My Favorite Lingos: Duo and Johnny
Updated: Oct 20, 2022
My family had a trip to Hawai’i planned for over two years. Well, I didn’t plan it, but if you’re familiar with my mother then you know she was an excellent travel agent in her past life. In Christmas of 2019, my siblings and I were gifted the trip. We were already in Anaheim, I was living my best LA local life (more on that later), and we all felt super spoiled.
Looking back, I’m glad our trip was postponed those two years. 2022 is the year of the tiger which is, coincidentally, associated with the earthly branches of the Chinese zodiac. But this can’t be coincidental. It wasn’t. It was intentional.
After all the canceled hotels, rearranged flights, and changed dates, the long coveted journey to the islands arrived. It felt like waking up to go to Disneyland on crack. Partially because we were going to Aulani, but I put in some personal preparation on my end.
As our trip to the most remote islands in the world grew near, I noticed that Duolingo was having a sale. I’ve used the app for several years to brush up on my Spanish from high school as well as pay homage to California and y mi familia ellos son fluent en Espanol. I’ve always wanted to learn multiple languages and possess the ability to speak to others in whatever tongue, or signs, they’re comfortable in. So with a membership to Duolingo and a trip to a foreign land on the horizon, why not learn Hawaiian before I get there?
I had never been to the islands, and I knew people there spoke English, but there’s something about knowing an ancient language, where a culture stems from, and being able to pronounce the street signs. So I embarked on the journey of learning Hawaiian and while I am nowhere near fluent in the language, I am fluent in Hawaiian.
Hawaiian is a beautiful, smooth yet harsh sounding language all at once. Their sentence structures are similar to that of ASL, American Sign Language, where nouns, verbs, and adjectives are somewhat jumbled up and yet you understand the question or statement being made. Each sentence in Hawaiian has multiple layers or meanings to it. For example, “Aloha” doesn’t just mean “Hello”. It’s deeper than that. Yes, it’s part of the phrase “I love you”, but “Aloha” doesn’t just mean “love”. Aloha embodies love. Aloha is a way of life; it’s gratitude and appreciation and cultivating genuine connections to others.
Part of my preparation for visiting Hawaii included reading about it. I visited Desert Book one day and picked up The Way of Aloha: Lānaʻi by author Cameron C. Taylor. Besides the fact that the orange and yellow cover played on my heart strings, since those are my favorite colors, I was intrigued by the synopsis of a young man’s experience learning from native Hawaiians while serving his mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
The Way of Aloha: Lānaʻi teaches why Hawaiians are a joyful people, the power of an aloha embrace, and how other cultures and sacred landmarks can be respected while connecting personal truth to universal truth. Ancient Hawaiians believe in the flow of energy and the continuation of life. Owning land was a foreign concept to ancient Hawaiians.
After all, you can’t own what you didn’t create. One of my favorite parts of the book is the realization Elder Taylor had upon first arriving to Lānaʻi . Rather than traveling by car, he preferred riding a bike because of the connection and power he feels while cycling around the island.
Elder Taylor’s mentor, Manu, explained, “Nature is a great gift from our Creator and is much more than physical objects. Āina is filled with mana (spiritual power), spirit, and breath (life). Land is sacred. Each island of Hawai’i has a unique voice. The āina whispers the ancient truths of Aloha” (Taylor 42).
While the first leg of our trip was spent in beautiful, bustling Waikiki, I experienced the āina most strongly at Kualoa Ranch. The four-thousand sprawling acres of land is more than a home to some of the most iconic film sets in movie history; It’s just home.
My family grew up tearing down dirt roads and traversing sketchy trails and riverbeds, and stepping into the lifted truck to explore Kualoa Ranch felt like climbing back into the saddle. At one point of our tour, there was a small hike where my niece and I just took off running. We had so much fun leading the pack up the hillside, listening to the birds and small chatter of the slackers at the back. The air felt thinner with each sandal-shoed step but it also felt more pure. A slow breeze moved through the trees, and it was just quiet. Birds sang nearby, a soft hum of insects thrummed the air, and the thicket of greenery enveloped us like the island was so glad we were there, thanking us, and loving us back.
It felt like aloha. I felt aloha āina.
Hawaii is the most visited destination in the world and we flock there in droves due to the mana (spiritual power) in the āina (land). Even in English, āina doesn’t entirely translate to land. Āina is an experience. It’s a connection to the Creator and the Creator to the āina. And when we return to the mainland, the āina is why we say we’re, “staying on island time.” There is a tranquility, a peace, to the āina that we want to keep with us. But the way of aloha doesn’t only exist on the islands. It can exist within each of us.
I thought it was weird, at first, seeing the Hawaiian course in Duolingo only have two units where other courses like Spanish have ten. And then I learned that ancient Hawaiian doesn’t include a past or future tense. There is only the present.
The freeways in Hawai’i have a maximum speed limit of about fifty miles per hour, and while it may be attributed to the roads twisting around hillsides, there’s just no rush. Nothing is so important that you can’t live in the now. You can’t be stressed about the future because it hasn’t happened yet, and you can’t be worried about the past because it doesn’t exist. You can only live in the moment.
I’m often chastised because I don’t take enough pictures. I’m often “late” to posting updates or photos. But I can’t be late if there’s no past and there’s no future, so I shouldn't feel guilty if I don’t operate on mainland time. Some things just can’t be captured. Even the photos I share now feel like a disservice, confining an indescribable experience to a five by seven frame. Some things can only be felt.
Hawai’i is more than souvenirs and sandy pictures. Hawai’i is, well, heaven on earth. It’s my hope that the next time you visit the islands, you look at the āina and see her. The āina will speak to you.
In ancient Hawaiian, there is no word for “goodbye”. We often use aloha as a greeting and farewell, but things don’t end in Hawai’i because that would mean living in the future. So, I guess we can say: A hui hou (Until we meet again). A hui hou, Hawai’i. A hui hou.
Taylor, C. (2017). The Way of Aloha: Lānaʻi. Mount Lanai Publishing.
If you’re looking to deepen your understanding of Hawaiian culture and gain insights to your life, read The Way of Aloha: Lānaʻi by Cameron C. Taylor. Come along with me as I read the remaining books in the series and learn the way of aloha.
Mahalo nui ma!