Issue 15.1: February / March 2012

Mickey Goes Hawaiian

Story by Lynn Cook

Photo by Matt Mallams


“How do you say ‘mouse’ in Hawaiian?” asks a tourist as he slides onto a bar stool in the dim coolness of the ‘Ölelo Room at Disney’s Aulani Resort. The visitor is testing. He’s heard that the bar’s entire staff speaks Hawaiian.


Keola Asman keeps shaking a cocktail and points to a carved wooden homage to the world’s most famous rodent; engraved beneath is the word “‘iole.” Then he laughs and says, “‘Iole really means ‘rat,’ so ‘iole li‘ili‘i would be a tiny rat— or a mouse, like Mickey Mouse.”


Then the guest, wet and weary from chasing his son down the water slides a dozen times, gets down to business. “And how do you order a double rum?” Bartender Karsten Zane replies, “I lama na‘u.” If you add “‘elua,” the word for “two,” he says, it means, “make it a double.” A couple of repetitions and the guest has it—and the double rum— down.


Hawaiian comes easy for the staff of the ‘Olelo Room (‘olelo, by the way, is Hawaiian for “language”); Asman is pursuing a master’s in Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa, and Zane is a UH graduate. Their Hawaiian language exchange is a minute-by-minute occurrence in a bar where fluency is a job requirement, and they’re more than happy to teach others. Asman and Zane joke that the most frequent questions are, “How do you say ‘mai tai’ in Hawaiian?” and “What about the restroom signs, ‘wahine’ and ‘kane’—which is which?” (Answers: “Mai tai”—which is actually Tahitian—is the same in Hawaiian as in English; “wähine” is for women and “käne” for men.)


Uluhani, a hostess since the resort opened last September, hands over English/ Hawaiian flash cards along with the pupu menu. She learned Hawaiian from her grandmother and has a master’s in indigenous languages. By day she teaches at Kamehameha Schools; by night she teaches as she serves drinks. “I love it when locals come in to savor the place and the Hawaiian music,” she says. “We just wala‘au, chat, and the visitors begin to understand. We Hawaiians talk with our hands, you know.”


Katie Barnam from Austin, Texas, loves the language lessons. She admits that her drawl gets in the way, just a little. “But at least I don’t say ‘Hay-wha-yer’ anymore!”  


Disney Aulani Resort