The Enduring Legacy of Female Warriors


Read this article in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi

Kumu Lua Michelle Manu is part of a long tradition of women trained in the arts of lua. She is currently the only female lua instructor in the world and holds the rank of alihikaua. – Photo: Courtesy of Michelle Manu

Throughout Hawaiian history, women have played important and impactful roles as leaders, professionals, mothers, sisters, advisors, artists, writers, and as warriors. Too often, however, the role that women have played as warriors and political strategists is overlooked.

Manono is probably our most well-known female warrior. She fought with her kāne (husband) to maintain the traditional Hawaiian religious system. Kekupuohi lead an all-women regiment under Kamehameha I and fought with him in various battles. In earlier times, the first reigning queen of Oʻahu, Kūkaniloko, went to battle to protect her realm. Hawaiian language newspapers record that Kanewahine- ikiaoha, wife of Kawelo of Hanalei, was skilled in the Hawaiian art of lua and in weaponry. In fact, many of our female aliʻi had some training in lua.

The ancient Hawaiian art of lua is known by various names including kapu kuʻialua, lua ‘ōlohe, and lua haʻihaʻi. In the 19th century, lua went underground – although Hawaiian language newspapers continued to write about it through the 1920s. Today, lua is taught through several lineages – and each has its own origin stories, kapu, protocols, and specializations.

Kumu Lua Michelle Manu is part of a long tradition of women trained in these arts of lua and was trained within the Kaihewalu lineage. She currently is the only female lua instructor in the world and holds the rank of alihikaua.

For Manu, lua is not simply a physical discipline but is deeply rooted within the spiritual practices of our ancestors, including learning how to engage in one’s mana, holding kuleana, and being self-aware. She credits her kumu, ʻŌlohe Solomon Kaihewalu, with teaching her the fundamental aspects of lua and his openness to training anyone who was not into titles and certificates.

Lua helped Manu reclaim her Hawaiian heritage and understanding of not just the elements of Kū, but of Hina. According to Manu, “Lua is seen as Kū, the masculine element, but lua is not all about Kū. There can be no Kū without Hina. It must be balanced with Hina, the feminine element. Hina is that inhaling breath before making a block or a strike. Hina is about being centered, affirmed, and tapping into the metaphysical. Hina is about the physics within lua. Being Hina, being a woman, does not mean being weak and vulnerable. Women and māhū are anything but weak, inferior, and ʻsoft.’ When we need to protect what we love, we are dangerous even more so when trained.”

It has become her kuleana to nurture a new generation of warriors while honoring the illustrious history of the women warriors that came before her. “Lua, for me, is also about opening up all of this history that we are not taught and healing our generational trauma,” Manu explained.

At the Battle of Kuamoʻo, Manono with her last breath uttered the words, “mālama kō aloha” as a reminder to keep the love of our ancestral ways. But these words also serve as a reminder of the powerful legacy of the wāhine koa (women warriors) of yesterday and those yet to come.