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  • Writer's pictureAshton Blyth

Kapaemahu (Dean Hamer, Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu and Joe Wilson, 2020)

Kapaemahu is the short, Oscar-nominated animation that tells the true story of the four individuals, of dual male and female spirit, who travelled from Tahiti to Hawaii and embedded their powers of healing into the giant boulders that still stand on Waikiki beach.

Māhū is described as a mixture of both male and female, in mind, heart and spirit. Of which Hinaleimoana Kwai Kong Wong-Kalu (also known as Kumu Hina), a native Hawaiian educator, activist and director is one. Kumu Hina teamed up with Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson to form Kanaka Pakipika, and direct and produce several films that have "opened the eyes of the worlds to the lessons to be learned from Polynesia’s unique approach to diversity and inclusion."

"The understanding of māhū is not necessarily something that you can just easily transpose a Western understanding upon. Māhū is understood in a LGBTQIA+ context in the Western world. However, it's far more inclusive and encompassing and complex than that, and I find that using a Western conception of māhū to be very limiting." - Hinaleimoana Kwai Kong Wong-Kalu.

Kumu Hina narrates kapaemahu in Olelo Niihau, the only form of Hawaiian to be continuously spoken both prior to, and throughout the arrival of foreigners. This, paired with the phenomenal chants of Kaumakaiwa Kanakaole, allows the animation to transport the viewer through time with the telling of this sacred story. The animation appears to have jumped off of the rocks which it was most likely transcribed on in the re-telling of the story from generation to generation of Hawaiians, and coloured with the embers of the fire from which it was told around.

I feel awe watching the powers of the māhū depicted, spiritual hearing the chants as they gather to transfer their powers to the stones; crushed, seeing this sacred monument be buried by foreigners - even under a bowling alley for some time, and ashamed that people feel the need to remove the fact that they were māhū from the story. But I feel pride, knowing that despite that, the māhū of today are telling the true story of Kapaemahu and a part of the reason the stones have been recovered, and will hopefully receive the celebration they deserve from both māhū and non-māhū, and native hawaiians and foreigners alike in future generations to come.

As Kumu Hina says, māhū is understood in a limited way in the Western world. However, through watching this animation, I feel I understand what māhū is - though I cannot put it easily into words, it is embracing and all-encompassing. This animation transcribes the diversity and freedom of native Hawaiian culture better than any textbook could, and is something I could only dream of witnessing in the western hemisphere in my lifetime.

Ola ola ola, e ola loa ta moolelo no Kapaemahu.

Life, life, life, long life to the story of Kapaemahu.


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