Trisha Kehaulani Watson: Why Hawaii's Best Future Is Female - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Trisha Kehaulani Watson

Trisha Kehaulani Watson is a Kaimuki resident, small business owner, and bibliophile. She holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Hawaii and J.D. from the William S. Richardson School of Law. She writes about environmental issues, cultural resource management, and the intersection between culture and politics. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can follow or contact her on Twitter at @hehawaiiau.


I used to do a presentation about Queen Ka‘ahumanu. The presentation was basically about what an amazing leader she was.

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When I was going through graduate school in the aughts, prevailing discourse still painted women in the Hawaiian Kingdom as subjugated to male leaders. I always found this position rather preposterous. Being a Hawaiian woman and having spent a great deal of time around Hawaiian women, the idea that we were historically wilting flowers seemed contradictory to everything I knew.

Hawaiians were widely painted, erroneously, as “feudal.” This is the word they loved to use: feudal.

It makes sense since many people who wrote about Hawaii were Westerners, so an understanding of the role feudalism played in Western history was easily woven into their writing of Hawaii’s history. Similarly, women were portrayed as somehow secondary to a political history that was primarily masculine.

The truth is far more complex, and the reality was that women played tremendously important political and leadership roles in the Hawaiian Kingdom. Women were raised to be cunning and savvy — and they were political strategists that, alongside their male counterparts, navigated a political environment that was complex and difficult.

Therefore, the rise of powerful Hawaiian women today should be no surprise.

Women like Hina Wong-Kalu have been on the front lines of Hawaiian marches for decades. But now we also have women like Pua Case leading on Hawaii island. And issues like the Thirty Meter Telescope have given women the opportunity to not only step forward, but to demonstrate their leadership capacity.

TMT Wahine Demonstrators cheer after law enforcement left, after negotiations over moving some unattended vehicles on the Saddle Road. July 17, 2019
Protests against the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea have given Hawaiian women the opportunity to demonstrate their leadership capacity. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

While many people, of all genders, contributed to the success of the base camp at Mauna Kea, I also believe that it was the strong leadership of women that ensured all who came through that camp were effectively cared for. And the exceptional sense of aloha and kindness that existed there was a result of collective leadership that embraced the women among them.

It was groups like the Mauna Medics who made sure people had access to the medical care that was needed. The leaders on site made sure people were safe and fed. It was, above all else, thoughtful and compassionate leadership.

When a woman is referred to as a “mana wahine” it means that she is seen as a “powerful woman,” but not simply in the Western sense. Mana for Hawaiians is primarily spiritual. It’s a power that radiates from having a strong integrity and good character. It’s not about material wealth; it’s about spiritual wealth. And how that spiritual wealth is shared with others and used to make the world a better place.

More and more we see these women emerging as community leaders. They’re in Waimanalo, Haena, Hana, Hilo. They’re everywhere: working in hospitals, leading food drives, patrolling their communities to keep them safe.

If you just stop for a moment to look around, chances are there are some incredible women in your life and in your community doing important work. And it’s worth noticing and acknowledging.

Strong female leadership is in the DNA of these islands. It makes everything about Hawaii stronger and better. And the more we can pour support into the mana wahine in our community, the more we can contribute now to a future that is compassionate, just and powerful.


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About the Author

Trisha Kehaulani Watson

Trisha Kehaulani Watson is a Kaimuki resident, small business owner, and bibliophile. She holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Hawaii and J.D. from the William S. Richardson School of Law. She writes about environmental issues, cultural resource management, and the intersection between culture and politics. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can follow or contact her on Twitter at @hehawaiiau.


Latest Comments (0)

Still think it’s going to be a woman.  All The requisite conditions are present.   Her people suffered an injustice and continue to suffer.  There were leaders before her, yet unfinished business…Liliuokalani, kaiulani and haunani-Kay.    Has been true throughout the third world. Benazir Bhutto,  Aung San Suu Kyi, .Malala Yousafzai.  For whatever reason, men seek power and wealth. Their ruling juntas sustain through violence and corruption. They assassinate threats to their status. Wow, doesn’t that sound Hawaii familiar.Women leaders tend to seek justice.   My  guess is that she won’t Be a royal.  Could be from a privileged class defined as well educated like haunani.   identifies with commoners and is committed.    The problem is somebody like that only comes around every one hundred years. Bummers.  

Wongie · 1 month ago

Well said.Totally agree.Our women have been leading the Hawaiian community for a very long time, well before Mauna Kea or any of the names mentioned. I am confident that our women will continue to be strong and help to lead our lahui moving forward. My greater concern and hope if for our Kane, that they, like our wahine, may rise to the occasion. That they may know and take on the kuleana that is theirs, in the home and in community. To be good husbands, and fathers, to protect and provide, and lead by example, spiritually, mentally, and physically. In many ways and at many levels, our kane have been missing in action requiring our women to step up to the plate. We need to remedy this, we need greater balance in our lahui between the hina and the ku, we need this balance to be pono.

Pua808 · 1 month ago

Interesting that lots of folks are saying Don't let race or gender play a role. Only qualifications should count"  How come folks were not saying that 75, 50, 25,15 years ago?

Robo · 1 month ago

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