Kumu Hina Review by RitaLove

3 years ago

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Let me take a sip of my coffee, get settled in, and do my damnedest to give a fair, honest, truthful review of this, in what is my OWN personal opinion, an amazing documentary. Just a fair warning, if you’re homophobic, transgender phobic, transsexual phobic, transvestite phobic, this may NOT be the review for you. You can jump out now before this review dares to open up a window in that mind and change it to a more tolerable one, lol.  

Unlike the movie “In football we trust” I had a very hard time writing a review on this documentary. With the “In football we trust” documentary I had my own personal experiences I could pull from so it made writing on the subject matter very easy. With Kumu Hina, there are many moving parts and only ONE I can identify with and that is with Hina’s attempts to preserve & protect her culture, her heritage, the Hawaiian language, the Hawaiian traditions and even then I question my own level of commitment in protecting & preserving my own people’s language, culture, traditions, my father’s heritage when compared to this Transgender, Cultural, Hawaiian Icon.. Hina. 

There are so many layers to this documentary and I’m going to do my very best to touch on ALL OF IT.. So Here goes…

This film Kumu Hina documents the life of one Hina Wong-Kalu, a native Hawaiian transgender considered a cultural iconic figure in Hawaii. The Hawaiian word Kumu means Teacher and this film documents Hina’s journey as a Hawaiian cultural icon who is striving to protect and preserve her culture, heritage, arts, her language and all this while openly embracing her transgender identity.  Hina’s knowledge of her culture is vast, broad and extremely impressive and the fact that Hawaii looks to her as just that, their cultural icon without even batting an eye to her physical appearance says a lot about the respect they have for Hina and what she brings to the table.

You can’t help but recognize the broad shoulders, the low voice, the strong clenched fists during any of her Cultural performances, or the powerful masculine size legs, yet her face is that of a very beautiful Hawaiian wahine who happens to be a mahu. Right from the get, you know that Hina, was NOT born a woman yet, her mannerisms, her desires, her wishes are that of a woman.

Like most women, Hina desires to be married, have a family, and it just so happen she finds a Tongan husband who in the middle of the documentary we get to meet. Enter Hema from Tonga. We get to embark on Hina’s journey to Fiji to pick her husband up, where he has been waiting patiently while Hina works on his immigration papers, and bring him to Hawaii to begin their life together as husband and wife. Before we even get a glimpse of Hema, I’ve already tapped into a stereotypical image in my head of Hina’s husband. I imagine Hema to be mahu as well, or that he’s very feminine to want to be married to Hina, but when you watch the film Hema identifies himself as a straight man who just so happens to be married to a mahu. He fell in love with Hina’s looks, basically he fell in love with Hina, the woman. If you didn’t know anything about Hema, just met him on the street, said hello and struck up a conversation with him, you’d NEVER in a million years think, that he was in any way, shape or form, married to, or associated with a mahu, or the mahu community. What was even more incredible is that Hina speaks FLUENT Tongan and the documentary allows for us to be the fly on the wall during many of the conversations between Hina and Hema throughout the documentary shared in my father’s native tongue, Tongan. It was nice for me, a Tongan female, to hear my father’s language shared in this film, although some of the language used was very…. How should I say…. Colorful!!! Haha Definitely not the kind of words my father would allow me to use in his presence or the presence of any of my relatives and close friends, hell the entire Tongan community. LOL I found out later that Hina speaks several Polynesian languages, Tahitian, Tongan, Hawaiian… ** Mouth agape with the words “WOW” stamped across my forehead ** MAJOR POINTS for Hina.

Hema himself and his role in this journey could easily spawn off a whole other discussion of identity, labeling, and journey but this is about Hina so I’m going to strive to stay focused lol

Not only is Hina a Hawaiian mahu transgender, a Hawaiian cultural practitioner, chair of the Oahu Island Burial council, but she is also a teacher and the cultural director of Hālau Lōkahi Charter School.

The kids at this school genuinely respect Hina. Unlike how I KNOW how the mainland schools would react to a person such as Hina, the students of Hālau Lōkahi Charter School’s reaction to Hina’s transgenderism (yup, it’s a word, I looked it up) is one of normalcy. They see Hina as a teacher and a cultural practitioner, a cultural icon. The fact that she is a transgender doesn’t seem to even cross their minds.  She does a phenomenal job of helping these kids navigate through their own personal, cultural journey, helps them understand the importance of protecting, preserving, and embracing their Hawaiian heritage, and their identity. The most interesting of these students is a young girl named Ho’onani who considers herself to be middle of the road spirit. That she is neither boy nor girl but a special class of her own, caught in the middle of both genders. When Ho’onani asks to be a part of the ALL male dance troupe Hina gives her the opportunity to lead the boys in a performance of the ai ka mūmū kēkē. Hina encourages Ho’onani to embrace her inner male spirit which leads to a climactic end of year performance at the Hālau Lōkahi Charter School.

This review was definitely not the easiest to write. It is just my opinion of what I thought to be an amazing journey of a phenomenal individual battling diversity while protecting, preserving the heritage of her people and influencing the lives of some of Hawaii’s young to be honest and accepting of their true selves and to embrace their culture along with their true identity of themselves whatever it is they deem it to be.

Kumu Hina – I definitely recommend this to the open minded and the non-judgemental


Tags:  KumuHina LGTBQ Tonga transgender Hawaii halau


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