Manawahine: a woman of power or a powerful woman.
This is a fairly modern term, not one used by our ancestors. I first heard this term a few years ago while participating in the movement to protect Maunakea. What is a manawahine? Where does this mana or power come from?
For me, a manawahine is one that is rooted. A woman who is firmly planted in her sense of place. A woman who knows sacrifice. A woman who stands up for what is right.
A few years ago I chose to honor a woman, in our history that I greatly admire, in our kahiko presentation at the Merrie Monarch Competition. Manono was a chiefess from our island of Maui. She was the wife of Kekuaokalani, who was the nephew of Kamehameha. While on his death bed, Kamehameha bequeaths the kingdom to his son, Liholiho. He then bequeaths Kuka’ilimoku (his war god) to his nephew Kekuaokalani. With Kuka’ilimoku came the kuleana (responsibility) of protecting the kingdom. While Liholiho was being enticed to embrace Christianity, Kekuaokalani and his wife Manono stood strong in support of our indigenous religion. Three times Kekuaokalani was approached by the high chiefess Kapi’olani. Three times she invited Kekuaokalani to eat with her, an action thought to be a great offense to his akua (gods). Three times his response was, “I will consult with my wahine.” Three times he returned and refused. Because of this we know Manono to be a woman of conviction. A woman very connected to her akua, her worldview. She was known to be a skilled warrior, often fighting alongside her husband on the battlefield. Kekuaokalani and Manono led the rebellion against Christianity. They were fully aware that they were severely outnumbered and did not have the inventory of modern weaponry that Liholiho’s army possessed. They knew they were going to the battle at Kuamo’o to die. It meant more to them to provide some kind of opposition to Christianity, that threatened to overthrow their religious beliefs. When I think of the term manawahine, Manono is the epitome of a manawahine for me.
I believe that there is a manawahine, a powerful woman, that lies in each of us. I see the mother that gives up her own wants, her own dreams, to be able to make the dreams of her children become realities. I see the single mother who works till she cannot stand anymore in order to give her child a better life. These women are manawahine to me. For me, my mana comes from those I come from, my kupuna. If you know who you come from, where you come from and you are strongly rooted in your sense of place, there is power in that. You can move forward with clearer vision, stronger purpose. So here’s to each and every one of you, women of power. May we continue to build a better community for our children. Their futures truly depend on us!
Image Credit: Uilani Friedman