Hinaleimoana (Hina) is a Native Hawaiian activist and kumu (director) of her own halau (hula troupe). Identifying as mahuwahine, a transperson who was born male and identifies as a woman within traditional Hawaiian social context, Hina is an icon in Hawaiian LGBTQ and activist communities.
Hinaleimoana was born in Honolulu, O‘ahu, and identifies her ancestry from several sources. She is descended from the Kealoha family of Alapa‘inui and Keawe‘opala, from the Paliokaweloa family of Kawahinekoa, from the Wong and Look families of China, from the Mathias of Portugal, and from the Gardners of New England. She was raised throughout the islands with many different family members, immediate and extended as well as hanai (adoptive), but she calls Liliha-Pu‘unui in the valley of Nu‘uanu her home.
Receiving her high school education at The Kamehameha School-Kapalama campus on O‘ahu, Hinaleimoana continued her education at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, earning degrees in Hawaiian Studies and Education. She became Director of Culture at Halau Lokahi Public Charter School, and has been involved with the mahuwahine community as a counselor and as the co-founder of Kulia Na Mamo (organization dedicated to mahuwahine) Board of Directors.
Hina is a member of the Siasi o Tonga Tauataina (Church of Tonga) and act as their community liaison for local government affairs and public relations. Additionally, she is a member of the Queen Emma Hawaiian Civic Club and kumu of the halau hula, Kealohaleimoanaakalahui.
Hinaleimoana is a staunch supporter of Hawaiian Independence from the United States of America. “My great great grandparents, great grandparents, and grandmother stood in solidarity for our independence,” she said in a statement for the Qualia Encyclopedia of Gay Folklife (June 2009). “I fight for my lands, I fight for my people and culture, I fight for our language and cultural practices and beliefs because I know that my culture has a place for people like myself.”
She identifies as a woman in her professional and social circles, but feels it may be more appropriate to be identified as mahuwahine (in current LGBTQ terminology, “transwoman” but within the context of traditional Hawaiian culture). Hina does not see mahuwahine identity as the equivalent of transwoman or transgendered person, and that strictly equating mahuwahine with transwoman is a form of neocolonialism:
It is through increasing my accolades politically and professionally that I, as well as other TG [transpersons], shall rise to equity, parity, and inclusion in the larger circles of the Western oriented non-GLBT identified community… such delineation of community lines along with their respective nomenclature is yet again a testament to the imperial bastion of colonialism and oppression that my native people face.
Mahu or Trans identity within Hawaiian cultural context takes on different connotations than that of transpeople in post-Stonewall LGBTQ definitions. “Am I transgendered?” she asked in a statement she made for Honolulu’s 2005 Gay Pride program, and then answered, “Yes, by Western standards I am. Do I identify with Western standards and ideals? No. Do I establish my foundation in the soils of foreign ideal to validate who I am? No!”
In the Encyclopedia interview, Hina described how mahu was rarely mentioned in surviving discourse, not because it was considered forbidden or immoral, but because it was not considered anything out of the ordinary:
In traditional composition and oral history, the presence and subsequent mention of mahu is quite obscure, therefore it may be gleaned not so much that it did not occur nor was present, however, it was not the cause for either a great debate nor was it a source of contention.
She is also careful to explain that the ways in which she defines herself as mahu and mahuwahine are situated in the context of post-colonial Hawaiian identity as well as in its classical sense:
In accordance with historical records it would seem that the more prominent of the two forms of mahu were probably the male to female transgenders [mahuwahine rather than mahukane or female to male]. Not completely devoid of the term mahu as a simple term, descriptive regarding the physical nature of an individual, mahu in traditional oratory is a means to explain the lack of offspring or next of kin born of the loins of the individual in mention. With this I know that claiming and subsequent usage of the term mahu is primarily for the purpose of assertion of self, cultural, and national identity.
Hinaleimoana has been featured in two documentaries: Ke Kulana He Mahu (2001) and Kumu Hina (2014).
Matzner, Andrew. ‘O Au No Keia: Voices From Hawaii’s Mahu and Transgender Communities. Xlibris, 2001.
Nanda, Serena. Gender Diversity: Crosscultural Variations. Prospect heights, IL: Waveland, 2000.
Tengan, Ty P. Kawika. Native Men Remade: Gender and Notion in Contemporary Hawai’i. Durham, NC: Duke University, 2008.
Wong, Hinaleimoana. “Honolulu Grand Marshall.” Honolulu Gay Pride 2005 Magazine. Reprinted on www.hawaii.islandgoddess.org/legends.html, accessed July 2010.