Recommended Books
on Hawaiian Culture

Just a very few of the many wonderful books about the real Hawai‘i.

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Hawaiian Dictionary: Hawaiian-English, English-Hawaiian (Hardcover)
by Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel H. Elbert

A gem, a treasure, a gift. There is no other single book that contains so much knowledge of Hawaiian culture, values, and thought. What makes the Hawaiian Dictionary so unique is the participation of Hawaiian scholar, dancer, composer, and educator Mary Abigail Kawena‘ulaokalaniahi‘iakaikapoliopelekawahine‘aihonuaināleilehuaapele Wiggin Pukui, a wise and insightful woman who combined precise scholarship with first-hand experience of life in a now-vanished age. This is not only for students of the Hawaiian language, but for anyone who has any interest in Hawaiian culture, or indigenous worldviews in general. This masterpiece uses definitions, examples, and quotations to offer all lovers of Hawai‘i an encylopedic guide to all things Hawaiian. This is the first book I would grab if I were heading off to exile on another planet.

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Place Names of Hawaii: Revised and Expanded Edition
by Mary Kawena Pukui, Samuel H. Elbert, and Esther T. Mookini

A fascinating and essential companion to the Hawaiian Dictionary. Looking for the meaning of a Hawaiian word and can’t find it in the dictionary? That’s probably because it’s a place name, and if so, this book will very likely include it. The origins of place names are not always known, but if they are, they will be included here – and they don’t always mean what you might expect.

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Nānā I Ke Kumu (Look to the Source) Volume I
by Mary Kawena Pukui, E. W. Haertig, and Catharine A. Lee

From the foreword: “Nānā I Ke Kumu… is a source book of Hawaiian cultural practices, conepts and beliefs which illustrate the wisdom and dignity contained in the cultural roots of every Hawaiian child.” Consider the two volumes as one book; they are most effective used together.

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Nānā I Ke Kumu (Look to the Source) Volume II
by Mary Kawena Pukui, E. W. Haertig, and Catharine A. Lee

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Hawaiian Son: The Life and Music of Eddie Kamae
by James D. Houston with Eddie Kamae

Eddie Kamae’s life has been an amazing journey. From his wild teenage years (he was running dice games as far back as junior high school), to becoming one of Hawai‘i’s first great ‘ukulele virtuosos; from his quest to find the heart of the traditional music of his homeland, to founding the Sons of Hawai‘i, and on to his emergence as the premier producer of films on Hawaiian culture, his love of music and his aloha have made him an invaluable cultural treasure. There is real magic in this journey, as a young Eddie is guided to meetings with kūpuna (elders) who had been waiting for just such an eager and dedicated young man to carry the soul of Hawai‘i forward into a new day. This is an immensely fascinating and magical book, with many “chicken skin” moments – I finished the whole book in one day, and looking at it again as I write this, I feel it calling me back for another read.

Shoal of Time
by Gavan Daws

This is the standard popular book of Hawaiian history, covering the period from the late 1700s to statehood – and that already tells us that the story is told very much from the Western perspective, since nearly two thousand years of Hawai‘i’s history before the arrival of Captain Cook is ignored. Tales from the Night Rainbow (below) provides some much-needed balance.

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Tales From the Night Rainbow (Mo‘olelo O Na Pō Mākole):
The Story of a Woman, a People, and an Island
by Koko Willis and Pali Jae Lee

The existence of this wonderful book is due to the generosity of the descendants of Kaili‘ohe Kame‘ekua of Kamalō, Moloka‘i. It was written so that her knowledge and wisdom could be passed along to the children of the family, but it is our great good fortune that they have decided to share her stories with the world. And she had a lot to share – she lived to the remarkable age of 115, from 1815 to 1931! Tales from the Night Rainbow offers a purely Hawaiian view of Hawaiian history, tradition, and spirituality, undiluted by the worldviews of Western scholars.

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‘Ōlelo No‘eau: Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings
by Mary Kawena Pukui

2942 sayings from Old Hawai‘i, with six indexes and beautiful block-print illustrations by Dietrich Varez. All the proverbs that you will find quoted in the footers of each page on this site are taken from this book.

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Nā Mo‘olelo Lomilomi: The Traditions of Hawaiian Massage and Healing
by Makana Risser Chai, editor

Lomilomi is traditional Hawaiian massage, but as with all the works of nā kūpuna (the elders and ancestors), it offers a window into the greater culture of which it is a part. This book reprints virtually every published reference to lomilomi from 1779 to 2004, providing a montage of glimpses into the minds of the ancestors, and inspiration for all those interested in this vital and powerful healing tradition.

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He Mele Aloha: A Hawaiian Songbook
by Carol Wilcox, Vicky Hollinger, Kimo Hussey, and Puakea Nogelmeier

Hundreds of the most popular and important Hawaiian songs collected in one book. If you already play and sing traditional Hawaiian music, you’ll find this to be a great reference. If you are just starting out, you picked a great time – many people have been waiting a long time for a book like this. The songs and translations are conveyed with great integrity and authority, and it includes chord diagrams for the ‘ukulele.

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