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1 Constructed Images of Native Hawaiian Women Davianna Pomaika‘i McGregor The popular image of Native Hawaiian women as beautiful, graceful, and voluptuous hula maidens has been promoted by the tourist industry to market the romantic allure of the Hawaiian islands. The day-to-day reality of the average Native Hawaiian woman seldom resembles the poster-girl image.In fact,Native Hawaiian women span the broad spectrum of physical features, class, sexual orientation, as well as political involvement and socioeconomic status. One significant indicator of the actual living conditions of Native Hawaiian women is their health statistics. Historically, Native Hawaiian women have had the shortest life expectancy in comparison to women of other ethnic groups in the islands.1 Native Hawaiian women have unusually high risk factors for cardiovascular disease and cancer —cigarette smoking, obesity, elevated blood pressure, diabetes, and high blood cholesterol . Due to low income levels, which hinder access to health care, mortality rates for Native Hawaiian women are higher than for women of other ethnic groups in Hawai‘i for heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and motor vehicle and other accidents. Between 1988 and 1992, Native Hawaiian women recorded one of the highest cancer-related mortality and incidence rates in the United States, equal with Black women and second to Alaska Native women.2 Another relevant indicator of the status of Native Hawaiian women is that the divorce rate of Native Hawaiians is among the highest of the ethnic groups in the islands.3 This contributes to the high number of Native Hawaiian single-mother households and to the high number of households in which a mother and child live with relatives.4 The trials and tribulations of life in modern Hawai‘i challenge Native Hawaiian women to assume strong physical, social, and spiritual roles in their families and communities . Native Hawaiian women are intelligent, beautiful, powerful, passionate, and enduring, not as constructed by the tourist industry but in a manner that incorporates the images and qualities of their godly and chiefly female ancestors. When Native Hawaiian women construct a self-image as native, the female sacred forces of nature and chiefly ancestors are invoked. This chapter describes the key female cosmic forces and chiefly women who are claimed as genealogical ancestors and why they inspire modern Native Hawaiian women as they assume leadership roles in their families, communities , and nation. 25 Female Cosmic Forces In Hawaiian cosmology, female forces of nature play an equal role with male forces in the procreation of the universe. This shared creative energy contributes to the sense of empowerment among Native Hawaiian women today. Native Hawaiians trace their ancestry to earth mother Papahanaumoku,who mated with sky father Wakea to give birth to most of the Hawaiian islands and eventually to the Native Hawaiian people. The daughter, Ho‘ohokukalani, the maker of stars in the heavens, mated with father Wakea and gave birth to Haloa Naka, a still-born male fetus. When buried in the earth, Haloa Naka grew into taro, the primary food plant of the Native Hawaiian people from generations past to present. Their second-born male child, Haloa, became the progenitor of the Native Hawaiian people.5 In the tradition of Papahanaumoku and Wakea, it is a woman’s powerful creative energy—that of Papahanaumoku and her daughter, Ho‘ohokukalani—that produced the islands of life, kalo or taro, the staple food plant, and the Native Hawaiian people through mating, as equals, with the male god Wakea. Papahanaumoku is one of the primary female cosmic forces that Native Hawaiian women honor as ancestor. The goddess Hina, in her many forms—coral reefs, marine reef life, ocean caves, the moon, and tides—is another principal cosmic force. She embodies the female force in the universe, while her husband, Ku, is the male force. Together, their reproductive energies were invoked to produce good crops, good fishing, long life, and family and national prosperity.6 As mother of the demigod Maui, she guided him in harnessing the energy of the sun, capturing fire from the alae birds, and fishing up the Hawaiian islands from the ocean. In a mating with Wakea when Papahanaumoku had left him in anger, Hina gave birth to the island Moloka‘i-nui-a-Hina.7 As the social and political system evolved into a system of ruling chiefs from the thirteenth through early nineteenth centuries, the state religion focused on four principal male gods—Ku, Kane, Kanaloa, and Lono. Female deities continued to be honored, but...


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