. The king’s personal flag, known as the Ka Hae Hawaiʻi or the “Flag of Hawaii,” featured a red background with a white stripe and eight alternating red and white stripes, symbolizing the eight main islands of Hawaii. This flag is still used today as a symbol of Hawaiian sovereignty and cultural identity.

Furthermore, red was a prominent color in the Hawaiian coat of arms, which was adopted in 1845. The coat of arms featured a red shield with a white kahili (royal feather standard) and a crown on top. The red shield symbolized the warrior spirit and bravery of the Hawaiian people.

The Modern Influence of Red

The color red continues to hold significance in modern Hawaiian culture. It is often used in contemporary Hawaiian art, fashion, and design to evoke a sense of passion, energy, and connection to the land. Red is also a popular color choice for traditional hula costumes, representing the vitality and grace of the dancers.

Moreover, the color red is celebrated during annual festivals and events in Hawaii, such as the Merrie Monarch Festival and the Aloha Festivals. These events showcase the rich cultural heritage of Hawaii and pay homage to the enduring legacy of the color red in Hawaiian culture.


Through Hawaiian stories, symbols, and language, we find that the color red holds a deep cultural meaning representing power and prestige. Tracing the heritage behind ‘ula’ gives insight into the customs of ancient Hawaiian society.

Red maintains a symbolic significance in Hawaiian tradition today. When we understand the history behind it, we gain a richer appreciation for Hawaii’s culture.

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