Revisting Women in Hawaiian History Via Herb Kane

In reflecting on the way that many local women are dismissed in Hawaiian history and culture discussions by outsiders and even at times by our own men in the Hawaiian community, maybe this is be a wake up call in understanding and revisiting the way women are thought of in history in general but in Hawaiian history specifically.

Image may contain: outdoor, nature and water
Many people know the attached painting. Itʻs the “Battle at Nuʻuanu Pali” by Herb Kane. Kane was a native Hawaiian artist and historian of extraordinary ability. Most people see this painting and look at the men hanging off the cliff. But in this Kane painting, there are women. There are women warriors fighting on both sides. Thatʻs historically accurate because we know that Kaʻahumanu for example fought in that battle. We know that Hawaiian women could be warriors. They could be soldiers. Under Kamehameha I, women were included in his regiments as well as war councils. They were female “generals”. But that was not unusual nor uncommon. Chiefly women for centuries fought along their fathers, brothers, husbands (yes husbands), and their kings. These pūʻalihine or women warriors were given the same rigorous combat courses and sweat just as hard as the men besides them. They not only gave the lāhui (nation) the ultimate gift of children but the ultimate sacrifice of their own.

The women have been in this painting since Kane painted it but many havenʻt really noticed that they are there. Thatʻs the same way we view too much of our history. Due to our internalized colonialism, many again just see the men. Thatʻs the way in general history by Europeans and Americans has been written. The focus has been on the men, their heroism, and their actions that shaped the course of their history. But Hawaiian history is different. Hawaiian culture was different. we need to look at things differently and can not allow a haole or colonial view of our history and our culture to define not only our Hawaiian women but to dismiss them, their contributions and their viewpoints from the history of our lāhui. O ka lāhui i ke kamaliʻi nui o nā wahine. The nation is the greatest child of women.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: