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The Hawaiian language is full of rich words that give insight into Hawaiian history and culture. One such word that has deeper meaning beyond its literal translation is “nui.” At first glance, nui simply translates to “big” or “large”. However, nui has additional connotations that reveal key elements of traditional Hawaiian life.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: In Hawaiian, nui means “big”, “large”, “great”, or “important”. It’s often used to emphasize the significance of something in Hawaiian culture.

In this comprehensive article, we’ll explore the origins and evolution of nui, its symbolic significance in Hawaiian culture, the grammar rules for using it properly, and examples of common Hawaiian words and phrases containing nui.

We’ll also look at how the concept of nui is reflected in Hawaiian perspectives on nature, society, and spirituality.

Literal Translations and Original Meaning

Big Mountain

When exploring the meaning of the word “Nui” in Hawaiian, it is important to understand its literal translations and original meaning. The word “Nui” is commonly translated as “big” or “large” in English.

This basic definition reflects the physical size or magnitude of something. However, the concept of “Nui” goes beyond just size.

Basic Definition as “Big” or “Large”

The Hawaiian word “Nui” carries the simple interpretation of “big” or “large”. It is often used to describe objects or entities that are physically significant in size.

For example, a mountain or a tree can be referred to as “Nui” due to their grand scale. Similarly, a large gathering or a big celebration can be described using this word. It portrays a sense of magnitude and prominence in relation to size.

Emphasis on Importance and Significance

While “Nui” primarily denotes physical size, it also conveys a deeper meaning of importance and significance. In Hawaiian culture, the word is used to describe things that hold great value or have a profound impact.

For instance, a person who is highly respected and revered may be referred to as “Nui” to emphasize their importance in the community.

This highlights the cultural understanding that size is not solely determined by physical dimensions, but also by the impact and influence something holds.

Use as an Intensifier

In addition to its literal and metaphorical meanings, “Nui” is frequently employed as an intensifier in the Hawaiian language. It is used to emphasize the degree or extent of something.

For example, if someone says “Aloha nui”, they are expressing a deep and heartfelt greeting, going beyond a simple “hello”. This usage adds an extra layer of emotion and intensity to the words spoken.

The word “Nui” in Hawaiian is a versatile term that encompasses more than just its literal translation. It captures the essence of size, importance, and intensity, making it a fascinating word to explore and understand in the context of Hawaiian language and culture.

Read more: Hola In Hawaiian – Aloha Explained

Cultural Significance and Symbolic Meaning

When exploring the meaning of the word “nui” in Hawaiian, one cannot overlook its deep cultural significance. This term reflects a worldview of interconnectedness, where everything in the world is seen as part of a larger whole.

In Hawaiian culture, the concept of “nui” embodies the idea that all living beings and natural elements are intricately connected and dependent on one another.

Reflecting a Worldview of Interconnectedness

The Hawaiian word “nui” captures the essence of this interconnected worldview. It is often used to describe something that is big, great, or abundant. However, its meaning goes beyond mere size or quantity.

“Nui” conveys the idea of something being significant, important, and influential in a broader context. It reminds us that our actions and choices have consequences that extend beyond ourselves, impacting the world around us.

In Hawaiian culture, this interconnectedness is not limited to human relationships but extends to the natural world as well. The word “nui” serves as a reminder that we are part of a larger ecosystem, and our well-being is intricately tied to the health and balance of the environment.

Respect for the Power of Nature

Another aspect of the symbolic meaning of “nui” in Hawaiian culture is the respect for the power of nature. Hawaiians have a deep reverence for the land, sea, and sky, recognizing them as sources of life and sustenance. The word “nui” encapsulates this respect and acknowledges the immense power and energy present in the natural world.

From towering mountains to roaring waterfalls, from the vastness of the ocean to the brilliance of the sun, Hawaiians have always understood the importance of honoring and preserving these natural wonders.

The concept of “nui” reminds us of the need to approach nature with humility and gratitude, recognizing that we are but a small part of a much grander design.

Read also: Uncovering The Meaning And Significance Of “Hawaii Nei”

Appreciation of Abundance and Prosperity

In addition to its cultural and environmental connotations, “nui” also signifies abundance and prosperity.

In Hawaiian culture, the word is often associated with an abundance of resources, opportunities, and blessings. It serves as a reminder to appreciate the abundance that surrounds us and to cultivate a mindset of gratitude and contentment.

Through the concept of “nui,” Hawaiians embrace the idea that there is enough for everyone and that true prosperity lies in sharing and caring for one another.

This belief in abundance fosters a sense of community and collective well-being, where the success of one is celebrated as the success of all.

Grammar and Usage

Understanding the grammar and usage of the word “nui” in Hawaiian is key to fully grasping its meaning and significance.

Let’s explore how this word is positioned in a sentence, how reduplication is used for emphasis, and how it can be combined with other words.

Position in a Sentence

In Hawaiian grammar, “nui” can function as both an adjective and a noun. When used as an adjective, it typically comes after the noun it modifies. For example, you might say “ka hale nui” to mean “the big house”.

However, when “nui” is used as a noun, it usually comes before the noun it refers to. An example of this would be “nui o ka ‘aina”, which translates to “greatness of the land”.

Reduplication for Emphasis

One fascinating aspect of the Hawaiian language is its use of reduplication, which involves repeating a word or a portion of it to convey emphasis. In the case of “nui”, reduplication intensifies its meaning and can be translated as “very” or “extremely”.

For instance, “nui nui” would mean “very big” or “extremely great”. This reduplication adds a layer of emphasis and amplifies the significance of the word.

Combining with Other Words

Hawaiian is known for its ability to combine words to create new meanings. When “nui” is combined with other words, it further expands its range of meanings.

For example, “nui loa” means “very much” or “a lot”, emphasizing a large quantity or degree. Another example is “nui kino,” which translates to “important person” and implies someone of great significance.

It’s important to note that the usage of “nui” can vary depending on the context and the specific phrase it is used in.

To gain a deeper understanding, it is recommended to consult reputable sources such as the Hawaiian Language website or seek guidance from native speakers who can provide further insight into the nuances of the word.

Common Hawaiian Words and Phrases with Nui

Common Hawaiian Words and Phrases with Nui

Hawaii, with its stunning landscapes and vibrant culture, has a rich and diverse language. One word that you may come across frequently is “nui.” In Hawaiian, “nui” carries a powerful meaning that is deeply ingrained in the island’s history and traditions.

Let’s take a closer look at some common Hawaiian words and phrases that incorporate “nui.”

Descriptions of Nature

Hawaii is known for its breathtaking natural beauty, and the word “nui” is often used to describe the grandeur and magnificence of the island’s landscapes.

For example, you might hear locals referring to a majestic mountain as “mauna nui” or a vast ocean as “kai nui”. These phrases not only capture the physical size and scale of these natural wonders but also convey a sense of awe and reverence.

Terms for People and Social Status

In Hawaiian culture, social status and hierarchy play an important role, and the word “nui” is used to denote importance or significance. For instance, a respected elder in the community may be referred to as “kūpuna nui”, highlighting their esteemed position.

Similarly, a person with a high social status or authority may be called “ali’i nui”. In both cases, “nui” emphasizes the respect and honor associated with these individuals.

Expressions of Spirituality

Hawaiian spirituality is deeply rooted in the connection to the land, the ancestors, and the divine. The word “nui” is often used in spiritual contexts to emphasize the sacredness and profoundness of certain rituals or beliefs.

For example, the phrase “mana nui” refers to a great spiritual power or energy that is believed to flow through all living beings. This term encapsulates the belief in the interconnectedness of the physical and spiritual realms.

It’s important to note that Hawaiian language and culture are complex and nuanced, and these examples only scratch the surface of the word “nui” and its various applications.

If you’re interested in learning more about Hawaiian language and culture, there are several resources available online. Websites like and provide in-depth information about the language, its history, and its cultural significance.

The Enduring Legacy of Nui

The word “nui” holds significant cultural and historical importance in the Hawaiian language. It is a word that encompasses various meanings, each representing a different aspect of the Hawaiian way of life.

From its literal translation of “big” or “large” to its deeper connotations of abundance, importance, and reverence, the word “nui” has a profound impact on the Hawaiian people and their traditions.

The Many Dimensions of Nui

When exploring the meaning of “nui,” it is essential to understand its multifaceted nature.

The word is not limited to describing physical size; it extends to encompass a wide range of qualities that hold significance in Hawaiian culture. “Nui” can refer to something of great importance, such as a significant event, a person of high rank, or a sacred place.

It conveys the idea of abundance, whether it be in terms of resources, knowledge, or love. Furthermore, “nui” implies a sense of respect and reverence, acknowledging the value and impact of what it describes.

Incorporation in Language and Traditions

The influence of “nui” can be seen in various aspects of Hawaiian language and traditions. It is commonly used in place names, such as Mauna Nui (meaning “big mountain“) or Hana Nui (meaning “great work“).

The word also finds its way into traditional chants, songs, and storytelling, where it adds depth and emphasis to the narratives.

Additionally, “nui” is often used in the context of Hawaiian spirituality and the connection to the natural world, highlighting the abundance and significance of the land, sea, and celestial bodies.

Preserving and Honoring Nui

The concept of “nui” continues to be a vital part of Hawaiian culture, as efforts are made to preserve and honor its legacy.

The Hawaiian language revitalization movement plays a crucial role in ensuring that the meanings and nuances of words like “nui” are passed down to future generations.

Cultural practices, such as hula, lei-making, and traditional navigation, also incorporate the essence of “nui” in their teachings, emphasizing the importance of abundance, respect, and reverence.


In Hawaiian culture, the concept of nui carries layers of meaning that provide insight into a worldview valuing interconnection, humility, and harmony with nature. Beyond just denoting size, nui amplifies the significance of people, objects, and experiences.

Understanding the nuances of this word allows deeper appreciation of the Hawaiian language and heritage. By exploring the origins, cultural symbolism, grammar, and common usages of nui, we gain a fascinating glimpse into Hawaiian perspectives and values.

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