What do Hawaiians call their grandpas?

In Hawaiian culture, grandparents play an important role in the family and are treated with great respect. There are special Hawaiian terms used to refer to grandparents that convey the significance of their position in the family.

Quick Answers

Here are quick answers to questions about what Hawaiians call their grandfathers:

  • The Hawaiian word for grandfather is “tūtū”. This is used for both maternal and paternal grandfathers.
  • “Tūtū kane” specifically refers to a grandfather on the father’s side.
  • “Tūtū wahine” specifically refers to a grandfather on the mother’s side.
  • The term “tūtū” is an affectionate name expressing the love and respect held for elders.
  • “Kupuna” is another respectful term used for grandparents in general.

The Importance of Grandparents in Hawaiian Culture

In traditional Hawaiian culture, elders were honored and revered for their knowledge, experience, and status as keepers of cultural traditions and values. Grandparents held a special place of significance.

The elder members of an ‘ohana (family) were respected as important repositories of ancestral wisdom. Their advice was actively sought after and heeded. Grandparents passed down oral histories, traditions, values, and Hawaiian language to the younger generations.

Grandfathers in particular served as role models and teachers, especially for their grandsons. A loving bond between grandfather and grandchild was seen as greatly beneficial for the child’s upbringing.

The reciprocal care and mutual affection between grandparents and grandchildren strengthened the multi-generational family unit which was the foundation of traditional Hawaiian society.

Origins and Meanings of “Tūtū”

The term “tūtū” evolved from the Hawaiian word “kūkū”, meaning grandparent or ancestor. “Tūtū” is thought to derive from the repetitive sounds babies make when addressing their grandparents – “tūtū”. Over time, this baby talk word came to be widely adopted.

“Tūtū” is used as a title of respect, endearment, and honor for grandparents in Hawaii. It signifies the cherished status of grandparents within the family.

Calling grandparents “tūtū” reflects the strong intergenerational bonds and warm, loving relationships in Hawaiian families. It is a way of conveying deep affection, gratitude, and reverence for elders.

Customs and Traditions with Grandparents

In old Hawaii, grandparents were tasked with passing down cultural knowledge and traditions to the younger members of the family:

  • Grandfathers taught grandchildren values like discipline, responsibility, strength, courage, integrity, and respect through stories and by example.
  • Grandmothers imparted wisdom about Hawaiian legends, mythology, medicinal healing, crafts, music, and hula.
  • Grandparents instructed grandchildren in Hawaiian language, customs, rituals, chants, songs, and dances.
  • Grandfathers specifically taught grandsons fishing, sailing, farming, and fighting techniques to prepare them for manhood.
  • Grandparents educated grandchildren about their genealogy and family ancestry.

In this way, cultural knowledge was orally passed down intact through generations. Grandparents ensured the preservation of Hawaiian heritage.

Some modern traditions connecting Hawaiian grandparents and grandchildren include:

  • Grandparents are often the main caregivers for grandchildren while parents are working.
  • Grandchildren commonly address grandparents as “Papa” and “Nana” along with “Tūtū”.
  • Visits, sleepovers, trips, activities spent together strengthening family ties.
  • Exchanging gifts on birthdays and holidays.
  • Grandparents teaching grandchildren traditional practices like fishing, music, hula, cooking.

Significance of Grandfathers in Families

In Hawaiian culture, grandfathers hold a special standing as elders and are respected for their wisdom and life experience. Their essential role includes:

  • Passing down family history, genealogy, oral traditions.
  • Advising on important matters and making key family decisions.
  • Guiding grandchildren in learning values, responsibilities, life skills.
  • Teaching grandsons cultural practices to transition into manhood.
  • Modeling strong character, integrity, spirituality for grandchildren to emulate.
  • Providing a feeling of continuity, stability, and belonging through the generations.

The active presence of a grandfather was traditionally important for the proper upbringing of grandchildren, especially grandsons. Grandfathers were seen as key figures in developing a child’s identity within the family.


In Hawaiian culture, grandparents hold positions of honor and respect. The term “tūtū” lovingly refers to grandfathers and conveys their significant status.

Grandfathers have traditionally passed down cultural knowledge, values, and skills to grandchildren. Their wisdom and guidance are highly valued. Strong, warm bonds between Hawaiian grandchildren and grandparents strengthen families across generations.

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