Learn the mahu legacy behind Waikiki’s ‘healer stones’

Replica of the "Healer Stones of Kapaemahu"
Replica of the "Healer Stones of Kapaemahu"(Hawaii News Now)
Published: Jun. 17, 2022 at 5:41 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 17, 2022 at 5:50 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -The Bishop Museum’s upcoming exhibit, “The Healer Stones of Kapaemahu,” examines the mahu legacy behind four stones nestled in the heart of Waikiki beach.

The project centers mahu influence throughout Hawaiian history with a collection of artifacts, contemporary garments, a short film, various projected interviews, immersive rooms and textual narration in both English and the Niihau Hawaiian dialect.

Officials said it took a decade to create.

As the exhibit creators explain, mahu are people made of dual male and female spirit, known as a third gender in Hawaiian culture.

Colonization and the spread of Christianity suppressed the mahu identity, and erased the story of the Healer Stones of Kapaemahu. A wing of the exhibit plays the 2020 short film “Kapaemahu,” which explains how four revered mahu brought their healing abilities to Hawaii and then transferred their powers and names to the four stones.

But the once cherished stones and their mahu origins were buried under a bowling alley in the 1940s before being recovered and eventually placed where they stand today in Waikiki. The stones’ moolelo, or stories, comes from two main sources ― the published “Hawaiian Almanac and Annual for 1907″ and the work of Mary Kawena Pukui, said lead curator DeSoto Brown.

“What we’ve lost in the retelling of the story is the identity of the four healers, that they were mahu, meaning what we would say today is transgender,” Brown said. “We’re also telling the story of healing. We’re talking about different types of traditional healing. We’re talking about the transition of Waikiki from quiet agricultural area to big city.”

The exhibit’s focus on traditional healing methods also acknowledges the mahu experience of being shunned for generations.

One room reimagines the Glade nightclub of the 1960s, which was a safe haven for mahu performers. Recorded interviews mounted on the walls explain how mahu performers had to wear pins reading “I am a boy” to avoid arrest.

The exhibit’s opening Saturday coincides with Pride Month and, organizers say, showcases the unique mahu culture.

“Mahu have never really been gone, we have continued to endure,” exhibit curator and filmmaker Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu said.

“I hope that the next generations will understand that Hawaii is a place whose culture, language and people have an understanding of people with duality. With this exhibit, we uplift our existence, and not try to put ourselves above anyone else, but to reclaim our space in between the male and the female.”

The power of the stones is harnessed by those who understand and come with their best intentions, not by leaving a physical footprint, Wong-Kalu said.

“The Healer Stones of Kapaemahu” will be on view through Oct. 16.

For tickets and more details, visit bishopmuseum.org

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