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Honi: The Traditional Hawaiian Greeting

Two women giving Honi, the traditional Hawaiian Greeting

Honi (pronounced HO – nee) is the traditional Hawaiian greeting.

The english translation is “to kiss”, but actually, the original greeting was touching forehead to forehead, nose to nose and exchanging breath.

So here’s the question…

“How do I know when it’s okay to honi someone like a client or patient?”

Growing up, my dad would always say “oh, kiss your auntie, kiss your uncle” and we would kiss one time on the cheek. And hug. It felt a little awkward at times because I wasn’t asked to kiss and hug every grown up. In certain circles, we would just say hello, shake hands or give a “hi 5”.

It’s so important to understand the context before you can offer the appropriate greeting.

Cultural Context

In other places throughout the world, there are similar greetings. The Maori people, indigenous to New Zealand, greet with hongi. When you hongi, you touch forehead to forehead, nose to nose and exchange breath.

In the Eskimo tradition, the Inuit people, rub noses. This practice would likely be seen with an elder and child, someone that is family. The energy of this greeting is very intimate and familial.

The Hawaiian people exchange honi this way as well. It’s how you would greet someone honored, loved, and esteemed. It is a sign of respect to receive a honi.

Practice of Honi

When we touch forehead to forehead, we touch alo to alo, bone to bone, with our makaloa, third eye, nose to nose. The third eye is the potent, intuitive center of the body. By touching forehead to forehead, we can read someone else’s intention.

Hawaiians believe that our ancestral DNA is contained within the bones. When we connect bone to bone, we’re connecting the lineage of both parties. In other words, it’s a way of identifying the person in front of you and connecting with them on that very deep level.

Finally, we exchange breath. The ha, divine breath, is held within each of us. When we exchange divine breath through the nose, it is the part of us that comes directly from Spirit. The breath of God.

Historical Significance

When the western contact happened and we were greeted with a handshake instead of honi, it was very unusual to the Hawaiian. The gesture had no breath.

I believe that is one of the ideas behind the word, Ha’ole

Another possible explanation is when the Hawaiian saw pale skin they saw a similarity to when someone was not well. A person without life force. The Hawaiians referred to these foreigners as  Ha’ole, which means no breath.

It was without breath as we shook hands with the western sailors, Captain Cook and his men. And somehow that word has continued to stick overtime, but I believe it had to do with this greeting as well.

Modern Dilemma

Honi is a greeting that was traditional here in Hawaii. I’ve noticed that honi is one of our ancient practices that we’re seeing more and more nowadays. Still, some Hawaiians are hesitant when they go to greet someone as to whether the person is open to greeting them in this very intimate, familiar way.

Remember, there was a time in our history where many Hawaiian cultural practices were suppressed. Hawaiian elders have had to sit on a timeline with many changes.

From the migrations of the Pacific to the Missionary period, to the time when Hawaii became a U.S. territory, many Hawaiians were not able to practice our traditions. In fact, some were not proud of our traditions as a people trying to assimilate into American culture.

Hawaiians have now begun to really embrace our Hawaiian-ness our traditions, and cultural practices.

My Personal Experience with Honi

In the past, I’ve found myself holding back. I will not typically go towards someone unless I know them well like a student and I’m the one who is offering that greeting. Hawaiian elders deserve my respect, so I will wait until they approach me and then I receive it.

Honi is an honor, a gesture of respect and acknowledgement in the life the other person carries. If you are in a situation where you aren’t sure what to do, hang back, see what comes and be ready for anything.

The original question had to do with whether to honi patients,  clients, or those unfamiliar with the practice. If someone doesn’t know the deeper meaning of the gesture, it may be an opportunity to educate someone in a very beautiful way of acknowledging the God within someone else. Be mindful of the other person’s comfort level.

Be Mindful

Honi is a mana exchange and it has to do with our essence.

So, the next time you greet someone, whether you’re offering a honi, a kiss, or a hug, just do it with aloha. Greet one another from your heart and acknowledge the spirit within the other person. Their divinity. The breath of God.

Join the conversation:

When you have you held back when greeting someone new? How do you acknowledge the divine in another person?

I love reading your comments!

With aloha,

image of kumu Jeana Iwalani Naluai


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15 thoughts on “Honi the Traditional Hawaiian Greeting”

  1. Luís Roberto Moreira de Moraes


    First of all, my deep Respect and Gratitude!! Every word written here will be superficial to describe the Energy of that moment.

    Through surfing, 15 years ago, I started to admire with great respect the culture of the Polynesian and Hawaiian people.

    A culture that really lives the essence of what we are… the Divine Energy, the Whole.

    Gratitude for sharing this Wisdom in describing Honi!

    I hope in the future to be in Hawaii and greet the first Hawaiian person I meet, giving back to this beautiful culture!


    Luis Roberto from Brazil

  2. Mahalo Kumu Iwalani, I was googling the Hawaiian word for sharing breath and your wisdom came up. What a sweet gift this morning. Haʻi wau iā ʻoe and I miss this practice.

      1. Hello Jeana,
        I came in touch with Hawaii through dancing, I don’t remember the name, it was a sort of flying which encouraged me to test a set of Hawaiian perfumes from Aloho Senses Perfumes. One of them is named Honi and so I looked for the meaning of this word. Thanks fo the interesting information full of understanding and respect. It actually inspired me to understand the fragrance. The creators seem to know nature and culture of Hawaii very well.
        Aloha, Regine

  3. I am Hawaiian but grew up on the mainlalnd. Someday I want to return to my islands and learn more of what I missed. I have always loved to lean into people especially those I grew close to. Recently I find myself kissing them on the cheek if they are moving away. I am a grade school teacher of military families. Have I a seed implanted in me?

    1. I believed that exchange and offering greetings with a pure heart and ALOHA 🌺 – that’s the cultivating and true vision of seed that’s implanted on you Leonora 💖 What makes it even better is that acknowledging the spirit within the other person and minding Their divinity always! Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us! 💞🌈✨

      1. Mark Checksfield

        I am from New Zealand but as a white Eiropean find the power of the traditional Pacific Island greeting, the Honi or Hongi incredibly powerful and symbolic. Thankfully in New Zealand we are making significant steps towards officially recognising Maori culture again after the negative times of British colonisation so that the Hongi is being used a lot more again in formal greeting ceremonies by government officials.I love it! It is a cultural and spiritual gem which should be honoured and preserved.

        1. Thanks for following up on this post Mark! 😀 I always believe the importance of Cultural Preservation. 🙌 And of course lifting our highest Mana to be the torchbearer of our Authenticity! 💖 Doing this by Aloha from the bottom of our hearts and acknowledging the spirit within of the people around us. 💗🌈✨🌺

  4. Jeff Gramps Baron

    Thank you very much by this interesting information. I am actually a Michigander, but believe in hugging as a positive exchange, and was intrigued by the practice of Honi. I hope that adding Honi to my interaction with my fellow man will be taking as a honor to that thinking, and not some fad based meandering. Our world needs more kind words, gentle touches, hugs, and of course Honi. Peace!

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