Mary Kawena Pukui

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Mary Abigail Kawenaʻulaokalaniahiʻiakaikapoliopelekawahineʻaihonuaināleilehuaapele Wiggin Pukui (1895–1986), known as Kawena,[1] was a Hawaiian scholar, dancer, composer, and educator.

Mary Kawena Pukui


She was born in the Kaʻū district of the Island of Hawaiʻi, to Mary Paʻahana Kanakaʻole (a native Hawaiian woman) and Henry Nathaniel Wiggin (originally from Massachusetts). In the traditional custom of hānai, she was initially reared by her mother’s parents. Her grandmother Naliipoʻaimoku, a traditional dancer in the court of Queen Emma, taught her chants and stories, while her grandfather Keli'ikanaka'ole-o-Haililani (k)was a healer and kahuna pale keiki (obstetrician) who used lomilomi massage massage, laʻau lapaʻau (herbal medicine), hoʻoponopono (forgiveness), and pule (prayer). Her great grandmother Keliʻipaʻahana was a kahuna pule (priestess) in the Pele line. Keli'iPa'ahana's parents were the High Chief KU or Kauhi and High Chiefess Na'ai Hunali'i (The Hidden chief). Keli'iPa'ahana was interned in Halema'uma'u in 1869 in the Ka'u district. She married the High Chief Keli'iKanaka'ole (k) the son of King Kamehameha I and Queen Wahinepio also known as Ka haku ha'akoi (w) of the Pi'ilani and Liloa line. Family is known to inherit the sacred Ali'i Moe Kapu (the prostrating Taboo). Upon the death of her grandmother Nali'i Poai moku she returned to live with her parents and spoke both Hawaiian and English.[2]

She was educated in the Hawaiian Mission Academy, and taught Hawaiiana at Punahou School. Pukui was fluent in the Hawaiian language, and from the age of 15 collected and translated folk tales, proverbs and sayings. She worked at the Bernice P. Bishop 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 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 is often credited with making the Hawaiian Renaissance of the 1970s possible.[3]

She was named a "Living Treasure of Hawai'i" by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaiʻi in 1977. In 1995 she was inducted into the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame.[4]


  • Introduction to the Hawaiian Language (1943) (with Judd and Stokes)
  • Hawaiian-English Dictionary (1957, rev. and enl. 1986) (with Elbert)
  • Place Names of Hawaii (1974) (with Elbert and Mookini)
  • Echo of our Song (1974)
  • Nānā i ke Kumu, Look to the Source, Vols. 1 and 2 (1972) (with Haertig and Lee)
  • ‘Ōlelo No‘eau
  • The Polynesian Family System in Ka'u, Hawaii (with Handy)
  • Outline of Hawaiian Physical Therapeutics (with Handy and Livermore)(1934)


  1. ^ Chad Blair (September–October 2007). "Kawena's Legacy". Hana Hou! Vol. 10, No. 4. 
  2. ^ Gordon, Mike (July 2, 2006). "Mary Kawena Pukui". Retrieved 17 February 2011. 
  3. ^ Burl Burlingame (November 1, 1999). "Author aided revival of Hawaiian tongue". Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Retrieved 2010-03-09. 
  4. ^ "1995 Hall of Fame Honoree: Mary Kawena Pukuʻi". Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame. 1995. Retrieved 2009-10-20. 

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