City Might Add Dual-Gender History to Waikiki Monument

In the 1960s when a Waikiki bowling alley was demolished to create more beach, four large boulders were unearthed at the site near where they had been erected to honor four Tahitian healers. A historical plaque was erected at the stones, which date back more than 500 years and are protected by a fenced enclosure near the Honolulu Police Department substation in Waikiki. But the version of history that recognized these healers as mahu, someone of dual male and female spirit, remained buried even in 1997 when the monument’s signage was last updated. Some members of the community have asked the city to consider revising the monument’s signage or adding a QR code to provide more information about the mahu aspect of the stones for those who are interested. The movement is an outgrowth of “The Healer Stones of Kapaemahu,” an exhibit at Bishop Museum that runs through Oct. 16.

The book, just released, is the first-ever U.S. publication in both English and Olelo Niihau, the Niihau dialect of Hawaiian, said co-author Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu. Identifying herself as “mahu” or transgender, she is a Native Hawaiian teacher, filmmaker and an activist for gender minorities. Her co-authors include Dean Hamer and his husband, Joe Wilson, both Emmy Award-winning filmmakers, who have collaborated with Wong-Kalu to make five films on transgender people and society’s outsiders. The book is based on their latest film, “Kapaemahu,” released in 2020 and shortlisted for a 2021 Oscar. It is illustrated by Daniel Sousa, an Academy Award-nominated animator.

History Revealed, History UnErased, Truthful History, Empowering and Compassionate History, Living History - just a few of the framings that come to mind regarding the powerful presentations of groundbreaking scholars Tēvita O. Ka'ili and Adam Keawe Manalo-Camp, who shared their manaʻo as part of the Kapaemahu Speaker Series at the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum. Video available now.

Kanaeokana Unveils Kapaemahu Activity Book

Kanaeokana - a network of 80 Hawaiian culture, ʻōlelo and ʻāina-based schools (preschool-university) and community organizations - has unveiled a Kapaemahu Activity Book. Created by teachers for teachers, the activity book is part of Kanaeokana's efforts to develop and share educational resources that support the Hawaiian education system. The Kapaemahu Project creators hope the book will also serve as a guide to help perpetuate the enduring legacy of The Healer Stones of Kapaemahu.

As part of the speaker series based on the themes of Bishop Museum's newest exhibition - "The Healer Stones of Kapaemahu" - this first conversation delves into the historical findings and artistic choices of the curators, including details about the first written version of the moʻolelo, its loss, its rediscovery deep in a library archive, and its restoration — all in the context of the rise of tourism, militarization, and the erosion of Hawaiian cultural identity throughout the 20th century.

More than 500 years ago, Hawaiians placed four boulders on a Waikiki beach to honor visitors from the court of Tahiti’s king who had healed the sick. They were “mahu,” which in Hawaiian language and culture refers to someone with dual male and female spirit and a mixture of gender traits. The stones were neglected for many years, as Christian missionaries and other colonizing Westerners suppressed the role of mahu in Hawaiian society. At one point a bowling alley was built over the boulders. Officials restored the stones multiple times since the 1960s but informational plaques installed next to them omitted references to mahu. The stones and the history of the four healers now are featured in an exhibit at Bishop Museum in Honolulu. The display highlights the deep roots of gender fluidity in Polynesia.

“Our source for the definition of the term ‘Kapaemahu’ is Mary Kawena Pukui, the leading Hawaiian scholar of the 20th century who worked at Bishop Museum for much of her life. She gives this definition in the book she co-wrote, ‘Hawaiian Place Names,’” said DeSoto Brown, Bishop Museum historian, curator of archives, and exhibition lead curator. “In presenting the original moʻolelo from 500 or more years ago, and examining the ways in which it, and the monument erected to honor its heroes, were altered in the 20th century, The Healer Stones of Kapaemahu challenges visitors to ponder how other aspects of Hawaiian history and culture might have been suppressed, changed, or lost. More importantly, visitors will understand that these aspects of Hawaiian culture now have the opportunity to be restored and elevated.”

The fascinating and complicated story of the Healer Stones of Kapaemahu can be experienced now through October in a sprawling bilingual exhibit at the Bishop Museum that explores themes of culture, healing and inclusion. Hidden in plain sight, the Healer Stones of Kapaemahu—four large volcanic pōhaku—rest in one of the busiest parts of touristy Waikīkī—near the police substation and the statue of Duke Kahanamoku—yet if you read the plaque that marks the spot, you’ll find some of the history has been repressed for decades.

Every year, millions of people pass by the four large stones fronting Waikiki Beach without understanding their importance. Placed there 500 or more years ago by four mahu (people of dual male and female identity) who were healers from Tahiti, the stones are traditionally said to possess a spiritual power. The new Bishop Museum exhibition, "The Healer Stones of Kapaemahu," is meant to spread awareness and respect the role of mahu in the traditional story, which had been suppressed and erased.

“‘The Healer Stones of Kapaemahu’ exhibited behind me explores our past and highlights the fact that native Hawaiians had a special, respected place for citizens of dual identity,” Gov. Ige said during the signing ceremony. “We are here today not only to acknowledge that rich history but also to signify that moving forward, we are redoubling our efforts to be a more inclusive community in total.”

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