'The Healer Stones of Kapaemahu': an Exhibit on Gender and Erased History

by Zoe Dym – Hawai’i Public Radio – June 22, 2022:

The Bishop Museum opened a bilingual exhibit in English and ʻŌlelo Niʻihau on the history of māhū over the weekend. Māhū means to have a dual male and female spirit.

The exhibit is called “The Healer Stones of Kapaemahu.”

According to a moʻolelo, four māhū healers from Tahiti came to Waikīkī and treated diseases. Kapaemahu was the leader of the group. The healers transferred their mana into four stones before leaving the island.

Today there are four large stones between the Duke Kahanamoku statue and the public shower facility at Waikīkī Beach. These are the healer stones of Kapaemahu.

The plaque in front of the stone provides a story about the healers, but omits any detail on their gender.

“The Healer Stones of Kapaemahu” exhibit showcases the erased history of gender fluidity in Hawaiʻi.

Dean Hamer, the co-curator of the exhibit, says the healers’ powers and skills are embedded in their māhū identity.

The idea for an exhibit on the Kapaemahu stones began 10 years ago when Hamer and his partner Joe Wilson were filming their documentary, “Kumu Hina.” It focuses on Native Hawaiian māhū Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu.

The conversation to build an exhibit on Kapaemahu started when Wong-Kalu began chanting to the healer stones.

Visitors are recommended to watch an animated short film before walking through the rest of the exhibit. The film explains the moʻolelo in ʻŌlelo Niʻihau with English subtitles.

After watching the animation, guests can walk through the history of the Kapaemahu stones, healing arts, and sex and gender diversity.

A section of the exhibit is dedicated to contemporary topics of gender diversity in Hawaiʻi.

Hidden behind a curtain is a replica of the Glade Show Lounge — a now-closed nightclub in Chinatown with transgender performers.

Performers from Glades were forced to wear a pin that read “I Am A Boy.” A state law passed in 1963 deemed the performers and other transgender residents were dressing as women with the intent to deceive.

“The Healer Stones of Kapaemahu” features contemporary voices of people across the gender spectrum in the Pacific Islands.

The exhibit is open until Oct. 16 in the Castle Building. Bishop Museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. More information at bishopmuseum.org/kapaemahu