What are the meanings of Ohana and Hanai?

Ohana Means Family

While Honolulu is often considered “Big City”, it is really only one city that consists of most of one island, which is just short of 70 square miles. The rest of Hawaii is made up of a scatter of cozy, tight-knit towns where everyone looks out for one another. Within each town lies an intimate community that grows up together, knows each other’s families, supports each other, and roots for each other. They go to the same schools, have the same circle of friends from kindergarten to graduation, and often grow up with the same, or similar, valued traditions. In fact, when local people want to get to know each other on a more personal basis one of the first questions asked is what high school was attended (the high school is an indication of what town they are from). Once the high school is revealed, both parties search their memories for a list of people that attended that high school for common people they might know, giving new meaning to “it’s not what you know, but who you know”. 

Ohana is the Hawaiian word for family. There tends to be a strong sense of family when growing up in smaller towns. In the old days, families in Hawaii tended to be quite large, often four or five (or more) siblings. And when these four or five (or more) siblings have four or five (or more) children, you become the town, yet you really are family. So that could have meant that a whole town could very well have consisted of maybe just a handful of really large families. Today families have one, maybe two or three children, creating a twist to the old meaning “ohana“. While the English translation for ohana is still family we have transitioned the word to be used in a looser context to include extended family, or friends that are as close as family.

Ohana in a sentence: “My bruddah is a jock, my sista thinks she’s a princess, my maddah is super embarrassing and my faddah thinks he’s the best at everything. But it’s always good to come home because my ohana is my home” 

Ohana in the movies: Lilo & Stitch (2002) — “Ohana means ‘family.’ ‘Family’ means ‘no one gets left behind’.”

Hanai Means Adopted Family

In Hawaii, we often adopt people into our hearts and into our families. Extended families are so common in Hawaii that anyone you are close to that is close in age is considered a sister (pronounced “sis“or “sista“)or a brother (pronounced “brah or “bruddah“). Anyone you are close to that is a generation older than you is considered aunty (pronounced “antee“) or uncle (pronounced “anko“).  [Hint: if “Aunty” is followed by a name, like Aunty Helen, chances are they are related. If a person just says “Aunty” chances they are extended family. Note: Children younger than millennials tend to call everyone “Aunty” and “Uncle” regardless of family lines, making it confusing for everyone].

Hanai in a sentence: My hanai son will always take care of me.

Hanai in the movies: Money Train (1995) — John Powell (Wesley Snipes) and Charlie Kaylor (Woody Harrelson) were hanai brothers.