Nā Wāhine Koa: A Tribute to Female Leadership in the Aloha ʻĀina Movement

Dec 3, 2018

Hawaiian Activist Maxine Kaha'ulelio (far right) addresses a crowd of demonstrators protesting the evictions in Mokauea, Sand Island, Waiahole, and Waikane in the late 1970s.
Credit Ed Greevy

A new book is out celebrating the role of women in the Hawaiian Renaissance movement. Their actions being seen as especially relevant in this #MeToo era of women’s empowerment. HPR’s Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi has this story.

The history of the Hawaiian Renaissance of the 1970s would be incomplete without the stories of wāhine koa, courageous women, who emerged as leaders of the aloha ʻāina (love for land and country) movement. Whether it be fighting against evictions in Kalama Valley or military bombings on Kahoʻolawe. 

Maxine Kaha'ulelio makes her way into the courtroom in 1977 at a sentencing of fellow Protect Kaho'olawe 'Ohana members. Two weeks later, she herself would be landing on Kaho'olawe in protest of the military use of the island as a target.
Credit Ed Greevy

“Truly, why I became an activist? It’s because what you see and what you hear. What you feel for your next door neighbor or your friend across the street,” says Kahaʻulelio, “Wow, we getting hard time, so come on let’s do something about it. Come on let’s go.”

Hawaiian Activist Maxine Kahaulelio, affectionately known as Aunty Mack, autographs copies of a new book that she co-created called Na Wahine Koa: Hawaiian Women for Sovereignty and Demilitarization.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

A spunky 80-year-old Maxine Kahaʻulelio is one of four women sharing their stories of political activism in the new book Nā Wāhine Koa. She joins Terri Kekoʻolani-Raymond, Loretta Ritte, and the late Moanikeʻala Akaka in sharing their journeys of living a life committed to Hawaiian sovereignty and demilitarization.

A newspaper clipping of Loretta Ritte (right) and Zenadia Sawyer (left), dubbed the "Kaho'olawe Wives", leaving federal court. Their husbands were hiding from the military on Kaho'olawe in protest over the use of the island for military bombing practice.
Credit Na Wahine Koa

“As a woman and a wife, I knew that there were things that I couldn’t do cause my kuleana was to malama my keiki,” says Ritte, “So I support my kane. You go do what you need to do and I’ll pule (pray). But I’ll stay home, take care of the keiki, and I’ll wait for you when you come home.”

Loretta and Water Ritte protesting the construction of the Thirty-Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea in 2015.
Credit Te Rawhitiroa Bosch

Loretta Ritte can be seen in pictures throughout the last 50 years alongside her husband Walter an aloha ʻāina warrior himself. While none of the women would dismiss the role Hawaiian men played in the sovereignty movement, the book is an effort to restore balance of male and female leadership, of masculine and feminine energies. 

Hawaiian activist and former Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee Moanike'ala Akaka passed away before the completion of this book. She is pictured here in a 1990 protest against the construction of a geothermal power plant in Wao Kele O Puna, a pristine rain forest on Hawai'i Island.
Credit Franco Salmoiraghi

"We’re the foundation. We keep things together. We’re rooted like the koa tree. You know we stand firm,” says Ritte, “We’re protective. We’re going to protect the things that we love. And that’s how I see us as wāhine koa. Standing protecting.”

The co-creators of the new book Na Wahine Koa: Hawaiian Women for Sovereignty and Demilitarization. From left to right: Noelani Goodyear-Ka'opua, Terri Keko'olani-Raymond, Loretta Ritte, and Maxine Kaha'ulelio. Missing from this photo is the late Moanike'ala Akaka, who also contributed to this memoir.
Credit Walter Ritte

“It’s more than just the protests. It’s more than the things that are visible,” says Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻōpua, “You know these women, the stories that we shared really speaks to the way that aloha ʻāina is lived every day.”

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa political science professor Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻōpua edited the scrapbook like memoir and released it to a jam-packed crowd at Ka Waiwai Collective over the weekend.

“I hope that people are inspired by their stories to fight for what they love, for what sustains us,” says Goodyear-Kaʻōpua, “That people remember that the places that we love in Hawaiʻi, that are still here today are because people fought for them, that women fought for them.”