Experience Mahu Madness and Discover the Hidden History of the World’s Only Gender-Fluid Monument during October Pride Month in Honolulu
Honolulu, HI. September 5, 2023) – As some American states are seeking to prosecute the parents of transgender children for providing lifesaving medical care, and others to prohibit schools from even discussing LGBTQ topics, Hawaii is celebrating its long history of gender diversity and inclusion with a major museum exhibition on The Healer Stones of Kapaemahu, a monument in Waikiki.
According to legend, the four boulders that comprise this monument were placed on Waikiki Beach as a tribute to four māhū – extraordinary individuals of dual male and female spirit – who brought healing arts from Tahiti to Hawaiʻi long ago. The stones have survived for centuries, but the story behind them has been suppressed and the respected role of māhū erased from the public record.
The exhibition, occupying over 8,000 square feet in Honolulu’s prestigious Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, is an immersive multimedia experience that centers an Oscar-contending animated short film, archival documents, art, and interactive elements to explore how, why, and who silenced and invisibilized the māhū in Kapaemahu.
“This exhibition presents our Hawaiian view of gender duality as a natural aspect of the human experience,” said Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, a curator of the exhibition who herself identifies as māhū. “It brings knowledge and wisdom of the past into the troubling conversations unfolding today.”
The exhibition also explores how the story was shaped by foreign influences, including the growing influence of the United States military and fundamentalist religion in Hawaii throughout the 20th century. After being buried under a bowling alley in 1940s, the stones were unearthed in the 1960s, only to encounter a wave of prejudice and legal discrimination that required māhū entertainers to wear an “I AM A BOY” button proclaiming their biological sex.
“It made us feel so degraded” said Brandy Lee, a well-known entertainer from that era who is featured in a section of the exhibition that recreates the Glade nightclub where she performed in the 1960s. “The word māhū was like a curse. It was the worst thing you could call somebody.”
Contemporary portraits of Oceanic people across the gender spectrum illustrate the rich diversity and resilience of queer Pacific communities today, while a series of short videos presented in the immersive “Cave of Memories” recall their experiences being themselves while not letting go of tradition.
The exhibition has been especially popular with school groups. Dean Hamer, a co-director and curator of the project, commented that “instead of teachers being afraid to say ‘gay’ in a classroom, they are excited about introducing their students to a time and place where being different wasn’t just accepted, it was honored and celebrated.”
The closing weekend of this unique exhibition, October 14-16, is also Honolulu Pride, which will be kicked-off by Mahu Madness, an outdoor extravaganza on the Bishop Museum’s Great Lawn featuring live music, legendary Glade-era performers Brandy Lee and Shelrae, Honolulu’s own Coco Chandalier, and other special guests from across the Pacific.
The sacred monument still stands on famed Waikiki Beach, and is a must-see on a visit to Oahu.
Pictures from Exhibition and Monument
Visit The Healer Stones of Kapaemahu exhibition at Bishop Museum (thru October 16)
Virtual Museum Tour (in progress)
Kanaka Pakipika is a multimedia education and community engagement organization rooted in Hawaiian culture and dedicated to acceptance, respect, and inclusion for all.
Bishop Museum is the largest museum in Hawaii and the premier natural and cultural history institution in the Pacific, recognized throughout the world for its cultural collections, research projects, consulting services and public educational programs.
Dean Hamer, Director & Curator, Kanaka Pakipika
(he / him /’o ia)