ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi / Hawaiian Language

Hawaiian Word of the Day for Feb. 11: Mākaʻi

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With Super Bowl LVII happening on Sunday, Hawai‘i Island police have teamed up with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to remind Big Island football fans that “Fans Don’t Let Fans Drive Drunk.

So for Feb. 11, our Hawaiian Word of the Day is mākaʻi, which means police. This is not to be confused with makai, which means “at the ocean” or “towards the sea” when the word does not have an ʻokina and kahakō.

Kauaʻi County Mayor Derek Kawakami is with members of the Kauaʻi Police Department in front of the Ka Hale Mākaʻi o Kauaʻi, which is Hawaiian for the Kauaʻi Police Station. Photo Courtesy: County of Kauaʻi

Donʻt know what ʻokina and kahakō are? Here is a quick lesson:

The ʻokina, which looks like a backward apostophre — ʻ —, indicates a glottal stop or clean break between vowels. It is not considered punctuation but an actual letter — a consonant. A great example: Hawaiʻi.


The kahakō is not a letter but a diacritical mark. It is a line over a vowel that indicates the letter has a longer vowel sound. This is sometimes referred to as a kō.

So back to mākaʻi. Todd Raybuck is the Kauaʻi luna mākaʻi (chief of police in Hawaiian).

Kauaʻi Police Chief Todd Raybuck. Photo Courtesy: Kauai.gov

Other variations:

  • hale mākaʻi: police station
  • mākaʻi kau lio: mounted police
  • mākaʻi hoʻomalu pō: patrolling night police
The popular TV police drama Hawaiʻi 5-0 then and now.

Most people know the slang for police in Hawaiʻi: Five-O. It stems from the TV police drama that first aired in 1968, with a revamped, modernized version of the series popular today. The title referred to the 50th stateʻs police department. These days the slang term is used for police in general throughout the country.

But want to get on the good side of a cop? Say akamai kēlā mākaʻi, which means that police officer is smart.

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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