HONOLULU (KHON2) — Pacific Islanders have a long and rich history of gender identities that span a spectrum of diversity. Not beholden to binaries prior to European colonization, The peoples of the Hawai’i islands revered the māhū for their spiritual and physical healing powers.
The Kapaemāhū healer stones located in Waikīkī are a testament to the love and adoration once showered on māhū healers.
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The story goes like this.
Many years before King Kakuhihewa ascended to be leader, there were four Tahitian healers who voyaged to Hawaiʻi’s islands from their home in Moaulanuiakea which was on the island of Raiatea.
Kapaemāhū, who was the leader of the group, Kapuni, Kinohi and Kahaloa settled in Waikīkī near an area called Ulukou.
The healers were what Native Hawaiians call māhū. These extraordinary individuals embody all genders. Like their two-spirit and leiti counterparts, māhū have the unique experience of having access to a way that does not require one to choose between a masculine or a feminine identity. They have access to all forms of being, creating a synergy between heart, mind, body and soul.
It was in this ethereal existence that they shared their gentle ways and their healing knowledge, which made their fame spread throughout the islands.
Sadly, all good things must come to an end. When the māhū left the islands, they asked the people of Oʻahu to place two stones on the spot where they had lived along with two stones on the location where they bathed. These were to serve as a permanent reminder of their healing powers that alleviated pain and suffering.
So, on the night of Kane, the leaders of the people directed that stones be quarried from a place in Kaimukī known as bell rock and taken to their Waikīkī location.
Legend has it that the māhū transferred their names and their spiritual power into the stones, and a māhū idol was placed underneath each stone. Once their rites were administered with fasting, the māhū disappeared, never to be seen again.
Of course, once the islands were colonized by Europeans and U.S. industrialists, Hawaiian traditions, cultures and languages were repudiated for their indigenous origins. The Kapaemāhū stones, along with the veneration for māhū, were nearly forgotten.
It is on the back of this tradition that Transgender Day of Visibility is upon us.
For Native Hawaiians and Native American tribes, the existence of a spectrum of gender identities is part of our heritage, culture and tradition. These ways of life were nearly lost to colonization, and many who are māhū today continue to suffer under a weight of forgotten destiny.
Transgender quite simply means to transcend gender. Gender itself is an artificial concept that we embrace in order to understand who we are and what our roles in society are. For some, having to choose between two predetermined roles is too confining for the abundance of knowledge and vision that their souls, minds and hearts contain.
It is through this — let’s call it a valve — it is through this valve that societal pressures and responsibilities are able to vent.
Sen. Brian Schatz and Sen. Tammy Duckworth along with 21 other U.S. senators introduced a resolution that is meant to recognize the achievements and courage of our transgender community around the world.
“International Transgender Day of Visibility is about celebrating the transgender community around the world – their achievements, their courage and their right to live authentically and openly,” said Sen. Schatz.
Sen. Schatz went on to warn about impending violence to indigenous māhū and two-spirits and to the transgender community in general.
“But, it is also about raising awareness of the discrimination and violence they still face today,” explained Sen. Schatz. “While we have made progress over the years – thanks to the bravery of many transgender leaders – the work for full equality, acceptance and civil rights protections continues.”
Sen. Duckworth is keen to make being a māhū, a two-spirit and transgender something to celebrate.
“On this International Transgender Day of Visibility and always, we celebrate the resilience of transgender, nonbinary and gender nonconforming Americans and their basic right to be their most authentic selves without fear, shame or discrimination,” said Sen. Duckworth.
She went on to explain.
As the transgender community continues to endure horrific, targeted violence and with a wave of anti-transgender bills being proposed in states across the country, I’m proud to join Senator Schatz and my colleagues to introduce this resolution to commemorate Transgender Day of Visibility and send a strong, unified message to our fellow Americans: we see you, we hear you and we will never stop working to advance true equality for all of us.”Sen. Tammy Duckworth
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As you celebrate Aloha Friday and experience the relief of a pau hana drink, remember that there are māhū throughout the islands that need our healing powers. Much like the kapaemāhū, it is our turn to spread healing powers that will build up people rather than tear them down.