Although he has spent the majority of his life living on the continental United States, my informant considers himself to be Hawaiian culturally and still holds on to the Hawaiian speech and traditions that he learned as a child. That is not to say that he speaks the language of the native Hawaiians, but rather he uses and is accustomed to various slang terms that are primarily used among Hawaiian locals. When asked about a unique example Hawaiian slang, he immediately said, “well there is this one word. Popolo.” According to my informant this word, pronounced po-polo, is “a traditionally derogatory way to refer to a black person.” However, as he continued talking about the use of this word, he mentioned that “at least in [the group of people he was around when he was in Hawaii] people used it very casually. Because of that I never knew that it was a bad word until I moved to California and was told by my dad to stop saying it.” When asked about the origin of the word, my informant told me that it is a reference to the popolo berry. The popolo berry is the Hawaiian name for glossy nightshade, which is a plant that has very dark black berries.
On the surface, this slang term makes sense as it can both refer to a dark colored berry or the dark colored skin of a person. However, it’s meaning likely doesn’t stop there. My informant mentioned that this is a derogatorily term, and upon researching the popolo berry or the berry of glossy nightshade, it becomes apparent why this is. While the berry is clearly black in color, it is more widely known for being toxic and dangerous if handled incorrectly. I believe that this slang, when used derogatorily, is referencing this aspect of the popolo. It is also of note that my informant revealed that this term is still commonly used in Hawaii, at least in his group of acquaintances. While this does not reveal much in itself, it maybe valuable to recognize that this word is still used and accepted while further researching Hawaiian slang.