top of page

Pa‘ahana by Malia Adams

Leilani, a 50-year old Hawaiian woman, has to go back to her home island of Moloka‘i, where she will face her past traumas and reunite with her old lover, while reconnecting to her spirituality and healing practices, and ultimately, her calling in life.

Long Project Description

Leilani (55), a Hawaiian horticulturist and recent divorcee on O‘ahu, is called back to return to the small town she grew up in in Moloka’i by her brother Keoni when their mother Mai falls ill. After reuniting to Moloka‘i and reuniting with her lover, Leilani faces homophobia from her small community, resurfacing old traumas from her youth. She is constantly reminded of her shortcomings on the island, especially as her brother is a respected Hawaiian practitioner who restores fishponds and lo‘i on the island. Their mother sees Leilani’s interest in plants, and shares some of her knowledge of la‘au (healing practices) and begins to teach her about plants with medicinal properties in her garden. Just as Leilani begins to realize her path to learn from her mother and become a la‘au practitioner, her mother passes. After their mother passes, and Leilani thinks all is lost, and returning to O‘ahu and running away from her problems as she did in her youth, the community moves towards reconciliation with Leilani and her brother as they plan for a traditional ceremonial burial for Mai. The preparation for the ceremony brings together the whole community and helps to put people’s biases aside. Through this, Leilani meets another elder in her community who was close to her mother, who offers to continue to teach her la‘au practices.

Developed during the 2023 Wāhine in Film Lab

Artist/Director Statement

"Pa‘ahana" is a deeply personal and culturally significant short film that speaks to the themes of identity, belonging, and healing within the context of Hawaiian culture. This project is not only inspired by my family's roots in Moloka‘i but also by the experiences of my queer Aunt who faced prejudice on the island. Through this film, I aim to honor the memory of my recently passed uncle, a respected Hawaiian practitioner who restored lo‘i and loko i‘a, and to pay my respects to the resilient community that supported us during our time of mourning.

The story of "Pa‘ahana" revolves around Leilani, a Hawaiian horticulturist who returns to her hometown in Moloka‘i when her mother falls ill. The film explores the challenges Leilani faces as she grapples with her identity, her past traumas, and the homophobia she encounters within her small community. Through her journey, we witness her transformation, from feeling like an outsider to finding her place within her cultural heritage and community.

The film's visual style and artistic approach will emphasize the warmth of the Hawaiian landscape, contrasting the lush, green windward side of the island with the iconic red dirt that characterizes Moloka‘i. The red dust, in particular, serves as a powerful metaphor, representing Leilani's struggle to accept the changes in her life and her resistance to embracing her heritage.

Magic realism is woven into the narrative through the presence of Papa, Mai's late husband, and the red dust, creating a sense of otherworldly connection and symbolism. These elements enhance the emotional depth of the story and bring out the film's thematic richness.

At its core, "Pa‘ahana" is a story of reconciliation and healing. It explores the importance of passing on cultural knowledge and traditions, and the transformative power of reconnecting with one's roots. In a world where many Kanaka are disconnected from their heritage, "Pa‘ahana" emphasizes the urgency of preserving and revitalizing Hawaiian culture. Native Hawaiians are in need of healing, and the film underscores that the path to healing lies in returning to their ancestral practices and embracing their cultural identity.

This film is a call to action, encouraging viewers to appreciate and support the preservation of indigenous cultures. It reminds us of the resilience and strength found within communities and the importance of understanding, acceptance, and reconciliation. Through "Pa‘ahana," I hope to shed light on the challenges and beauty of Hawaiian culture, fostering a sense of pride and urgency in reconnecting with our roots.

Connection to the story

I am deeply connected to the story and the culture it represents, making me the ideal person to bring this film to life. Here are some reasons why I am the best person to make a film about "Pa'ahana":

  • Personal Connection: My family hails from Moloka'i, and I have a profound connection to our Hawaiian culture and its traditions. This personal link allows me to bring authenticity and a deep understanding of the story's themes and nuances.

  • Cultural Sensitivity: Listening to the stories of my family that has experienced prejudice on the island, made me very sensitive to the cultural and social dynamics of Moloka'i. Which allows me to navigate these issues with respect and authenticity.

  • Access to the Subject Matter: With my familial roots on the island, I have access to the community, cultural events, and traditions that are integral to the story. This unique access enables me to capture the essence of Moloka'i and its people with accuracy.

  • Personal Experience with Mourning Ceremonies: My recent experience with traditional ceremonies following my uncle's passing has given me a profound insight into the strong sense of community and support that exists on Moloka'i during times of mourning. This firsthand experience will help me depict these elements authentically in the film.

  • Respect and Tribute: Through this short film, I aim to pay my respects and honor the memory of my late uncle, who was a respected practitioner in the community. This project is a heartfelt tribute to his legacy and the traditions he upheld.

Overall, my personal connection to Moloka'i, the Hawaiian culture, and the subject matter, along with my access to the community and personal experiences, make me the most qualified filmmaker to bring "Pa'ahana" to the screen with cultural sensitivity, authenticity, and heartfelt respect.


It is through our culture that we will survive.

In an era where many Kanaka find themselves either disconnected from their roots or scattered in the diaspora, Pa‘ahana is a compelling story of rediscovery and reconnection. Despite its main character residing in Hawaii, the perpetual erasure and criminalization of Hawaiian culture since the overthrow of the kingdom have left many Kanakas estranged from their cultural heritage. This film serves as a poignant testament to the significance of passing down traditional knowledge and preserving time-honored practices. It explores the profound healing that occurs when individuals embark on the journey to reclaim their cultural identity.

Pa‘ahana speaks directly to the pressing need for healing within the Native Hawaiian community. By returning to their cultural practices and embracing their heritage, the film underscores that it is through their unique culture that they will find the strength and resilience to endure. The narrative is not only timely but also urgent, given the critical role that cultural reconnection plays in healing the historical wounds and sustaining the future of the Native Hawaiian community. This project will delve into the themes of identity, tradition, and the path to healing within a cultural context, offering a compelling and necessary perspective on the challenges, stakes, and questions facing the Kanaka community today.

Creative Team


Malia Adams, born in Kailua and raised inChile, is an indigenous filmmaker. Malia earned a Bachelor’s degree at UH Manoa in Creative Media. She spent this last year living in Spain, where she pursued a Master’s degree in Media and Literary translation at the Pompeu Fabra University. Her short film, Will Be Your Breath, was nominated Best Hawaii Made (2021) at the Hawaiʻi International Film Fest and won Best Experimental at Cannes Short Film festival (2021). She is also very active in social media, where she uses her platform to educate people about Hawaiian culture, the History of Hawaiʻi, where she shares her one experiences reconnection with her Hawaiian roots and where she helps other indigenous people to start their own journey reconnecting to their indigenous roots.


Tiare Ribeaux is a Kānaka ‘Ōiwi filmmaker, artist and producer based in Honolulu, Hawai‘i. Her artwork and films disrupt conventional storytelling methods by employing magical realist explorations of spirituality, labor, and the environment to critique both social and ecological imbalances. Ribeaux’s work traverses between the mundane and dreamworlds - creating stories around transformation and how our bodies are inextricably linked to land and water systems. Her films use visual narrative and components of speculative fiction and fantasy to reimagine both our present realities and future trajectories of healing, queerness, lineage, place and belonging. She integrates immersion within community, personal/ancestral narratives, and Hawaiian cosmology into her films. She has shown work both nationally and internationally, and has won numerous grants and awards for her artistic leadership including the Sundance Native Lab Fellowship and the Indigenous Film Fund, the National Endowment for the Arts, two New and Experimental Works Grants from the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, the Building Demand for the Arts Grant from the Doris Duke Foundation, and the Citizen Diplomacy Action Fund, among others.

Lead Editor:

Alessa Gallian She has been a production assistant for Tight Rope Pictures and an arts department assistant on Do Elephants Pray. She recently graduated from the School of cinematic arts at UH Manoa. She was the Lead editor for I Will Be Your Breath, and her work was recognized by the school as the best editing 2020.



Contact information

Malia Adams - Writer/Director -

Tiare Ribeaux - Producer -

bottom of page