Meet our beautiful Hawaiian mermaid Malia. Born in Hawaii and proud of her culture and strong ties with the water and her island home. She says “As Hawaiians, we go to the ocean for healing, spiritual cleansing or cultural ceremonies.”
Keep reading to learn more about her rich culture and how it ties into the mermaid world.
Where are you from? What do you enjoy filling your day with?
I’m from the beautiful shores off of the Waiʻanae Coast in Hawaiʻi. I love to fill my day with positive aloha vibes, fun-filled adventures and healthy meaʻai (food). While in human form, I enjoy spending time with my SONshine, hiking mauka (upland) to chase wailele (waterfalls), count ānuenue (rainbows), watch the beautiful golden hour sunset, share aloha, play ʻukulele & hula. As a Wahine Hiʻu Iʻa (mermaid), I enjoy tailing up with my Hawaiʻi merfolk ʻohana (family) to discover new shores, reefs, caves, and eats, share the message of Aloha ʻĀina, Aloha Kai and Mālama Honua (Love of the Land, Love of the Sea and to care for our Island Earth).
Where did you learn your love for the water?
Being Native Hawaiian, I have strong cultural ties with the land and sea. I’m very haʻaheo (proud) of my Hawaiian culture and thankful to be from such a beautiful & spiritual place full of mana (divine power). Growing up I was raised at my grandparent’s house on the oceanfront in the beautiful town of Mākaha. As a child, I was taught to take care of what I love.
For me, it’s my loving ʻohana (family), kuʻu one hānau (my birthplace), the land that I walk on and the sea that I swim in. The ocean has always been my playground since I can remember. I always had a fascination for the beautiful underwater world and a deep love for all of its inhabitants. In my Hawaiian culture, we have numerous forms of ʻaumākua (family guardians). Some of them may appear as heʻe (octopus), puhi (eel), honu (turtle) and my family ʻaumakua, the manō (shark). The ocean is also very healing. As Hawaiians, we go to the ocean for healing, spiritual cleansing or cultural ceremonies.
Why do you love Mermaids so much?
I think mermaids are mesmerizing, mystical & magical creatures. Most cultures around the world have mermaid/merman legends. I find it really interesting to read about the various Merfolklore from different cultures.
How long have you been using a Mermaid Tail?
I’ve been a mermaid all my life however I’ve been wearing a tail for nearly 5 years now. My mermaid seastar Mermaid Kariel helped me discover & grow my magical tail. There are many talented & beautiful tail makers around the world but Kariel’s Tail of Art creations are my favorite. I’m also very thankful & honored to own Kariel’s first Tail of Art design of its kind.
I’ve learned that mermaid tails have the ability to inspire and make a difference. I have seen so many beautiful tails doing wonderful things. I believe that it’s not the tail that makes the mermaid. It’s the mermaid that makes the tail.
What do you think people can learn from Mermaids?
I believe the “modern day” mermaid has a positive impact on society. A mermaid is a “servant of the sea”. Mer means “sea”, maid is a “servant”. Every mermaid is unique. Each merfolk has their own distinctive platform and mersona. All the merfolk I know are inspiring, positive and enjoy sharing ocean conservation awareness. Hopefully, more humans will catch on to this magical mermaid movement to stay true to themselves, follow their dreams and assist in protecting and healing this beautiful earth we live on.
There is a ʻŌlelo Noʻeau (Hawaiian Proverb) that says “He aliʻi ka ʻāina; he kauā ke kanaka. The land is a chief; man is its servant. The land has no need for man, but man needs the land and works it for a livelihood.” The ʻāina (land) and the kai (sea) provides. If both the land and the sea are healthy, it’s inhabitants are healthy, the people are healthy.
What is your favorite Mermaid or ocean quote?
“dream higher than the sky and deeper than the ocean.”
I encourage children of all ages (including adults) to believe in themselves, do what makes them happy, dream big and make their dreams a reality. Anyone can be whatever they wish to be as long as they work hard at achieving their goals. Prior to diving into the mermaid world, I’d tell people that I wanted to be a professional mermaid and I think they thought I was crazy.
At the time it was a new topic but it’s certainly making waves these days. Recently, I achieved my biggest dream as a licensed Commercial Pilot being one of the world’s first professional Mermaid Flying Fish… proving that anything is possible. I don’t fly with my tail. I’m just a mermaid that can fly…an aircraft that is (pun intended).
I also have a favorite ʻŌlelo Noʻeau (Hawaiian Proverb) which reminds me to live pono (righteously) and in balance. To live Pono is to be positive, to treat yourself & others with respect and to live a way of life that does not affect the ecosystem negatively. This proverb is similar to the one I shared in the previous question…”Inā mālama ‘oe i ke kai, mālama no ke kai iā ‘oe. Inā mālama ‘oe i ka ‘āina, mālama no ka ‘āina iā oe. If you care for the ocean, the ocean will care for you. If you care for the land, the land will care for you.” The land and the sea provides and nourishes our bodies, therefore, we need to protect & care for our resources to provide a healthier future for our kamaliʻi (children).
What camps or Mermaid gatherings have you been to or wish to go to?
In February, I attended MermagicCon in Virginia. It was my first Mermaid convention I ever attended and it was such a fintastic event. My favorite part was being able to meet more magical merfolk from across the globe. I also had an opportunity to listen to the Diversity Panel which I really enjoyed. They all shared heartfelt stories which made me shed some mermaid tears. There was not a dry eye in the room. Their stories reminded me of some things I’ve been through as a mermaid.
Being Polynesian with tan skin and dark hair would sometimes raise interesting questions among little starfishies during swims and storytime. Children would ask me “Why is your skin dark? Or why is your hair black? Why don’t you have red hair or blonde hair? Why is your tail that color?” I thought it was funny because Hollywood portrays the perfect mermaid as being thin with long red hair or blonde hair so that’s all children are familiar with. I would explain that those typical mermaids are beautiful but beauty also comes from within.
There’s beautiful merfolk who come from all over the world, in different sizes big & small, various tail colors like the rainbow, different shades of skin color, different hair lengths & colors and different genders. There’s Merfolk from various cultures, backgrounds, and upbringings. Even though we are all different, we all come from one ocean.
As for future gatherings, I’m excited to be one of the featured mermaids at the California Mermaid Convention in Sacramento this Summer. I’ll be doing a children’s Mermaid story time & swim session on Saturday, July 13th at 4 p.m. I look forward to seeing my Sacramento Merfolk ʻohana, swimming with all the lil star fishies, meeting new finned friends and shellebrating everything mermaid! There will be food, fun, entertainment, crafts, and thinga-ma-bobs for everyone! I hope to “sea” you there! Swim by, throw a Shaka and say “aloha” or “shello”.
What ocean conservation efforts do you support?
I support Hawaiʻi Wildlife Fund, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaiʻi, Surfrider Oʻahu as well as other non-profit organizations like Make-A-Wish Foundation and AccesSurf. As a Flying Fish, I support Women In Aviation and Ninety-Nines organization of female pilots.
What are your favorite Mermaid theme items or clothing?
I love anything ocean or Mermaid themed especially if it involves sharks, scales, mermaid tails and products that are eco-friendly. I believe I have mermaid leggings in almost every color. They’re fun & really comfortable. You can dress them up or keep it casual. I also love my Hawaiʻi edition Moana (ocean) blue Hydroflask and Starbucks mermaid scale tea tumbler. They were the best & most practical makana (gifts) I received. I take them everywhere and try my best to avoid single-use plastics like bags, cups, bottles, utensils, straws etc. Single-use plastic is so harmful to marine life, human health, and the environment. There’s a plastic island floating somewhere in the Pacific known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch which is poisoning Wildlife. If everyone could make small changes to reduce their plastic use, I think this small change can have a major positive impact on the environment.
Stainless Steel has been my best friend. I have a bunch of reusable Stainless Steel straws at home. Final Straw recently released a portable rainbow colored Stainless Steel straw and I love it. Who doesn’t love rainbows? While dining out, I refuse plastic straws, use my own reusable portable straw and pack my leftovers in a reusable Stainless Steel container. Bamboo is another mermaid favorite of mine. Having a bamboo toothbrush makes me feel better knowing that it’s eco-friendly and compostable. I also love my portable To-Go Ware bamboo utensil set which has been quite useful.
I also can’t forget my soft, snuggly & beautiful Cape-Cali Mermaid Robe!
Any tips and tricks for fellow Mermaids?
My advice is to be positive, stay true to yourself and beYOUtiful on the inside. Always dream big, strive to make your dreams a reality and continue sharing the magic.
As for accessories, I try to keep it natural and use flowers, leaves & shells. I always ask for permission to gather these items & give thanks.
Silicone tails are beautiful and realistic however they can be costly. Fabric tails have recently become popular and are easy to travel with.
I love swimming in the ocean versus a pool. I highly recommend swimming with a friend or a safety diver. Swimming with a tail on in the ocean is a lot of work and can be very dangerous with strong currents and waves. It’s a good safety precaution to have a floatie & a dive flag to alert nearby boats of swimmers/divers/merfolk in the water. Whenever at the beach or in the ocean, be sure to wear reef safe sunscreen like Raw Elements or Kōkua Suncare. Hawaiʻi has recently put a ban on sunscreens that harm our beautiful reefs. Sunscreens which contain ingredients like oxybenzone and octinoxate have been proven to cause coral bleaching. Besides, who wants to put all those chemicals on their skin and into their body anyway. While out in the sun don’t forget to stay hydrated. Reduce plastic waste by carrying a hydro flask of water, reusable utensils, fresh fruits & snacks in a reusable container. Wherever your next adventure may be, always “Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints. Kill nothing but time”.
What is the mermaid scene like in Hawaii and where do you see it going in the next few years?
The mermaid scene in Hawaiʻi is a lot of fun! We have the advantage of being surrounded by the Pacific Ocean as our beautiful playground. At one point there was only a handful of merfolk but it’s become a growing community. One of my mermaid seastars occasionally holds beach mer-meetups on Oʻahu where merfolk of all ages are welcome to socialize and just have fun.
There’s no telling what the future holds however mermaids have been around for centuries. I think there will be more new tails washing up on Hawaiʻi shores in the years to come. I hope the growth in the Hawaiʻi merfolk community will raise conservation awareness to protect our beautiful ocean and endangered Hawaiʻi wildlife like honu (turtle), ʻīlio holo i ka uaua/ sila Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian Monk Seal) & koholā (humpback whale).
Does the Hawaiian culture have any folklore or ties to mermaids?
I’m not aware of Wāhine Hiʻu Iʻa (fishtail women/mermaids) existing in ancient Hawaiian folklore.
However, there is a famous Hawaiian song entitled Kananaka written circa 1880. Kananaka was a beautiful mermaid who resided on the Lāhaina shores of Maui. It’s said that Kananaka may have been inspired by whalers who migrated to Hawaiʻi and lived in Lāhaina. On certain moonlit nights, Kananaka would swim towards the shore to eat seaweed and dance in the surf. Kananaka is usually performed as a hula noho (sitting hula).
Similar to mermaids, Moʻo Wāhine (Shapeshifting lizard women) do have an existence in ancient Hawaiian Folklore. Moʻo Wāhine usually lives near freshwater ponds, streams, fish ponds and waterfalls. They can be kind and nurturing or the extreme opposite. These shapeshifting lizard women are deities & guardians of freshwater resources and its inhabitants. I’ve been taught to always ask before taking or gathering and request permission when entering sacred spaces and the home of others. Before leaving, we show respect and always mahalo (give thanks). This can be done by giving hoʻokupu (an offering). Hoʻokupu can be in the form of gifts and can also be done verbally, through oli (chant) or hula (dance).
A kupuna (elder) from my community shared a moʻolelo (story) about a Moʻo Wahine who resided near Pōhaku Kūlaʻilaʻi (Kūlaʻilaʻi Rock).
Long ago, there was a Moʻo Wahine named Laʻilaʻi who lived at a freshwater spring called Koʻiahi. Laʻilaʻi would sit on a rock along the shoreline waiting for her lover Nanaue (a shape-shifting shark god). Nanaue would emerge from a nearby water cave to meet Laʻilaʻi awaiting on the rock now called Pōhaku Kūlaʻilaʻi (Kūlaʻilaʻi Rock).
Thank you so much, Malia, for sharing your passion and story! You really help break the mold of what a mermaid should look like, and represent how we each have our own voices to share with the world.
Featured Image by: Lei Puamelia (Plumeria lei) Honolulu, Hawaiʻi Photo by Melanie Gregor Photography
Rev. Darlene G. Engebretsen, MSW., PoetFebruary 13, 2020
Malia is such a treasure! She truly embodies beauty from within and without. Her love and respect for the sea are apparent in the choices she makes in everyday life. She is also clearly an educator of environmental issues. I so love her ability to find the magic and mystery in our world. Malia is an inspiration to keep a pure heart while she honors family and tradition. I find the lore of merfolk fascinating and have several merfolk items in my home. I live on the southern Oregon coast nine blocks from the bay and am in love with the ocean too. We have a local organization called “Washed Ashore.” They take trash pulled out of the sea and build it into large art sculptures. The sculptures are used as a springboard to educate people about keeping the ocean clean. I’m so glad Malia brought up the point about how Hollywood portrays mermaids. Since mermaids come from many places and cultures OF COURSE they have different skin colors, sizes, etc… They are ALL beautiful children of the Creator!