Hawaiian Culture Guide: 10 Things You Should Never Do When Visiting

10 Things You Should Never Do in Hawaii

Remember these traditions and celebrate the spirit of aloha!

Hawaii is always a great choice, whether you’re looking for an exciting adventure or a relaxing vacation. While it’s fun to explore its activities, it’s also enjoyable to learn about Hawaiian culture. A big part of keeping Hawaii festive and welcoming is maintaining a strong respect for traditions and customs practised by its people. So, while you enjoy a tour of the islands, here are some reminders you should heed when in Hawaii. This way, you can always express the spirit of aloha!

Also read: 17 Unique Things to Do in Hawaii Besides Surfing and Beach-Hopping 

What not to do in Hawaii

1. Don’t take lava rocks home

lava rocks hawaiian culture

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You may be tempted to take a unique souvenir from Hawaii, like a lava rock you could freely collect from the ground. Hold back, friend, because taking these rocks is illegal. 

Apart from that, tourists would usually mail these rocks back to Haleakalā National Park after learning of a superstition relating to Pele, the volcano goddess of Hawaii. Apparently, the volcano goddess doesn’t like rocks being taken away from the archipelago and casts a curse on offenders. The same goes for different coloured sand found throughout the beaches of Hawaii. So if you don’t want Pele’s attention, best remember your Hawaii etiquette and leave these geological beauties where they lay.

2. Don’t forget the importance of the shaka sign

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If you aren’t familiar with the shaka hand gesture, you can learn it easily. Just make a fist and stick out your thumb and pinky finger, then lightly shake your wrist. 

The shaka sign is mostly used as a greeting and a sign of gratitude and respect. It is a world-famous hand sign, especially among surfer communities, but in Hawaiian culture, it is a simple sign of solidarity and respect. It’s a pretty laid-back and fun custom to practise when learning about Hawaiian etiquette. 

3. Don’t stand near blowholes

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Water shooting out from a rock formation is fun to look at, but we assure you, it is unpleasant up close. There is a ridiculous amount of power behind that torrent of water, which can easily knock you out — and that’s probably the least stressful thing that could happen. Because for worst-case scenarios, the water might take you to the sea, or will drag you down to a cave. It has happened before, so don’t let it happen again!

4. Don’t miss out on local restaurants

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When you’re in Hawaii, for your sake, try to avoid eating in fast food restaurants unless you have no choice. Hawaiian culture has a rich palate, being a mix of influences from the Pacific Islands, Asia, Portugal, and America. With these many options, you’re bound to find a favourite dish among local restaurants. Try out their seafood for a scrumptious meal, and look out for juicy fruits for desserts! Don’t let the prejudice of Hawaiian pineapple over pizza ruin your experience when it comes to enjoying the food of Hawaii. Hawaiian cuisine goes beyond fruits on a pizza!

5. Don’t ignore warning signs around the islands

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Learning about dos and don’ts in Hawaii involves a lot of looking out for bodies of water. On that note, make sure to heed every warning sign you encounter in the area, because they aren’t just for show. These places may serve as great backdrops for your social media posts, but wouldn’t signs like “X amount of people have died here” ward you off? Alternatively, inform your Instagram followers of the dangers by posting a photo of the sign instead!

6. Don’t touch the wildlife

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When observing wildlife in the islands of Hawaii, take note of aumakua. It is one of the most sacred Hawaiian traditions among locals. The aumakua are clan-specific manifestations of deceased ancestors, usually taking the form of animals found throughout the islands. Touching them is considered disrespectful among clans.

Apart from that, these animals can carry deadly diseases that can spread quickly among visitors and locals alike. They may also see us as a threat to their habitat. Our presence alone can harm them as much as they can harm us. They may be pretty to look at as they frolic freely in the seas and jungles, it’d be wise to observe them from a distance.

7. Don’t turn your back on the ocean

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The ocean may be pretty as a background for your photos, but it is also an unpredictable body of water. It holds a lot of power, and waves in Hawaii are never to be underestimated. With that said, it is best to always face the ocean, especially when you’re close to it. It can pull you from the shore should a wild wave catch you off guard even while from the safety of the shore. Besides, you can always take a photo from higher ground.

8. Don’t swim in murky or brown water

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Brown or murky water in Hawaii usually comes from heavy rains, flash floods, or nearby river mouths. Aside from being full of bacteria, it is a popular feeding site for sharks because of dead animals being swept away from the mountains. Avoid these waters when taking a swim if you still want to enjoy Hawaii!

9. Don’t rent vehicles without a roof

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Hawaii is known for random rain clouds on any given day at any location on the island. So when picking out what vehicle to rent, make sure that it has a roof over your head. It isn’t uncommon to see people stop in their tracks as the rains impede their transit. Most victims of these are convertibles and having a wet convertible is a grand inconvenience. We’re not saying that they’re not decent vehicles. In fact, on a pleasant day in Hawaii, convertibles are a great option. It’s just that bad weather can really ruin the experience for you when you’re caught with your top down. 

10. Don’t miss out on learning about Hawaiian history and culture

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Hawaiian culture is more than grass skirts, tiki drinks, and fire dancing. Go in a bit deeper, and you’ll discover more. That thing Moana does where she hovers her hand over the stars to navigate the seas? You can learn how to do it in Hawaii. Pretty cool right? That is a method that ancient Polynesians used to cross the ocean safely. If you take the time, natives can teach it to you.

Hawaii also has an interesting history as a US state despite it being miles and miles away from North America. Learning its story can only enrich your visit to Hawaii. Eventually, you’ll probably discover the island’s identity. It is more than a popular place for vacations. It is more than a pineapple plantation.

Also read: Top 17 Stunning Airbnbs & Vacation Rentals for the Best Experience in Hawaii

Hawaiian culture is multifaceted. It’s simple to learn but it will take you far, not just in Hawaii, but throughout the world. These traditions are meant to keep you safe as you enjoy the wonders of the islands. Look out for Hawaii, and Hawaii will look out for you. Remember to keep the spirit of aloha close to you!

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About Author

Aldous Vince Cabildo
Aldous Vince Cabildo

Ever since growing up, Aldous learned how to look at things from an historical perspective. So whenever the opportunity to travel arises, he makes sure to go to places that contain local stories and memories. From there, he takes in the lessons from the past and picks out what to learn, or should it interest him, what to unlearn. At any chance he gets, he also makes sure to try out local cuisine. When not charting his next destination, Aldous likes to explore worlds found in video games, hip-hop, film, and professional wrestling. He is a proud resident of Tondo.