Emma Barnes

Aloha ʻĀina: Indigenous Women and ‘Love of the Land’ in Mary Kawena Pukui’s Hawaiian Mo’olelo


Throughout colonial history, the feminisation of the Pacific Islands has contributed to Hawai’i being considered as a location of fantasy and gratification that American tourists can consume and degrade intermittently. As Huanani-Kay Trask outlines, in the colonial imagination, ‘Hawai’i is a “she”, the Western image of the Native “female” in her magical allure’ (1992, p.23). This feminisation of land forms part of the long-standing colonial rhetoric that constructed land as female in order to consider it conquerable. This paper, however, offers one of the first explorations into native Hawaiian writer Mary Kawena Pukui’s mo’olelo, ‘The Pounded Water of Kekela’ and ‘Woman-of-the-Fire and Woman-of-the-Water’to examine how Pukui subverts this colonial discourse. Through analysing how Pukui parallels the changing land through drought and famine with the aging female body, and the restoration of the land through powerful female goddesses, this paper demonstrates how Pukui transforms the feminisation of land from a derogative rhetorical practice, into a form of survivance that foregrounds the strength and resilience of Indigenous women, and their physical and spiritual connection to the land. In particular, I draw upon the concept of mana wahine that Lilikala Kame’eleihiwa translates to power of woman, and Brandy Nālani McDougall to ‘feminine spiritual power’ (2016, p.27), to foreground the resilience of native Hawaiian women in responding to a changing environment, and to demonstrate the sacrifices Indigenous women make in their role as cultural bearers. In exploring the relationship between native Hawaiian women, or wahine ‘ōiwi, with the land and water, this paper adds to the foundational scholarship of Kyle Whyte who suggests that ‘[c]limate change impacts affect Indigenous women more acutely’ (2017, p.156).


Emma Barnes is a final year AHRC-funded PhD Student at the University of Salford. Emma’s research interests include Indigenous Literatures, Animal Studies, Postcolonial Studies and Ecofeminism. Emma is also a Research Assistant for an AHRC-funded project ‘South African Modernism 1880-2020’, and Associate Lecturer at the University of Salford.  

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