Directed by Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson, the documentary tells the story of Hina Wong-Kalu, a māhū (or transgender) teacher (or kumu), cultural practitioner, and community leader, to explore the struggle to maintain traditional values within Westernized modern Hawaiʻi.
In (pre-colonized) Native Hawai’ian and Polynesian cultures, the idea of someone who embodies both the male and female spirit, also known as māhū, is not only accepted but revered as an asset.
Labeled transgender in Western society, māhū are traditionally thought to inhabit “a place in the middle,” where the ability to embrace both male and female qualities empowers them as healers, teachers and caregivers.
“Māhū is the expression of the third self,” Kaumakaiwa Kanaka‘ole, a Native Hawai’ian activist and performer told Mana magazine. “It is not a gender, it’s not an orientation, it’s not a sect, it’s not a particular demographic and it’s definitely not a race. It is simply an expression of the third person as it involves the individual. When you find that place in yourself to acknowledge both male and female aspects within and accept the capacity to embrace both … that is where the māhū exists and true liberation happens.”
“I didn’t take to life as my family’s son,” Hina told Mana. “I wanted to be their daughter. However, for me to expand my own personal journey and the challenges in my life, I’ve had to embrace the side of me that is the more aggressive, the more Western-associated masculine when I need to. But that’s the beauty of being māhū, that’s the blessing. We have all aspects to embrace.”
The film also introduces us to Ho’onani, a courageous sixth grader who is proudly “in the middle” and rises as a leader of her school’s all-male hula troupe in their final performance.
Kumu Hina aired on PBS in May, when it also released to DVD in North America through Passion River. Watch the trailer below.