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The Hawaiian word ‘tutu’ has a rich cultural history and multiple meanings that may not be obvious to those outside of the islands. From a term of endearment to a description of a traditional dress, tutu has significance in Hawaiian language that goes beyond just a simple definition.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Tutu is a Hawaiian word with multiple meanings, including grandmother, native Hawaiian dress, and ballerina skirt. It is a term of endearment as well as the name for a traditional garment.

This in-depth article will explore the origins and cultural significance behind the various meanings of the word tutu, providing context and background to fully understand this unique Hawaiian term.

The Meaning of Tutu as Grandmother or Elder

In the Hawaiian culture, the word “tutu” holds a special meaning – it is a term used to refer to a grandmother or an elder.

The word itself has a sense of endearment and respect attached to it, making it a cherished title for the wise and experienced individuals in the community.

A Term of Endearment and Respect

When Hawaiians use the word “tutu” to address their grandparents or other elderly individuals, it is a way of showing love and reverence.

The term carries a sense of warmth and affection, emphasizing the deep bond between generations. It is a beautiful way to honor the wisdom, guidance, and nurturing that grandparents provide in the family.

Using “tutu” also reflects the close-knit nature of Hawaiian families, where respect for elders is deeply ingrained. It is a cultural practice that teaches younger generations to value and appreciate the knowledge and experience that their grandparents have gained over the years.

Significance in the Hawaiian Culture

The significance of the word “tutu” extends beyond its usage within families. In Hawaiian society, elders are highly regarded for their wisdom and are often seen as the keepers of traditional knowledge and cultural practices. They play a crucial role in passing down oral history, storytelling, and ancient traditions.

By using the term “tutu,” Hawaiians acknowledge the importance of their elders in preserving and perpetuating their cultural heritage. It is a way of honoring the contributions that grandparents and other elderly individuals make to the community as a whole.

The respect for elders is deeply rooted in Hawaiian culture, and the term “tutu” is just one example of how this reverence is expressed.

It serves as a reminder of the interconnectedness of generations and the value placed on the wisdom and guidance passed down from one generation to the next.

To learn more about the rich cultural traditions of Hawaii and the significance of the word “tutu,” you can visit, which provides detailed information about the Hawaiian culture and its unique customs.

Tutu as Traditional Hawaiian Dress

Tutu as Traditional Hawaiian Dress

Origins and Description

The word “Tutu” in Hawaiian refers to a traditional type of clothing that has been worn by the native Hawaiians for centuries. It is a unique and vibrant dress that reflects the rich cultural heritage of the Hawaiian people.

The origins of the Tutu can be traced back to the Polynesian settlers who first arrived in Hawaii, bringing with them their distinct clothing styles and traditions.

The Tutu is typically made from natural materials such as bark cloth, which is derived from the fibers of the paper mulberry tree. It is known for its loose and flowing design, with a long skirt that reaches the ankles.

The dress is often embellished with intricate patterns and vibrant colors, representing elements of nature such as flowers, waves, and birds.

The Tutu is not only a beautiful piece of clothing, but it also serves a practical purpose. The loose-fitting design allows for comfort and breathability in the warm Hawaiian climate. It is often worn during special occasions and celebrations, such as weddings, festivals, and hula performances.

Cultural Significance and Symbolism

The Tutu holds great cultural significance in Hawaiian society and is considered a symbol of identity and pride.

It represents a connection to the land, history, and traditions of the Hawaiian people. Wearing the Tutu is a way of honoring and preserving the cultural heritage of the islands.

The patterns and colors found on the Tutu often have symbolic meanings. For example, the plumeria flower pattern represents beauty and grace, while the maile leaf pattern symbolizes honor and respect. These symbols are deeply rooted in Hawaiian mythology and folklore.

The Tutu is also a symbol of unity and community. It is often worn during group performances and ceremonies, where individuals come together to celebrate their shared culture and traditions.

The dress serves as a visual representation of the collective spirit and pride of the Hawaiian people.

To learn more about the history and cultural significance of the Tutu, you can visit Hawaii History or Go Hawaii websites. These websites provide in-depth information about Hawaiian culture, traditions, and the importance of the Tutu as a traditional dress.

Other Usages and Meanings

Tutu as Ballerina Skirt

While the Hawaiian word “tutu” commonly refers to a grandparent, it has also found its way into other contexts and languages. One such usage is in the world of ballet, where “tutu” is used to describe the iconic skirt worn by ballerinas.

The tutu is a symbol of grace and beauty, and its origins can be traced back to the 19th century. Today, tutus come in various styles and lengths, ranging from the classic short tutu to the longer romantic tutu.

Interestingly, the connection between the Hawaiian word “tutu” and the ballet term “tutu” is purely coincidental. The ballet term is believed to have originated from the French word “cucu”, which means “bottom”.

Over time, this term evolved into “tutu,” referring to the skirt worn by ballerinas. Despite the different origins, it is fascinating to see how a word can take on different meanings in different languages and cultures.

Tutu in Hawaiian Plant Names

In addition to its usage as a term for a grandparent, “tutu” has also made its way into the naming of various plants in Hawaii.

One example is the “tutuila cabbage” (Brighamia insignis), a critically endangered plant endemic to the island of Hawaii. The unique shape of its leaves is said to resemble the traditional Hawaiian skirt, hence the name “tutuila cabbage”.

Another plant that bears the name “tutu” is the “tutu sedge” (Cyperus polystachyos), a species of sedge found in wetlands and marshes in Hawaii. The plant gets its name from its characteristic clusters of flowers, which resemble the layered tiers of a tutu.

These examples highlight the diverse ways in which the word “tutu” has been incorporated into the Hawaiian language and culture. From being a term of endearment for grandparents to being associated with ballet skirts and plant names, “tutu” is a word that holds significance in various contexts.


The Hawaiian word tutu has a rich cultural history with several meanings tied to respect, tradition, and beauty within the islands. Beyond just a definition, exploring the origins and symbolism behind tutu provides insight into Hawaiian language and customs.

Whether it’s a grandmother, traditional dress, or twirling ballet skirt, tutu represents an important part of Hawaiian culture and heritage.

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