Mary Kawena Pukui
Background information
Birth nameMary Abigail Pukui
Born(1895-04-20)20 April 1895
Kaʻū, Island of Hawaiʻi, Republic of Hawaii
Died21 May 1986(1986-05-21) (aged 91)
Occupation(s)Scholar, dancer, composer, educator

Mary Abigail Kawenaʻulaokalaniahiʻiakaikapoliopele Naleilehuaapele[1] Wiggin Pukui[2][3][4] (20 April 1895 – 21 May 1986), known as Kawena,[5] was a Hawaiian scholar, author, composer, hula expert, and educator.


Pukui was born on April 20, 1895, in her grandmother's home, named Hale Ola, in Haniumalu, Kaʻu, on Hawaiʻi Island, to Henry Nathaniel Wiggin (originally from Salem, Massachusetts, of a distinguished shipping family descended from Massachusetts Bay Colony governor Simon Bradstreet and his wife, the poet Anne Bradstreet)[6] and Mary Paʻahana Kanakaʻole, descendant of a long line of kahuna (priests) going back centuries. Pukui's maternal grandmother, Naliʻipoʻaimoku, was a kahuna laʻau lapaʻau (medicinal expert) and kahuna pale keiki (midwife) and a hula dancer in Queen Emma's court.[7] She had delivered the child, and asked Pukui's parents for the child to raise in the traditional way, and her request was granted. Kawena was born into the Fire Clan of Kaʻu. Kawena and her grandmother were inseparable, and the child was taught many things she needed to know. Upon the death of her grandmother, Kawena returned to live with her parents. Her mother continued her education in things Hawaiian and her father, who spoke Hawaiian fluently, spoke to her in English and taught her of his New England heritage.[7]

Pukui 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 fifteen collected and translated folk tales, proverbs and sayings. She worked at the Bernice P. Bishop Museum from 1938 to 1961 as an ethnological assistant and translator. She also taught Hawaiian to several scholars and served as an informant for numerous anthropologists. She published more than 50 scholarly works. Pukui 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 a valuable resource on Hawaiian customs and traditions.[8]

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.[9]

She was named a "Living Treasure of Hawaiʻi" by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaiʻi in 1977. In 1995, she was inducted into the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame.[10] In March 2017, Hawaiʻi Magazine ranked her among a list of the most influential women in Hawaiian history.[11]

Bibliography (selected)

In order of first publication:

»Partial preview of New Pocket Hawaiian Dictionary with a Concise Grammars and Given Names in Hawaiian. at WorldCat. OCLC 24064961.((cite book)): CS1 maint: others (link)


  1. ^ Often written in hyphenated form as Kawena-ʻula-o-ka-lani-a-Hiʻiaka-i-ka-poli-o-Pele-ka-wahine-ʻai-honua Na-lei-lehua-a-Pele, which translates as "The rosy glow in the sky made by Hiʻiaka in the bosom of Pele, the earth-consuming woman." Dye 1998, pp. 109–110
  2. ^ Dye, Bob (1998). Hawaiʻi Chronicles Two. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. pp. 109–110. ISBN 978-0-8248-1984-2. OCLC 249244077.
  3. ^ Handy, Edward Smith Craighill; Pukui, Mary Kawena (1950). The Polynesian Family System in Ka-'u, Hawaii. C. E. Tuttle Company. p. xvii. ISBN 978-0-8048-1031-9.
  4. ^ Hawaiian spelling: Pūkuʻi; her The Water of Kāne, 1994: t.p. (Mary Kawena Pūkuʻi) p. 4 of cover
  5. ^ Chad Blair (September–October 2007). "Kawena's Legacy". Hana Hou! Vol. 10, No. 4.
  6. ^ Dye 1998, pp. 109–110
  7. ^ a b Boomer, Lee. "Life Story: Mary Kawena Pukui, 1895–1986". Women & the American Story. Retrieved May 21, 2023.
  8. ^ Pukui, Mary Kawena; Haertig, E. W.; Lee, Catherine A. (2014). Nānā i Ke Kumu. Hui Hanai. ISBN 978-0-9616738-2-6.
  9. ^ Burl Burlingame (November 1, 1999). "Author aided revival of Hawaiian tongue". Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Retrieved March 9, 2010.
  10. ^ "1995 Hall of Fame Honoree: Mary Kawena Pukuʻi". Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame. 1995. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved October 20, 2009.
  11. ^ Dekneef, Matthew (March 8, 2017). "15 extraordinary Hawaii women who inspire us all. We can all learn something from these historic figures". Hawaiʻi Magazine. Honolulu. Archived from the original on August 28, 2018. Retrieved June 12, 2020.

Further reading