“Expressing what we really are,” Kumu Hina’s challenge

Inside the doc Kumu Hina 2‘Kumu Hina,’ the Hawaiian film by Dean Hamer, introduces us to Hina, a Hawaiian transgender person, or mahu in Polynesian cultural tradition. As a teacher in a school that emphasises Polynesian culture, she allows a little girl with a strong personality to join the male Hula troupe. It is a film about tolerance, but it is also a film about the importance of preserving culture. This is an interview with Hina who is here to present the film at FIFO.


Where did the idea for the film come from?

A friend who is a film director introduced me to Dean Hamer. The project took shape during this meeting. I don’t think he really knew what he wanted to film, he wanted to talk about my life, without really knowing what the content of the documentary would be. I didn’t want another film about what we call “trans.” I wanted something more studied and refined, even if I am well aware that it is this element, the mahu aspect that attracts attention to my story.


It is a very intimate film. We observe your relationship with your husband, that is the tender moments, but also the abusive language and his jealousy. Are you aware of being filmed close up in intimate situations?

I wanted the film to be as honest as possible about my life. So, we were the same in front of the camera as we are in our everyday life. That is our relationship with its ups and downs.


In the film we also discover a little girl who is very determined to dance with boys and who shoulders what she is, how did you support her on this route?

Ho’onari was my pupil for several years, I also had her brothers and sisters and so I know her family well. Slowly and surely she began to assert herself and to follow the path that suited her. She always wanted to be with the boys, to join in with their activities. At the same time, I had two pupils, two boys, who wanted to be with the girls. I wanted to offer them the opportunity to be themselves. ”


Why was this so important?

“I really felt that if I left Ho ‘onari with the girls, she wouldn’t blossom. In any case, not as much as when she was with the boys. My role as her teacher was to find her a space in which she could express what she really was.


What that easily accepted by the other children and by the adults?

I asked the pupils if they accepted for a girl to join the boys and for two boys to join the girls. They all accepted. For the adults, some approved, others not at all. My role was to say to the children that they had to give the best of themselves in the different disciplines on offer so that they could be what they wanted to be, without being judged. There was a standard to reach. We explained to the parents that we were awaiting results in dance, in singing, etc. that this was done within a school project and by letting them choose to be with the girls or with the boys, it permitted them to do their best within the school.


On Monday 2nd February, there was a schools screening and after the film, they all came to kiss you. Did it surprise you?

It was an amazing moment, and I really missed my students at this point.  I was very surprised to see to what point the young Tahitians reacted to the film.


The film discusses the right to be different, but it is also a story about preserving the culture. We see you engage in politics for that cause.

Yes, I was not elected, but over 20, 000 people voted for me. Without any means, without being known, it is a success from my point of view. I come from a separatist family, the Hawaiian culture is always a priority in my life, I am thinking about putting a new strategy in place for the future, as the political aspect is important to drive things forward. If you have no political presence, you have no control over the land and the language.


What message do you want to convey through this film?

I wanted Hawaiians and in a broader sense Polynesians to understand that it is not bad to integrate other cultures, but certainly not at the expense of your own culture, forgetting your own fundamental culture. In Hawaii, in 2013-2014, there was a movement for marriage for everyone and the union between two people of the same sex became legal. But many Hawaiians are against it saying that it was not in their culture. I think that religion, Christianity does not perhaps allow that, but that has nothing to do with Hawaiian culture. In Polynesian culture, the mahu has always existed and there has never been anything negative against it until European and religious influences.


Interviewed by Alexandra Sigaudo-Fourny