The Stones of Kapaemahu in Waikīkī get a new plaque and AR experience

Hawaii Public Radio | By Cassie Ordonio | October 25, 2023

A new plaque in front of a popular Waikīkī’s monument commemorates the story of four mahu healers from Tahiti who came to Hawaiʻi to treat diseases.

Honolulu officials held a ceremony Tuesday to unveil the new plaque installed on a stone outside of the gated Healer Stones of Kapaemahu.

The stones pay homage to the healers’ contributions in Hawaiʻi. According to the moʻolelo, the Tahitian healers transferred their powers into the stones that had remained in Waikīkī for hundreds of years. They were mahu, people of dual male and female spirit.

The stones have endured years of neglect, including being buried under a bowling alley for over two decades until they were recovered in 1963. The stones are now located at the western end of Kūhiō Beach Park.

Many visitors have passed the site, unaware of the history behind the stones. While older plaques exist inside the fence, they can be difficult to read.

There were incidents where people sat on the stones or placed their boards on them, according to Kehau Noe, a computer science PhD student at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. She’s part of the project to diversify and share the stones’ history.

“The stones are in a highly tourist-centric area,” Noe said. “People don’t realize how important they are.”

A QR code engraved in the plaque takes visitors to a webpage providing stories and interpretations. What’s new is a virtual reality tour guide of the stones, created by Noe in collaboration with cultural advocate Kumu Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu and filmmakers Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson.

Noe helped create an augmented reality application, which is the real-time use of virtual audio and graphics woven into real-world environments. The team came up with scripts and filmed Wong-Kalu telling the story.

The AR app will briefly introduce the stones, their genealogy and history while providing a creative outlet for visitors to experience the stones virtually in detail.

“By telling it through all these different mediums, we’re finding different ways to bring life to the story and to perpetuate it in ways that will work for everyone,” Noe said.

The stones are well-protected today, Hamar said.

“They’re beautifully displayed, but as Hawaiʻi changed, so did the story,” Hamer said. “The part about the healers being mahu and the connection to gender duality was nearly erased. But fortunately, it wasn’t completely forgotten.”

Hamer emphasized that the news AR app will help reach a broader audience.

“The Stones of Kapaemahu are more than a tourist site, and they deserve to be better understood by locals and visitors alike, “Wong-Kalu said in a news release. “They are an insight into our Pacific understandings of male and female, life and healing, and the spiritual connections between us all.”

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