It’s very likely you’ll hear or see this Hawaiian word while in the islands: malama, which means “to care for.” It’s a widely-used term that may be applied to almost any situation, and whether realizing it or not, may be easily discovered while on your Hawaii vacation.

Let’s start with your arrival at the airport. While not every visitor gets greeted with lei, those that do, feel the love; they feel cared for and welcomed by their hosts, even if it’s the first time meeting one another. That warm embrace is the quickest way to finding out the true definition of malama in the islands. Other places you’ll feel this embrace might be at luau celebrations, at restaurants, at local events or on the streets. The best way to getting the inside scoops, particularly directions or tips, is to ask the locals. I know I’ve helped my share of Hawaii tourists, as well as asked my share of questions to the locals in places I’ve vacationed.

Malama kai or malama aina include our responsibilities as residents or visitors of the Hawaiian Islands. It’s understood that we should do our best to protect and to tend to the ocean and land. Hawaii has numerous ocean and nature conservancy organizations that you may check out for volunteer opportunities. But just simply recycling or picking up a piece of trash from the ocean may qualify as ways to malama. When hiking through the Koolau or snorkeling Hanauma Bay, we make sure not to disturb any native species or tamper with the coral reefs, which are alive and well. And by doing this, we are preserving the beauty and history for others to enjoy, even decades from this day.

The most important example of this Hawaiian word is when we malama the host culture and its people, no matter where we are visiting. This act may be called something else in other countries, but in Hawaii, it’s just simply, malama. We show respect by following certain protocol; for example in Hawaii, we should never step on a heiau (sacred place of worship) or remove rocks from places we visit. It’s not only disrespectful, but, some say, it’s a sure way to bring bad luck. We also remember to remove our slippers before entering someone’s home, another sign of respect to the host. Let’s put this Hawaiian term in practice as best we can for the betterment of the islands!


  1. My best friend here who is extremely caring and always helps anyone got her Hawaiian name a little while back from our Hula Kumu. Kumu always chooses names that fit the person and she named my friend Malama Kea. It’s perfect

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