Aunty Mary Kawena Puku`i

  "HAWAIIAN culture, largely repressed at the beginning of the century in favor of Western education, began a comeback in the 1960s and is in full flower today.

The "Hawaiian Renaissance" would have had trouble getting off the ground, however, if it had not been for the tools provided by educator Mary Kawena Puku`i.

Puku`i wrote or co-authored more than 50 books, as well as more than 150 songs.

She taught for a while at various schools before landing at Museum, where she worked for more than a quarter-century as "associate emeritus in Hawaiian culture."

For her work in placing Hawaiian cultural history into a Western, scholarly format that could be shared worldwide, Puku`i was recognized as one of Hawaii's "Living Treasures" in 1976 and was twice honored by awards from the Hawaii Book Publishers Association."      Star-Bulletin: 11/1999


"Kawena Puku`i, at her birth in 1895, was given by her haole father to his own Hawaiian mother-in-law… Kawena had the opportunity to master Hawaiian and to learn something of the old culture, and she has been ever thankful for her father's generosity and tolerance… Mary Kawena Puku`i, a Hawaiian language expert, and Elbert created the Hawaiian Dictionary in 1957. The Dictionary is considered the "bible" in today's Hawaiian cultural and language rejuvenation. "Puku`i was the source, and Elbert the vehicle who helped bring the source forward… " Pukui & Elbert

"Aunty Mary Kawena Puku`i is the spiritual inspiration of The Hula Pages. With dedicated effort, she and Samuel H. Elbert compiled the definitive and authoritative work on the Hawaiian language, the HAWAIIAN DICTIONARY. Their significant achievement was vitally important for the successful revival of ka `ōlelo Hawai`i (the language).

Aunty Kawena's was a true labor of The Aloha Spirit. Never a wealthy woman in the material sense, she was incredibly waiwai (rich and bountiful) in Hawaiian knowledge and life experiences. She did not hoard any of what she knew. She shared with an open heart filled with Aloha. She was, and still is, respected, revered, and beloved by her pupils and her people.

Aunty Kawena loved the hula; herself, a kumu hula, who had studied for years under Julia Keahi Luahine, a foremost kumu hula of her day and one of the last court dancers of King Kalākaua and Queen Lili`uokalani.

Aunty Kawena was a tremendously sharing person. She must be delighted with this medium of communication and education, the Internet. Not only does the Internet allow unlimited exposure of her work, it furthers the fulfillment of her life's mission which was:

"…the appreciation, preservation and perpetuation
of the Hawaiian language and culture." The Hula Pages: Mahalo to Aunty Mary Kawena Pukui


A day to honor Kawena: Bank of Hawaii presents "He Lā e Ho`ohiwahiwa `ai iā Kawena (A Day to Honor Kawena)" in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Mary Kawena Puku`i's birth, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, April 30, 1995 at Bishop Museum. The life and legacy of Hawaii's beloved Hawaiian scholar and kumu Mary Kawena Puku`i will be celebrated with hula, mele, Hawaiian language storytelling, and other cultural activities for which she was known.

A cultural expert, translator, researcher, genealogist, composer, teacher, and author, Puku`i stands alone in the history of Hawaii for her contributions to the preservation and revitalization of Hawaiian language and culture. The festive event will highlight music, dance and storytelling presented by some of Hawaii's renowned individuals and organizations who are actively perpetuating her legacy."

A Day to Honor Kawena: Bishop Museum


"Puku`i is a "household word" and at least one, more likely several, books bearing her name are found on desks and book shelves all over Hawai`i, and throughout the world. Countless people are responsible for the "Hawaiian Renaissance" or the rebirth of the native culture here in the islands. There are composers and musicians, kumu hula, historians, political activists, writers and many others with significant contributions. In my opinion, central to this movement is understanding the language, the root of any culture, and communicating, sharing that understanding to large groups of people."

Kathy Durham: Women in Hawai`i's History


"Mary Kawena Puku`i, among others, states that the `ohana is a basic organizing principle of Hawaiian life, and that this concept resonates with the word 'oha, a synonym for kalo which refers as well to the plant's origins in the original stalk (Puku`i, Haertig and Lee 166ff.).

To be a member of an `ohana is then to be a node on the open-ended rhizomatic growth that both gives birth to and feeds each person. The `ohana's rhizomatic network, says Puku`i, includes connections to spirits, akua, ancestors and future generations, as well as to those people that Euroamericans might recognize as living family members.

To be Hawaiian, Puku`i maintains, is to be a person configured within a particular `ohana in an ever-evolving, living web. Writes Puku`i, "Today the concept of `ohana is often extended to include unrelated persons, community groups, or church membership" (in Puku`i, Haertig and Lee 173). This is a corruption of the concept, Puku`i maintains, as "The real `ohana is a natural phenomenon" (173). It refers not to wishing for a relationship but to a unity of people due to their common ancestors living both in them and in the spirits who remain in palpable daily contact with the `ohana."

Houston Woods, Hawaiians in Cyberspace


" ... I intentionally chose these Hawaiians because their dedication to living the culture is noteworthy. They are optimistic, independent, hard-working people-role models for all of us. In sharing their stories and their history, I have tried to follow the advice of Mary Kawena Puku`i, whose contributions to modern Hawaiian scholarship are unmatched.

Mrs. Puku`i used to say, "Do not look back on the past with scorn and criticism, look back with understanding and appreciation."

Jay Hartwell, NÂ MAMO: Hawaiian People Today


"In Nānā i ke Kumu, the late Mary Kawena Puku`i reported a relevant personal experience. The incident took place around 1902, when Puku`i was a child.

A woman in the neighborhood had a sore in the
sole of her foot that would not heal. One night she
dreamed about a woman who had a sore foot. In
the dream, a pre-adolescent child went out to
gather pala'a, the "lace fern," for a poultice.

So the woman came to my aunt [a kahuna] and
told her the dream. Kahuna usually sent a helper to
gather medicines. I was very young, so my aunt
sent me [because of the pre-adolescent child in the

So I went out, for five nights. Each night at
midnight I went alone chanting. Each night,
praying to Kū, I picked five young pala'a shoots
with my right hand. I addressed Kū [the god],
saying "I have come to you, Kū, to pick medicine to
heal the sore foot of [the patient's name]." Then,
with a similar prayer to Hina [the goddess], I
picked five shoots with my left hand. I kept the
shoots, right and left, separate.

In silence, I came home. My aunt crushed the
pala'a and, with prayers, applied them to the sore
foot. She did this five times. The foot healed.

Rita Knipe, Healing Island

"Mary Kawena Puku`i (1895-1986) was trained along with her adopted daughter Patience Wiggin Bacon (born 1920) by Keahi Luahine. Both were also trained by Joseph `Īlālā`aole (1873-1965) of Puna, Hawaii. Puku`i was most active as a scholar, writing three important papers on hula (reprinted in Barr&egravere et al., 1980). Her knowledge, a rare combination of experience and scholarship, has made her one of the most significant living resources on Hawaiian culture. Puku`i passed her repertory to her daughter, Pele Puku`i Suganuma (1931-1979), but Bacon has been the sole practicing link to Keahi Luahine.

Paul Waters, Hula

On Aunty Pat Nāmaka Bacon: "Aunty Pat, a cultural specialist with the Bishop Museum, is also knowledgeable in the areas of hula, mele and 'oli. As the adopted daughter of the late Mary Kawena Puku`i, she says much of her knowledge was acquired from her mother… Aunty Pat studied with Keahi and Kapua … teachers are legendary…"

UH Ka Leo, 7/99

" [Ka`upena Wong] credits the late Hawaiian scholar, Mary Kawena Puku`i as his most important teacher of Hawaiian chants, dance and Hawaiian cultural practice. About Puku`i, Ka`upena says "It was Kawena's intent that elements of the old tradition were not only to be studied but, indeed, they should continue to become a vital and living part of our islands' pluralistic cultural environment."

Ka`upena Wong

"Mary Kawena Puku`i, a revered scholar of Hawaiian culture, who died in 1986 at age 91, explained: "As gods and relatives in one, [nā aumākua] give us strength when we are weak, warning when danger threatens, guidance in our bewilderment, inspiration in our arts. They are equally our judges, hearing our words and watching our actions, reprimanding us for error and punishing us for blatant offense."

Betty Fullard-Leo




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