The 2020 animated Hawaiian short film, Kapaemahu, was directed and produced by Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu. Alongside Wong-Kalu, Dean Hamer andeJoe Wilson also serve as directors with the animation direction done by Daniel Sousa. The sound and music was composed by Dan Golding. While the native chanting and chant composer was done by Kaumakaiwa Kanakaole.

Kapaemahu premiered at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival and is qualified for this year’s Academy Awards. The film was able to get nominated for numerous awards and won many of them. The short animated film is based on the Hawaiian history and legend of the four healing stones.

Kapaemahu: A Crash Course In Hawaiian Culture And Folklore

These four healing stones were placed in the island Hawaiian Waikiki on Waiki Beach. These stones are said to come from four legendary Mahu. A Mahu which according to Native Hawaiian and Tahitian cultures are third gender cultures, meaning these beings are both male and female. It is said that these Mahu have a mixture of Heart, Spirit, and Mind of the two genders.

Kapemahu is said to be the leader of these four legendary Mahu. The names of these three other legendary Mahu are Kapuni, Kinohi, and Kahaloa. Each Mahu is said to each have been blessed by the Hawaiian Gods of scientific knowledge and special healing powers.

Kapuni is said to have possessed great spiritual power. Kinohi power was the ability to be all seeing. Kahaola had the power to heal from afar. Then finally Kapaemahu had the power to heal by laying his hands on an individual. After the four healing Mahu finished their duty in healing the island natives, its islanders wanted to honor them. They wanted to honor the Mahu by placing and giving them four large boulders. The island natives and the four healing Mahu then had a spiritual ceremony around the selected boulders. Each boulder would then be blessed and touched by each Mahu with a ceremonial chant.

Then as the story says, the four Mahu lent their spiritual powers to the boulders and disappeared. It is said that these four boulders contained the spirits and power of the healing Mahu. Henceforth, why they are called the healing rocks of Hawaii.

Kapaemahu

Kapaemahu explains what happens to the healing rocks after the ceremony. It’s explained that the rocks have survived many centuries of Christian and colonial rule to the present day. The rocks also have been reported to have been buried underneath a bowling alley, but was eventually recovered. The healing rocks are now preserved and displayed at Kuhio Beach Park.

Kapaemahu: A Film That Honors Cultural Heritage

Overall Kapaemahu was well constructed, very informative, evenly paced and beautifully animated. The animation was top notch and effectively used its two-dimensional art style to perfection. The narration was well done and very informative, and I loved how they used native Hawaiian language to convey the story. The narration felt genuine and was very cultural appropriate to Hawaiian culture as well.

Kapaemahu cermony

Another positive for Kapaemahu is having an actual composed Hawaiian chant during the Mahu healing stones ceremony scene. It’s crucial that they included the beautiful ceremonial chant, because it showed love, respect, history, and authenticity to that cultural practice. In addition, they had an actual professional Hawaiian chanter in Kanakaole composing and bringing it too life.

The pacing of the film overall was really well done as it went from point A to B. From the origins of the Kapaemahu legend, the four Mahu, to the ceremonial healing stones, then to the history of what happened after.

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I love the fact that they showed what happened to the stones throughout history. How they showed the history of ancient Hawaii, then colonialism, all the way up to modern times. The ending segment also creatively summarized Hawaii’s lush history.

Finally the filmmakers successfully highlighted the theme of Kapaemahu, to remember and pay homage to the past. In our everyday modern lives, we tend to forget the rich history of many cultures. Yes there can be also bad and terrible moments in many culture’s history, but there are mainly good lessons. The fact that this film addresses that Hawaiian society almost forgot about the legend and history of the sacred healing stones is a reminder of the sadness in which many modern individuals face. However the fact that the filmmakers and animators addressed this problem really hits home, especially coming from someone who’s own cultural heritage and history are being forgotten.

Kapaemahu

Kapaemahu had many positive traits. However I did find some flaws that should be addressed, although admittedly not a lot. The animation of this film was beautiful, but I wished they were able to convey more emotion to each character especially the Mahu. In the narration it was said that the Mahu were very soft spoken, humble, and gentle. I actually wanted to see more of their emotional overtones. But nevertheless the animators were able to convey that into their actions, and that was a huge positive for the film.

The film was beautiful, however I wish it were longer. The ending segment alone could have been expanded and shown more of Hawaii and the aftermath of the Mahu healing stones. Nevertheless the writers did a good job of at least addressing it in the narrative, but I wish it could have been expanded upon.

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Overall the animated short film, Kapaemahu, was a beautiful piece of art that should be shown to everyone. This is a great short to introduce casual audiences to the beauty and amazing culture of Hawaiian and Tahitian history. Watching this film was like poetry in motion due to it’s stunning visuals, great artwork, excellent Hawaiian narration, good pacing, and its powerfully beautiful message. This short film is a must see for those who love animation and to casual audiences who want to learn a bit of Hawaiian culture and history.

Kapaemahu poster

Kapaemahu Official Synopsis

Kapaemahu, tells the long forgotten story of four mahu, extraordinary beings of dual male and female spirit who brought the healing arts from Tahiti to Hawaii.  Beloved by the people for their gentle ways and miraculous cures, they imbued four giant boulders with their powers.  Although the stones still stand on what is now Waikiki Beach, the true story behind them has been hidden – until now. Narrated in an ancient Hawaiian dialect, and seen through the eyes of a curious child, the story of Kapaemahu brings to life this powerful legend in richly hand-drawn and 2-D animation.

The film is written, directed and produced by Native Hawaiian teacher and filmmaker Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Emmy Award-winning filmmakers Joe Wilson and Dean Hamer, and Academy Award-nominated animation director Daniel Sousa.  A winner at numerous international film festivals including the Tribeca Film Festival, Animayo International Film Festival, Atlanta Film Festival,  Hiroshima International Animation Festival and Outfest Film Festival, Kapaemahu is a reminder of the rich cultures and diverse identities that deserve recognition and representation through storytelling.

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Film Score: 9/10