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I was raised in Mākaha on Oʻahu a Kākuhihewa but my ʻŌiwi ancestral roots begin in Hoʻokena at the foot of the Mauna Loa volcano on Hawaiʻi a Keawe. I grew up in a very large family (my grandmother had eleven siblings), most of whom embraced our traditional beliefs and belief-related practices. I bring these cultural insights to bear upon my study of nā mea Hawaiʻi (things Hawaiian).

I am a world traveler, having visited over thirty countries, which includes living in Tokyo for four years and Rome for sixteen. I speak four languages to varying degrees of fluency (English, Italian, Hawaiian, and French). Students in my classes are welcome to write their papers in Hawaiian. My thesis, written in Hawaiian for an M.A. in Hawaiian Language, was a treatise on moʻo, a class of Hawaiian reptilian water deities who once held substantial roles in nearly every sector of Hawaiian society, and whom many ʻŌiwi continue to honor. My thesis is the largest compilation of traditional and current information regarding these deities. My dissertation was a life-writing project, which chronicled the life and contributions of John Papa ʻĪʻī, a significant figure in nineteenth-century Hawaiʻi. My first book, Facing the Spears of Change: The Life and Legacy of John Papa ʻĪʻī, published in May 2016, is based on my dissertation.

For the last decade, I have carried out extensive research in Hawaiian-language newspapers published between 1834 and 1948, a semi-public forum in which ʻŌiwi shared their knowledge and debated about the important topics of their time. In particular, I have gathered many moʻolelo (a narrative genre that includes belief narratives, life writing, and historical treatises), which ran as weekly or daily series for a year or more. For example, I gathered the account of Ka-Miki, which ran for four years with more than two hundred installments, and shared it with people who were interested in studying it. Our moʻolelo continually demonstrate that our ancestors did not sharply distinguish between legends and history, but wove them together in the most beautiful of ways. Most importantly, moʻolelo are much more than a narrative genre because they serve as receptacles or archives of and vehicles for transmitting ancestral knowledge, and they offer deep insights into ʻŌiwi ways of knowing and being. Many of the moʻolelo I have gathered, which offer important insights into Hawaiian religion, are not widely known because no one has every republished or translated for a wider audience.

Current Research

Additionally, I am researching the dynamicity and continuity of Hoʻomana Hawaiʻi. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence for the continuity of Hawaiian religion even after the Kapu System was officially abolished in 1819 and despite the massive efforts to Christianize ʻŌiwi from 1820 onward. This evidence is found in missionary journals, letters, and reports, and in the Hawaiian-language newspapers. Part of this research is included in my article “Mauna Kea: Hoʻomana Hawaiʻi and Protecting the Sacred,” in the Journal of Religion, Nature, and Culture 10.2 (August 1, 2016): 150-169. 2016. Lastly, I am preparing a textbook based on my course reader for REL 205 Understanding Hawaiian Religion, a core class that I teach every semester.


  • Ph.D. – 2014, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, English
  • M.A. – 2010, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, Hawaiian Language
  • B.A. – 2007, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, Hawaiian Language
  • B.A. – 2007, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, Anthropology



Ka Poʻe Moʻo Akua: Hawaiian Reptilian Water Deities

Tradition holds that when you come across a body of fresh water in a secluded area and everything is eerily still, the plants are yellowed, and the water covered with a greenish-yellow froth, you have stumbled across the home of a mo‘o. Leave quickly lest the mo‘o make itself known to you!

Revered and reviled, reptiles have slithered, glided, crawled, and climbed their way through the human imagination and into prominent places in many cultures and belief systems around the world. Ka Po‘e Mo‘o Akua: Hawaiian Reptilian Water Deities explores the fearsome and fascinating creatures known as mo‘o that embody the life-giving and death-dealing properties of water. Mo‘o are not ocean-dwellers; instead, they live primarily in or near bodies of fresh water. They vary greatly in size, appearing as tall as a mountain or as tiny as a house gecko, and many possess alternate forms. Mo‘o are predominantly female, and the female mo‘o that masquerade as humans are often described as stunningly beautiful. Throughout Hawaiian history, mo‘o akua have held distinctive roles and have filled a variety of functions in overlapping religious, familial, societal, economic, and political sectors.

In addition to being a comprehensive treatise on mo‘o akua, this work includes a detailed catalog of 288 individual mo‘o with source citations. Marie Alohalani Brown makes major contributions to the politics and poetics of reconstructing ‘ike kupuna (ancestral knowledge), Hawaiian aesthetics, the nature of tradition, the study and appreciation of mo‘olelo and ka‘ao (hi/stories), genre analysis and metadiscursive practices, and methodologies for conducting research in Hawaiian-language newspapers. An extensive introduction also offers readers context for understanding how these uniquely Hawaiian deities relate to other reptilian entities in Polynesia and around the world.

Review by Noenone K. Silva, Professor, Political Science, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa:
A stunning feat of scholarship. This book is not just a narration and catalog of mo‘o akua, but an analysis and cogent explanation of Ho‘omana, Hawaiian religion. Based on an enormous number of mo‘olelo in ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i, together with oral histories, translations, manuscripts, and a full reading of secondary sources, this book takes us a huge distance towards actual understanding of our kūpuna’s philosophies and belief system. It sets a new bar for studies of nā mea Hawai‘i. — Noenoe K. Silva, professor of political science and ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.

Facing the Spears of Change: The Life and Legacy of John Papa ʻĪʻī  This book takes a close look at the extraordinary life of John Papa ʻĪʻī. Over the years, ʻĪʻī faced many personal and political changes and challenges in rapid succession, which he skillfully parried or grasped firmly and then used to fend off other attacks. He began serving in the household of Kamehameha I as an attendant in 1810, when he was ten. As an attendant, ʻĪʻī was highly familiar with the inner workings of the royal household. He went on to become an influential statesman, privy to the shifting modes of governance adopted by the Hawaiian kingdom. ʻĪʻī’s intelligence and his good standing with those he served resulted in a great degree of influence with the Hawaiian government, with his fellow ʻŌiwi, and with the missionaries residing in the Hawaiian Islands. At the end of his life, he also became a memoirist and biographer, who published accounts of key events in his own life and in the lives of others during the sixty years that he served his kings, his nation, and his people. As a privileged spectator and key participant, his accounts of aliʻi and his insights into early nineteenth-century Hawaiian cultural-religious practices are unsurpassed. ʻĪʻī’s life narrative provides the context for understanding Hawaiian history, culture, and religion, and a point of departure for future discussions on the same. Notably, religion is one of the key threads that form the fabric of ʻĪʻī’s existence, and this biography lays the foundation for future analysis on the Kapu System before and after its official abolishment in 1819, but also how certain ʻŌiwi negotiated the transition from Hoʻomana Hawaiʻi to Christianity—or conversely—how certain others continued to practice Hoʻomana Hawaiʻi, and kept beliefs and belief-related practices alive.

Selected Articles

  • Review of Voices of Fire: Reweaving the Literary Lei of Pele and Hiʻiaka by kuʻualoha hoʻomanawanui, 2014 (The Contemporary Pacific: A Journal of Island Affairs, Fall 2016)
  • Mauna Kea: Hoʻomana Hawaiʻi and Protecting the Sacred (The Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture 10.2, August 1, 2016: 150–169).
  • Mourning the Land: Kanikau in Noho Hewa: The Wrongful Occupation of Hawaiʻi (American Indian Quarterly 38.3, Summer 2014: 374–395) Accessible upon Login with UH user name.

Constructing the Ahu at UH Manoa

Community Service

For several years now, I have offered my services as a photographer to the ʻŌiwi community to document our events—whether political marches, religious gatherings, protests, demonstrations, testimonies, poetry readings, conferences, or celebrations. I take thousands of photos and distribute the best ones free of charge through social media networks.


Mo’o Mo’olelo – Mo’o Stories video presentation delivered for the Keauhou-Kahalu’u Education Group

Courses Regularly Taught

  • REL 205 Understanding Hawaiian Religion
  • REL 300 The Study of Religion
  • REL 390 Hawaiian Gods
  • REL 492 Polynesian Religions
  • REL 495 Seminar in Religion (Ka Po’e Mo’o)
  • REL 625 Applied Methods in the Study of Religion
  • REL 663B Graduate Seminar in Polynesian Religion
  • REL 663C Graduate Seminar in Hawaiian Religion

For complete course descriptions see UH Mānoa Course Catalog.

Sakamaki Hall A-305

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