Adam Keawe Manalo-Camp February 7, 2018 · 

I wanted to make this post directed towards people who may not think “good” about themselves. Those who are afraid to pursue careers in teaching, IT, STEM, Hawaiian Studies, law, the Humanities, or just pursuing one’s passion and career.

One of the people I greatly admire is Mary Kawena Pukui. She was a keeper of the fire that grew so dim in the 20th century. Most Hawaiians know her from the Pukui – Elbert dictionary and her efforts to preserve the Hawaiian hula. But there’s more to her.

Hawaiian women prior to the 20th century had real power. They had political power. They were educators. While in the US the glass ceiling has yet to be broken, Hawai’i had 1 female head of state and 4 female heads of government in the 19th century alone. Outside of the Crown, the wealthiest Hawaiian in the 19th century was a woman–Princess Ruth Ke’elikolani. After the US formally took over Hawai’i in 1898, Hawaiian women in particular lost all of this. While in the 19th century, Hawaiians had universal literacy and over 70 newspapers, Hawaiians in the early 20th century were set on a path of self-hate and de-educated. But there were women like Mary Kawena Pukui who refused to let the spark of intellectual curiosity and cultural knowledge die. Nor was she part of an aliʻi society or claim that type of blood line.

Mary Kawena Pukui was someone with not only an exceptional knowledge of Hawaiian culture, but a deep sense of intellectual curiosity and kuleana (responsibility). Hawaiian women like Mary Kawena Pukui, Pali Lee Jae, Bernice Pi’ilani Irwin were not only proud to be Hawaiian in an era that the term “kanaka” was used as an insult, but they were fighters. They fought with the Bishop Museum and with the Territorial Government over Hawaiian cultural sites, bones, and culture itself. Pukui worked at the Bishop Museum from 1938-1961. She had fought with various directors for the way that Hawaiian objects were being treated and in 1961 the museum actually fired her citing that she had no college degree. This was despite the fact that by then she helped compile the Pukui – Elbert dictionary and was already a recognized scholar. Kamehameha Schools did not hire her either. It was a huge set back not only for Pukui but for the Hawaiian community because she lost not only her source of income to help her research but an avenue to channel Hawaiian knowledge. Eventually, Punahou hired her to help them with their Hawaiiana program and she was then able to write and research again. Women of her era, in general, did not go to college because by then Hawaiian women were taught to be good wives and mothers instead of pursuing education and careers. In addition, there was no “Hawaiian Studies” program anywhere. That would take another couple of decades. Despite not having the “credentials”, Pukui went on to publish over 50 scholarly books, articles, and papers. She always encouraged particularly women to go learn the culture, teach it to your children and go get as much education as you can because a wahine who knows her culture is strong. But nothing scares the powers that be like a wahine who knows her culture and has the “credentials” even in their own culture.

ith various directors for the way that Hawaiian objects were being treated and in 1961 the museum actually fired her citing that she had no college degree. This was despite the fact that by then she helped compile the Pukui – Elbert dictionary and was already a recognized scholar. Kamehameha Schools did not hire her either. It was a huge set back not only for Pukui but for the Hawaiian community because she lost not only her source of income to help her research but an avenue to channel Hawaiian knowledge. Eventually Punahou hired her to help them with their Hawaiiana program and she was then able to write and research again. Women of her era in general did not go to college because by then Hawaiian women were taught to be good wives and mothers instead of pursuing education and careers. In addition, there was no “Hawaiian Studies” program anywhere. That would take another couple of decades. Despite not having the “credentials”, Pukui went on to publish over 50 scholarly books, articles, and papers. She always encouraged particularly women to go learn the culture, teach it to your children and go get as much education as you can because a wahine who knows her culture is strong. But nothing scares the powers that be like a wahine who knows her culture and has the “credentials” even in their own culture.

Related image
Mary Kawena Pukui