Maui Arts & Entertainment

Film explores animals as Native Hawaiian guardians, their relationship to families

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A film documentary, exploring native Hawaiians’ traditional relationships with animals as family guardians, will be shown at the 30th annual Celebration of the Arts at The Ritz-Carlton Maui, Kapalua in mid-April.

The film “Hawaiian Spiritual Guardians – ʻAumakua,” winner of Best Documentary at the Hispanic International Film Festival in South America, has returned home to Maui after a year abroad visiting more than 20 cities worldwide.

The documentary will be presented at the theatre at The Ritz-Carlton Maui, Kapalua on Friday, April 15, starting 4 p.m.

The film explores the deeply cultural association of Native Hawaiian families to animals, such as the shark, birds, and the pig, as guardians protecting family members and the natural world.


Kahu Lyons Naone, interviewed in the documentary, said Hawaiian families often have more than one ʻaumakua and their associations vary depending on the location of a family member’s activity.

Naone said one of his ʻaumakua is the shark which acts as a guardian when he is in the ocean, and the other is the ʻiwa or great frigate bird that flies along the Maui coastline.

“It really depends on where you are,” he said.

Hawaiians believe the ʻaumakua is a deified family ancestor who has died and come back as the guardian and protector. The ʻaumakua helps to connect Native Hawaiians to the rhythms of nature and the signs of approval or disapproval in the natural world.


Naone said the many native peoples of the world have a similar relationship with animals and respect for animals’ own form of wisdom and instinct.

He said about 10 years ago, he was outside his house and noticed his animals including horses acting strangely. He called his wife out of the house, thinking that an earthquake was coming, and they would be safer in the open air.

He was right, and they remained outside until the animals had settled down.

Filmmaker Kenneth Martinez Burgmaier, a Native American himself from the Hopi tribe, said he understands the importance of having spiritual guides for survival and to maintain the natural order of the world.


“The eagle, bears, bird, rock, sky are living matter and serve as guides and protectors in the spiritual world,” he said.

Burgmaier, who has received an Emmy for his prior work, said the film has been embraced on a global level and he’s happy to have produced and directed it.

“It’s been an incredible and humbling journey working on this delicate subject of Hawaiian culture,” he said.

Burgmaier, said in early 2021, the film premier’s audience on Maui was limited to 100 people, because of COVID-19 restrictions.

He said he is looking forward to more film showings as restrictions are loosened.

The film has been shown in a number of cities, including Paris, Tokyo, London, Vienna, Brazil Dublin, Berlin, Vancouver, Dublin, Sydney, Houston, and Philadelphia.

For a weekly listing of Maui music and other events, go to Maui Entertainment, Arts, Community, April 7-13 and click here.

Gary Kubota
Gary Kubota, an associate writer with, has worked as a staff news writer with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and The Maui News. He lives on Maui. He’s also been an editor/business manager with the Lahaina News. He’s received national and regional journalism awards — a National Press Club Citation of Merit and Walter Cronkite Best In The West, among them.
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