ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi / Hawaiian Language

The Hawaiian Word of the Day for Feb. 4: Heʻe

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Photo Courtesy: Kanaloa Octopus Farm

February is Mahina ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, or Hawaiian Language Month. For Feb. 4 our “Hawaiian Word of the Day” is “heʻe.”

In the melting of cultures in Hawaiʻi, some words get lost in translation. While tako is a common name for the octopus in the Aloha State, it is of Japanese origin. The Hawaiian word for octopus is heʻe.

More than 70 different types of cephalopods are found in Hawaiian waters


Heʻe are tasty. The cephalopod also is respected for its intelligence and creativity. They have a large brain in comparison to their body size, image-forming eyes and the ability to problem solve.

And, heʻe are masters of camouflage. Sensory organs on their eight arms enable the sea creatures to blend in with the colors and textures of surrounding corals.

In Hawaiʻi, there are day and night octopuses hunting on the reef.


The “day octopus,” Octopus cyanea, is the most common cephalopod. By day, it hunts snails and crabs. At night, it slithers into a tiny cavity to rest. They have a wide range of defense mechanisms: squirting water at their attacker through their funnel; using their suction cups to hold up a wall of rocks as protection; and even ejecting a cloud of ink.

Empty shells piled at the entrance of a heʻe cavity can show divers and snorkelers where there is an “octopus garden.”

Ringo Starr made the creatures iconic in the Beatles popular song “Octopus’s Garden.” As the story goes, Starr was on a boat belonging to comedian Peter Sellers in Sardinia in 1968 when he ordered fish and chips for lunch, but got squid. While he thought it was a bit rubbery, Starr became enamored with them after the boat captain explained how they travel along the sea bed picking up stones and shiny objects with which to build gardens.


On the Big Island, the Kanaloa Octopus Farm received a state cease and desist letter from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources for not having permits.

While cephalopods first appeared in the world’s oceans about 500 million years ago, day he’e have a short lifespan and reproduce only once. Sometimes the females eat the males after doing the wild thing.

When is the best time to search for heʻe? According to a Hawaiian proverb — Pua ke kō, kū mai ka he‘e — it’s “when the sugarcane flowers, the octopus appears.”

Editor’s Note: Each day in February, we have a new “Hawaiian Word of the Day” during Mahina ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, Hawaiian Language Month. Check out the other words of the day on the Big Island website by clicking here.


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