Collier’s gifts as an educator have placed her in a key role during another time of profound political and social change — the revival of Hawaiian culture and language.
“Women are the voices that are heard in strength and numbers,” she says, and notes that women are the majority of educators, although she is trying to change that balance for the benefit of her male students. “I have a capacity to be true to my culture, but I cannot teach you how to be a man.”
Collier’s story is but one from a long line of life-giving, demon-slaying women deeply rooted in family and nature. Like those who came before, she is a wahine raising her voice, honoring and teaching the ways of old while striving to ensure a world that is better for those who come after.
Pulama Collier’s words sum it up: “It’s beautiful to be a Hawaiian woman.”
In Service to Their Culture
For the first time in its history, the executive board of the Maui Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce is all wāhine. Doreen “Pua” Canto, Sharron Joseph, Shirley Kaihua Blackburn, and Teri Freitas Gorman met with me before a recent chamber meeting to share their views — and a lot of laughter. I couldn’t gauge whether they would traverse the island chain, if asked, like Pele’s sisters, but their camaraderie was palpable. Common threads include pride in their Hawaiian heritage, the importance of family, and a perspective that women’s mana, kuleana and leadership are central to perpetuating Hawaiian culture through language, hula and education.
Board president Gorman highlights support for federal legislation that would encourage Hawaiian entrepreneurs to create authentic visitor experiences. “Culture needs to be the entrée, not the parsley on the plate,” she says. Does Gorman see differences in how an all-wāhine executive board leads? “A woman’s style is servant leadership,” she observes, as opposed to telling other people what to do. She points, smiling, to the other board members, who are busy laying out food for the upcoming meeting.
Before hearing their stories an thoughts, my Western-trained mind might have recoiled at the word “servant,” or seen only a stereotype of women “in the kitchen.” Instead, observing these joyful wāhine, I’m reminded of ancient tales of creation, the powerful women who shaped the history of these islands, and a sense of balance rooted in nature.