Makerʻs Highlight: Kaleo o ke Aloha
“Genders beyond the gender binary has always been. Weʻve always been here.”
Kaleo o ke Aloha is many things: maker, māhū, but most importantly to us, is a member of our Nā Mea ʻOhana.
We took some time to sit and walaʻau with her to learn more about her gender expression and makerʻs journey.
She recalls finding her way to Nā Mea Hawaiʻi after 10 years in Colorado. It was there, nestled in the old Ward Shopping Center, that Kaleo would eventually cross paths with Kumu Hina, a prominent native Hawaiian māhū, activist, and kumu. “She gave me that gentle nudge into exploring and accepting my more Hina (feminine) side” of her spirit. Not long after this turning point, Maile Meyer, owner of Nā Mea, made sure that Kaleo was comfortable in her workplace. “From there, I was allowed to be who I am and continue to grow” she says, with a smile on her face.
Through her own research and understanding, Kaleo has embraced what it means to be māhū- an individual who straddles the balance between Kū (masculinity) & Hina (femininity). She acknowledges important Polynesian figures like Kumu Hina and Kaumakaiwa Kanakaʻole- “a scholar, activist, practitioner and performer who was raised among cultural wells of wisdom.” Kaleo, Kumu Hina, and Kanakaʻole all embody what has been described in the Hawaiian vernacular as the “third self,” a place in oneself that embraces both the male and female aspects within.
She points to a Mana Magazine article, "The Meaning of Māhū," as a main resource in her research. The article, published shortly after the Hawaiʻi legislature legalized same-sex marriage, was an intimate look into "gender identities in traditional Hawaiian culture."
She shared with us that in her research - books, articles, papers- “third genders” have been and have always been, many with specific healing or medicinal roles in the community. Around the world, there are historical terms that describe the “third gender.” In Tahiti, there are rae-rae, in Samoa the fa’afafine, and even in the Middle East the mukhannathun served as important matchmakers. “Genders beyond the gender binary has always been. We’ve always been here,” Kaleo explains.
While Kaleo continues to explore gender expressions through a personal, cultural, and global lens, one thing has always remained a constant: her love of Hawaiʻi and the plants found here. As a child, Kaleo always found herself picking up kukui nuts and seeds, and anything I could find, buffing them to keep as her own "treasures" As time went on and as her toolset and understanding of her craft grew, so did the intricacies of her mea.
Kaleo’s jewelry is an extension of herself- a tangible reminder of the beauty and strength of this land, this culture. Like the seeds she uses to create her pieces, Kaleo seems to always find the opportunity to grow.
Mahalo to Kaleo for showing us what it means to be true to one’s self, one’s culture, and one’s art.
Kaleo’s earrings, mindfully made with natural materials, can be found online or in-store. Come by and say hi! We’d love to have you!