Long ago, four Pacific Island spirits arrived on the shores of Hawaii. Kapaemāhu, Kapuni, Kīnohi and Kahaloa were māhū, gentle yet powerful healers with balanced qualities of both male and female in mind, heart, and spirit.
Their peaceful and generous ways and made them beloved, and when they prepared to travel onward, the Hawaiians honored them with a gift: a sacred site of gratitude made with four giant boulders.
The esteemed visitors imbued these rocks with their mana, and the monument was revered for centuries by Hawaii’s indigenous people.
Both history and legend, this essential moʻolelo or cultural narrative of Hawaii was passed from generation to generation through oral storytelling. Western colonization of the late 1800s suppressed and concealed this story along with many other cultural treasures. On the shore of what is now Waikiki Beach, the four sacred boulders suffered that fate, too.
Their hidden story is revealed with the film Kapaemāhu.
The award-winning animated short was written, directed, and produced by Native Hawaiian teacher and filmmaker Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, along with Emmy and GLAAD Media award-winning filmmakers Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson, and Oscar-nominated animator Daniel Sousa.
The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, has won awards at children’s film festivals around the globe, and is now presented online by the PBS Short Film Festival.
In a director’s statement, Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu writes:
“I am Kanaka — a native person descended from the original inhabitants of the islands of Hawaii. Our survival as indigenous people depends on our ability to know and practice our cultural traditions, to speak and understand our language, and to feel an authentic connection to our own history.
“That is why I wanted to make a film about Kapaemahu, and to write and narrate it in Olelo Niihau – the only form of Hawaiian that has been continuously spoken since prior to the arrival of foreigners. It is not enough to study our language in an American classroom, nor to read about our history in an English language textbook. We need to be active participants in telling our own stories in our own way. I am also māhū, which like many indigenous third-gender identities was once respected but is now more often a target for hatred and discrimination. I want our young people to understand that the ability to embrace both the male and female aspects of their spirit is not a weakness but a strength, a reason to rejoice not to fear.
“Whether it is protecting Mauna Kea or Kapaemahu, I shall always believe in what historian S. M. Kamakau articulated in 1865 : He makemake ko’u e pololei ka moolelo o ko’u one hanau, aole na ka malihimi e ao ia’u I ka moolelo o ko’u lahui, na’u e ao aku I ka moolelo I ka malihini.
“‘I want the history of my homeland to be correct. The foreigner shall not teach me the history of my people, I will teach the foreigner.’”
Learn more with these handpicked videos on TKSST:
• How did Polynesian wayfinders navigate the Pacific Ocean?
• The Complicated History of Surfing
• Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love, read by Bella Noche for Storytime with The Met
• The word Indigenous, a CBC Kids News explainer