My name is Hinaleimoana Kwai Kong Wong-Kalu, but most people call me Kumu Hina, meaning teacher Hina. I’m Kanaka Maoli, or native Hawaiian. I was born on these islands 43 years ago as my parents’ son, Collin, but in my twenties transitioned to become their daughter, Hinaleimoana, which means Hina encircling the sea.
All through school I was teased and put down for being a “sissy,” “faggot,” “queer,” and “homo.” Worst of all was being called “māhū” - a Hawaiian word - because I didn’t know its meaning. My teachers were no help, even at Kamehameha Schools, an institution founded by Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop to educate young Hawaiians.
Today, at age 43, all that has changed.
I am a graduate of the Kamakūokalani School of Hawaiian Knowledge at the University of Hawai'i, fluent in Hawaiian and three other Polynesian languages, a cultural consultant for several organizations and corporations, appointed by the Governor to Chair the O'ahu Island Burial Council, and a respected teacher with 15 years of experience educating students in grades K-12 about our history, traditions and philosophy.
Most importantly, I understand the meaning of māhū: a Hawaiian term for those born “in the middle” who embody both kāne (male) and wahine (female) spirit. Prior to Western contact, Hawaiian society embraced māhū as caretakers, healers, and teachers of ancient tradition. But colonization and Christianity led to many changes, including turning māhū from an honorific to a derogatory term.
I’m fortunate to now be in a position where I can help restore māhū to its proper place as a word of pride, dignity and respect. In my school, I make sure that every student has a “place in the middle” where they are judged not by their gender but on their work and accomplishments. And I strive to ensure that amongst the many contributions of our Hawaiian ancestors that are taught in our classrooms, from the long voyages of our great navigators to the sustainable use of our lands, we include the Hawaiian understanding of aloha – love, honor and respect for all, including māhū.
Most Americans probably think that what Hawaii has to offer the world is sun, sand, pineapples and ukeleles. I hope this story, along with the recent PBS documentary about my life – KUMU HINA - will help change that. The world needs more aloha.