ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi / Hawaiian Language

Hawaiian Word of the Day for Feb. 10: Māla

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On Saturday, Kauaʻi Now will feature a new guest column called “Gardening on the Garden Isle.” Tom Timmons is a certified Master Gardener who will bring his knowledge and wit to all things related to plants.

So for Feb. 10, the “Hawaiian Word of the Day” is māla, which means garden, plantation, patch or cultivated field.

In Hawaiian, a food garden is a māla ʻai (ʻai means food) and a flower garden is a māla pua (pua means flower).

While most people appreciate mālas, in 2015, just after New Year’s, vandals and thieves struck at the Honolulu Community College māla. They cut down seven taro plants, according to Hawaiian instructor Alapaki Luke.

Alapaki Luke and former Chancellor Mike Rota in the Honolulu Community College māla. Photo Courtesy: HCC

This is the first time the school’s taro patch, which was several years old, has been damaged, Luke said at the time. Previously, only a few banana bunches were targeted. Maybe for students wanting to make smoothies?

Māla also is the name of a land division in the Lahaina region on Maui that was once an important wharf. Māla Pier, which became more popularly known as Māla Wharf, was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and dedicated in 1922. Those engineers did not listen to the local Hawaiians, who did not recommend the location due to its strong currents and large surf.


But it was built, with the town hoping it would eliminate the inconvenience of light freighters having to load and unload steamers anchored in Lāhainā Roadstead.

The Hawaiians proved to be right. Heavy surf and strong currents made it treacherous for ships to navigate to and from the wharf safely, which limited its use.

Māla Wharf before it was destroyed by Hurricane Iniki in 1992. Photo Courtesy

In 1992, the end of the pier was destroyed by 30-foot surf from Hurricane Iniki. Now Māla Wharf is one of the best shore dives on Maui, with a large group of turtles congregating around pilings and pieces of the wharf submerged in up to 30 feet of water to create an artificial reef.

The Māla area now is a popular complex of shops and restaurants, including the fine-dining Māla Ocean Tavern, which used to be a pineapple weigh station not far from the Baldwin Packers pineapple cannery.

The Tavern’s website says: “MALA means Garden and the experience of being in a garden near the ocean as you watch turtles (honu) splashing in the surf and see rainbows over the West Maui Mountain is one of a kind.”


Māla Kaluʻulu is one of the nine founding members of the Hawaiʻi ʻUlu Cooperative. It was established in 2015 through Kamehameha Schools’ Mahiʻai Matchup contest – which connects farmers to agricultural land. Māla Kaluʻulu is dedicated to restoring the ancient breadfruit agroforests that helped sustain Hawaiʻi before the Western World arrived.

Drawing courtesy: Māla Kaluʻulu

The farm’s geographic focus is on the kaluʻulu, or ancient breadfruit belt of South Kona. It spans nearly 10 square miles from Honaunau to Kaʻupulehu along the Big Island’s western coast.  

By restoring and adapting its 3.8-acre parcel to demonstrate the functionality and viability of the kaluʻulu system in the 21st century, the farm’s goal is to “learn from the past to create a more resilient food future” for Hawaiʻi.

At the John A. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, the Māla Lāʻau Lapaʻau (Medicinal Plant Garden) is part of The Department of Native Hawaiian Health.

The vision of the māla was “to create a living outdoor classroom that would provide opportunities for learners to appreciate the Hawaiian ancestral knowledge and reestablish a connection to the land.”


The most commonly used plants for lā’au lapa’au practices that are growing in the māla are: ‘awa, ‘awapuhi kuahiwi, ko, ko’oko’olau, kukui, mamaki, noni, ‘olena, popolo and ‘uhaloa. They are described in this guide.

According to the Native Hawaiian Center of Excellence, approximately 100 native Hawaiian plant species no longer exist in the wild, and only a handful have been saved in cultivation. Of the remaining 552 Hawaiian plant species that are rare, 150 have fewer than 50 individuals remaining in the wild, and those numbers are decreasing every year. Oʻahu-based Hui Kū Maoli Ola, which states on its website its the “Worldʻs Largest Native Hawaiian Plant Nursery,” and its partners are hopeful that though teaching and public awareness, these endemic and native species will thrive for the next generation to enjoy and embrace.

According to Allbabynames.com, Mala is a female name.

Soul Urge: People with the name Mala have a deep inner desire for love and companionship, and want to work with others to achieve peace and harmony.

Expression: People with the name Mala tend to be passionate, compassionate, intuitive, romantic and to have magnetic personalities. They are usually humanitarian, broadminded and generous, and tend to follow professions where they can serve humanity. Because they are so affectionate and giving, they may be imposed on. They are romantic and easily fall in love, but may be easily hurt and are sometimes quick-tempered.

And wrapping up this Hawaiian Word of the Day, the Hawaiian Shirt Shop has an aloha shirt called Nani Māla, which means beautiful garden.

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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