So Maluhia Kawai is one beautiful Hawaiian hula-dancing mermaid, and not just any mermaid but one of Sita Lange’s Maui Mermaids. Sita, as you may know or recall, was the force behind the recent World Mermaid Awards and Maui Mermaids is her own hometown mermaid photography project and Maluhia is one of her stars, for obvious reasons. Maluhia was a gorgeous presence at the World Mermaid Awards as well, performing her own hula as well as presenting the actual awards, like in this photo where one very demure and bashful MeduSirena is gobsmacked by the honor. Plus, Maluhia literally glows in person, in a most aquatic manner. Which only makes sense.
I talk with Maluhia about her shimmering mermaidliness below.
You’re hula dancer and a mermaid. How are the two related (if they are)?
photo by Sita Lange
Both require physical stamina and conscious actions—to have an idea of what you look like while you’re dancing, posing or swimming.
I think both hula and modeling are better displayed when I understand more of the history behind the story that I am trying to tell.
How long have you been a mermaid?
I’ve been a mermaid (possibly just a crazy fan) for as long as I can remember, but shooting with Sita (about a year and a half ago) was the first time I ever put on a tail. It was definitely a magical experience. I hope to do a million more shoots with her and my favorite makeup artist Amy Morrison. The three of us make an insane team.
Can I tell you a story? My mother took our family out to eat at this local restaurant when I was two and, well, I literally walked up to other tables—complete strangers—and just started slapping my throat and making water motions with my hands. My mother pulled me aside and apologized for the interruption and then had to explain that I was recreating the scene where Ariel had just lost her voice and was trying to convey to Eric what just happened. Funny, eh?
Does hula dancing help you in your mermaidly modeling and swimming?
The first thing that pops into my head is that it helps me with coordination of the mind and body—what do I want to convey and is my body position and face expressing what I‘m thinking.
But hula is also something that helps me to dig deep. It’s more than just dancing. It can be a way of life—and a porthole to the past. Within my studies I have learned not only how to dance, but also about the history of my culture: How to read chants and discern what what the authors were alluding to. How to recognize historical fact from a legend or chant. How to collect plants and create a costume with them, but also to return my organic creation back to the earth so that it may fertilize the soil. Respect for my fellow hula dancers is probably the most important lesson I’ve learned. Or fellow models.
Are mermaids native to Hawaii and Hawaiian culture?
Ka Momi Hili ’O Nalu is one particular legend that I just learned about. During the season of calm seas fishermen of Kaua’i would dive, hunting for oysters and their pearls. In the distance they would see a woman with delicate shoulders and the tail of a fish (hu’i i’a) twisting and turning in the waters. Any who laid their eyes on Ka Momi Hili ’O Nalu were captivated by her…forever infatuated with the mermaid.
It is my belief that every culture has a mermaid tale (or several) of their own.
Have you always been attracted to mermaids?
Yes. I was one of those kids who wanted to know everything. I just remember reading and drawing a lot. For as long as I can remember I was bummed I wasn’t born with red hair, green eyes, and a retractable tail, but I think my infatuation with mermaids came and left in phases.
Do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids?
Never think it’s dumb to love what you love. No matter what you do or what you want to learn, these are the things that will shape who you will become. Bring your love of art, song, and beauty into your mermaiding adventures.