Mary Abigail Kawenaʻulaokalaniahiʻiakaikapoliopelekawahineʻaihonua Wiggin Pukui


Mary Abigail Kawena’ulaokalaniahi’iakaikapoliopelekawahine’aihonua Wiggin Pukui(1895-1986), known as Kawena, was a Hawaiian scholar, dancer, composer, and educator. She was born in Kaʻū, Big Island, to Mary Paʻahana Kanakaʻole (a native Hawaiian woman) and Henry Wiggin (originally from Massachusetts). In the traditional custom of hānai she was initially reared by her mother’s parents. Her grandmother, a traditional dancer in the court of Queen Emma, taught her chants and stories, while her grandfather was a healer and kahuna pale keiki (obstetrician) who used lomilomi massage, laʻau lapaʻau (herbal medicine), hoʻoponopono (forgiveness), and pule (prayer). Her great-great-grandmother was a kahuna pule (priestess) in the Pele line.

She was educated in the Hawaiian Mission Academy, and taught Hawaiiana at Punahou School. Pukui was fluent in Hawaiian, and from the age of 15 collected and translated folk tales, proverbs and sayings. She worked at the Biship Museum from 1938-1961 as an ethnological assistant and translator. She also taught Hawaiian to several scholars and served as informant for numerous anthropologists. She published more than 50 scholarly works. She is the co-author of the definitive Hawaiian-English Dictionary (1957, revised 1986), Place Names of Hawaii (1974), and The Echo of Our Song (1974), a translation of old chants and songs. Her book, ʻŌlelo Noʻeau, contains nearly 3,000 examples of Hawaiian proverbs and poetical sayings, translated and annotated. The two-volume set Nānā i ke Kumu, Look to the Source, is an invaluable resource on Hawaiian customs and traditions. She was a chanter and hula expert, and wrote lyrics and/or music to more than 150 Hawaiian songs.

In addition to her published works, Pukui’s knowledge was also preserved in her notes, oral histories, hundreds of audiotape recordings from the 1950s and 1960s, and a few film clips, all collected in the Bishop Museum.

She was named a “Living Treausre of Hawai’I” by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaiʻi in 1977. In 1995 she was inducted into the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame.

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