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The meaning of Aloha


Paul Strauch, Duke’s former surf teammate, recounts a conversation he had with Duke about the power of the word “Aloha.” “Alo” translates to “in the presence,” and “ha” is “the breath of life.” “[Aloha] was a symbol of intense greeting and respect.” This is an outtake from “Waterman—Duke: Ambassador of Aloha.”

Five-time Olympic medalist Duke Kahanamoku shattered records as a swimmer and brought surfing to the world while overcoming rampant racism in a lifetime of personal challenges. Yet, relatively few outside of Hawaii know his considerable impact. Narrated by Jason Momoa, “American Masters: Waterman – Duke: Ambassador of Aloha” brings to light Kahanamoku’s inspiring story in a new documentary featuring original interviews with musician Jack Johnson, surfer Kelly Slater, surfer Carissa Moore and others he has inspired.


(bright music) - We got in a conversation one day, and I said, 'What do you think the most important word in your vocabulary is?'

And he says, 'Without question, Aloha.'

And I said, 'Really? Why?'

And he says, 'You don't know the background.

'It's a composition of two words, 'Alo and ha.

'And Alo means in the presence of, 'literally translated, 'and ha is the breath of life.'

When the Hawaiians greeted each other, they would come up to each other, they would place their forehead on the other person's forehead.

And so your eyes are just very close and they would open their mouth, take a half breath and they would expel it.

And so that breath would be mixed with the other person's breath.

And it was a symbol of intense greeting and respect.

- That's what Aloha really means, right?

It comes from here.

It's in your, noh ah, your pico, your heart, whatever you wanna say.

But it's sharing your spirit, because we all have a spirit, right?

And that spirit is what you share with that person.

And you give, you know, you give that freely of yourself, right?

And that's, that's how I was taught.

That's how it was taught from the beach, at the house, wherever you were at.

If you don't have Aloha then you're not alive.

- He says, 'You know, 'whenever you feel like 'there's discordance in your life, 'look to the word, Aloha.

'Call it out 'you know with your voice.

'And then remember that, 'you know 'in the presence of life and, 'and then bring it to you.'

And it's like a transmutation process that will take place.

And I've never forgotten that.

And it still, you know, resonates with me and I still practice that.

(bright music)


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