The Hawaiian Words for Ocean Tides and Why They Matter

by Keolu

Aia no i ke kō a ke au  –  “Whichever way the current goes” (time will tell)

(ʻōlelo noʻeau, Hawaiian proverb and saying)

Why the Hawaiian Words for the Tides Matter to Kamaʻāina

The ancient Hawaiians’ deep knowledge of the tides was fundamental to their life and survival.  

The tides dictate life on an island.  When to travel, if you can travel, where to swim, when food will be plentiful or scarce.  The list is long.

Knowing the perspective of a people whose very existence was conjoined to the movement of the sea is powerful.

Kai Piha - High Tide

Kai in this context means the “sea”.

In this context, the word piha means “full” or “complete”.  You can see why this makes sense in that the ocean is full or is completely filled.

Kai Make - Low Tide

Make can mean “to die”.  I take this to mean, the tide cycle has ended and is about to start anew and rise again.

Kai Piʻi - Rising Tide

Piʻi means to “ascend” or “rise”.  Not much to say.  Makes sense.

Kai Emi - Falling Tide

Emi means to “reduce”, “decrease”, “lower”, “diminish”.  You get the idea, right?

Use The Language and Grow

Knowing these words gives insight into how Hawaiians viewed their natural world.  Using them gives you a closer connection to the ʻāina through the language of the land.

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