Native Hawaiian Spirituality

The Roots of Native Hawaiian Spirituality

Native Hawaiian spirituality can be traced back thousands of years when ancient Hawaiians looked to the wind (makani, or life giving spirit) to nurture their spiritual well-being, and to assist them in crossing often treacherous miles of ocean in specially designed voyaging canoes. The key elements of native Hawaiian spirituality embrace ancient myths chanted to the sounds of waves in the sea, and wind in trees.

Much of Hawaiian spirituality centers on the practice of moi’olelo, or the power of the spoken word. The art of apo, or catching words that allow revelations and experiences, was practiced by ancient Hawaiians in sacred chants. Witnesses were cautioned not to interrupt the flow of power, for they would insult the Hawaiian gods whose mana (energy) was being sought.

Hawaiians have long pointed to the kumulipo, and old and sacred chant that centers on a story of creation. The chant embraces descriptions of aumakua, or protective family spirits ‘C manifested in animals and plants in the Hawaiian culture. Before the arrival of missionaries in 1820, Hawaiians worshipped many gods.

The Gods of Native Hawaiian Spirituality
The four main Hawaiian gods were Kane (god of sunlight, fresh water and natural light), Ku (god of war), Lono (god of peace, fertility, winds, rain, and sports) and Kanaloa (god of the ocean). Other gods included Pele (goddess of fire).

Ancient Hawaiians constructed heiau, or temples of worship, and placed offerings on specially constructed altar-like towers. Most offerings were edible and wrapped in leaves to ward evil spirits away. When deemed necessary, the gift of a mani’s life was made. The act of killing was not part of the ritual.

An enemy slain in battle, a criminal or slave knocked on the head and carried to a temple was sacrificed. However, it had to be a healthy man, never a woman, child, or a man with a deformity or wasted by age. Only a king could order it. Of several types of temples (heiau), the luakini was the most elaborate and largest. Dedicated to Ku (god of war), these were the heiau of ruling chiefs.

Waihau were heiau at which humans were not offered. Of these, the mapele were agricultural shrines to Lono. Heiau hoi’ola were for healing. Pui’uhonua were sanctuaries where fugitives could find safety from those pursuing them. It’ s believed that after some penance or adjudicated reconciliation, a fugitive could leave without fear.

The Hawaiian gods included:

– Kamapuai’a (the hog god) – A mischievous spirit of rain and plant life
– Maui (the time shifter) – A demigod, the brother of Pele
– Menehune (good fairies) -Impish mythical figures, the cousins of Irelandi’s leprechauns
– Poliau (the goddess of snowy Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii, and Pelei’s rival
– Kapo and Laka (Pelei’s sisters) – Two personalities of the same spirit
– Hii’aka – A spirit of fertility and sorcery, as well as a spirit of dance
– Kamohoalii’i – Keeper of water life
– Lonomakua – Keeper of the sacred fire sticks
– Kapohoikahiola – Spirit of explosions
– Keuaakepo – Spirit of rain of fire
– Kanehekili – Spirit of thunder
– Keoahikamakaua – Spirit of lava fountains

Ku, the god of war was worshipped for four consecutive days, at the start of the moon month. Temples were built to exact specifications, and presided by a distinct cult of priests. Kane, the creator and giver of life, created Man. He also created forests and provided rain and life to the land. Kane was also manifested in healing plants. Lono, the god of agriculture and peace, was manifested in rain clouds and in crops. Kanaloa, the god of the sea, was Kanei’s brother.

The Kahuna of Native Hawaiian Spirituality

Kahuna (persons in the native Hawaiian culture) that have a trade, an art, or who practice some profession, are a key component in Hawaiian spirituality. The concept of kahuna can best be described as the professional relation of priests to communities. The ancient Hawaiians had different kinds of kahuna: kahuna pule (priest), kahuna kalai lai’au (carpenter), kahuna kala (silversmith). Kahuna were also sorcerers, healers, priests, prophets, geologists, and psychics.

Kahuna were cultural counterparts of the guild masters and priests of medieval Europe. Beyond serving as the leading practitioner of his craft or profession, each acted as an interface between his guild and its patron spirits. Kahuna performed rituals at temples or shrines to solicit mana (energy) from patron spirits of his guild.

The kahuna nui advised his king on spiritual matters and conducted rituals to invoke spiritual help. Kahuna pule performed invocations for assistance from major spirits. Kahuna hui performed mortuary ceremonies for the deification of a king. Kahuna kikokilo observed skies for omens. Kahuna kaula were regarded as prophets.

Without writing, kahuna were the living libraries of the old Hawaiian culture, preserving knowledge in trained memories. Some feats of memory seem incredible today. The story of Kamapuai’a required 16 hours of word-perfect recitation. Some temple invocations, in which any mistake would break the power of the words, required two days to deliver.

Hawaiians recognized two essential categories of diseases that are caused by forces outside the body (mawaho) and that are caused from within (maloko). The first group consisted of illnesses resulting from spite, hate or jealousy of another person, from the anger of a ghost, spirit guardian, or from the work of a kahuna. Relief from such illnesses was sought through prayers and offerings.

Illnesses from within the body were understood to require the application of cures and treatment by healers. Ancient Hawaiians consulted with kahuna haha (those that diagnosed illnesses), kahuna lapai’au (those that were doctors) and kahuna lai’au lapai’au (those that were herbalists) . The herbalists began their training at age five, in the home of an elder expert.

Herbalists received comprehensive instruction about medicinal plants, their value and effect on people, where the plants grow, how to gather the plants, and how to prepare and apply them to those with illnesses. Herbalistsi’ knowledge covered botany, pharmacology and medicine. Among the elements of herbalistsi’ concoctions were about 12 minerals (including salt), red and gray clay, 29 animals (mostly sea creatures), and 317 plants.

The following is a brief description of Hawaiian plants most commonly used in traditional Hawaiian medicine. Kahuna may differ in their practices relating to preparation and dosages.

– Ohii’a-ai – Used for sore throat, cuts, bronchitis, tuberculosis, and digestive tract disorders
– Kukui – Used for rheumatic joints or muscles, deep bruises, constipation, external ulcers and sores, and foul breath
– Noni – Used for bruises, boils, sores, wounds, broken bones, arthritis, gastric ulcer, high and low blood pressure, cancer, diabetes and hair loss.
– Popolo – Used for disease of the respiratory tract (cough), boils, and cuts and wounds
– Koali – Used for broken bones, injured ligaments, general weakness in children and severe backaches
– Ko – Used for sweetening other medicinal plants, cuts, and to prevent scarring
– Kalo- Used for constipation
– Ula-Loa or Hii’a-Loa – Used for sore throat, asthma and pulmonary complications
– Koi’okoi’olau- Used for throat discomfort, stomach discomfort, asthma, stimulating appetite, colon and bowel discomfort, liver discomfort, and general weakness

Native Books/Na Mea Hawaii

Native Hawaiian spirituality is like eating and breathing, says Maile Myer, owner of Native Books/Na Mea Hawaii, located at the Ward Warehouse in Honolulu. It’s an everyday practice, and it’s absolutely present in every element of life to us as Hawaiians. It’s a feeling of completeness entwined in language, food, in nature, and so forth. It’s a basic concept the defines our way of living.

There are many people who are practitioners of different aspects of native Hawaiian spirituality, according to Myer. She says prayers daily and is always grateful for the relationship she has with the Hawaiian gods that are a part of her life.

Myer notes that there are current books that weren’t in print as recent as five years ago. As a retailer looking for books to stock in the store, Myer looks for authentic Hawaiian authors that have the cultural knowledge and credibility to speak about native Hawaiian spirituality or someone that has collaborated with an expert who can speak on the subject.

“There are Hawaiians that can see through the veil of time and transcend history,” Myer says. “These Hawaiians still incorporate traditional medicine and speak their own language. Mana is the personal power that one acquires. A portion of it begins with the kind of person you are, your genealogy, who your family is, and how they live. The acquisition of mana is the function of how one lives. Mana is a selfless thing.”

People that want to know anything about Hawaiian culture and practice need to do some work, according to Myer, because the self selection process makes those who are just curious, distinguishes such people from pursuing the true essence of Hawaiian spirituality.

“It requires people to be pure on their intent, Myer says. Information about Hawaiian spirituality is available, it’s just not readily available. Pieces of such information are in manuscripts, in books, and so forth. With regard to Hawaiian gods, calling out names and not having a personal connection to those gods, is not going to get one very far.”

Native Hawaiian spirituality includes elements of spell casting and divination, as well as healing, according to Myer. The Native Hawaiian Health Care is actively involved in documenting, formalizing, and sharing knowledge about using plants for healing.

The Concept of Native Books/Na Mea Hawaii
Myer started the business as Native Books in 1990, and opened Native Book Na Mea Hawaii three years ago. When Myer started Native Books, she shared a one-room office in Kalihi (a community that is a part of Honolulu), and worked out of a converted poi factory.

“We’re a native Hawaiian-owned business,”Myer says. “We’re proud to be Hawaiians, proud of the books we represent, and grateful to be able to share them with aloha. We represent content-rich materials books, videos, and related products that celebrate Hawaiian language, culture, sensibilities, and spirituality.”

The store stocks books about hula, Polynesian navigation, the natural environment, chanting, lei-making, surfing, and island literature, including an assortment of childreni’s books, island-based middle school literature, and a variety of educational coloring and activity books.

Some of the many books that Native Books stocks include:

– Hawaiian Healing Herbs, by Papa Kalua Kaiahua with Martha Noyes. Kaiahua was a seasoned medical practitioner, and this booklet describes his treatments and holistic approach to healing. Includes 18 medicinal plants and more. Softcover, $7.95.

– Hawaiian Herbal Medicine: Kahuna Lai’au Lapai’au, by June Gutmanis. An excellent resource book on native Hawaiian healing practices and herbal medicines. The information contained in this book is based on practitioners, interviews, notes, journals and collections of long deceased Hawaiians. Hawaiian medicine was well developed with various disciplines as well as the understanding that man is a complicated entity, and mental health is as important to maintain physical well being. Softcover, $11.99.

– Hawaiian Magic and Spirituality, by Scott Cunningham. The enhancing beauty of ancient Hawaii gave birth to a culture unmatched in its modes of spiritual expression. The book thoroughly examines this native culture is incredibly rich beliefs from a sociological and historical viewpoint. Softcover, $12.95.

– Kahuna of Light: The World of Hawaiian Spirituality,by Moke Kupihea. Raised in the remote Waimea Valley on the island of Kauai in the 1950s and 1960s, Kupihea was witness to a spiritual tradition changed by Hawaiian statehood and the ensuing influx of non-natives from the Mainland. Kuhipea weaves his own story with the teachings of his ancestors and guides, delivering the most authentic picture yet of a culture deeply rooted in the ancient realities of myth, landscape and family. Softcover, $16.95.

– Man, Gods and Nature, by Keoni Dudley. People on islands, who evolve patterns of worship which are both close to nature and mystically linked to powers of the universe, view the human scene and the world around them in a unique way. To Hawaiians, man, the gods, and nature were a threefold force held together by divine intention in order that all the things of the earth might be protected and nourished. This book explains the Hawaiian worldview. Softcover, $12.95

– Na Pule Kahiko: Hawaiian Prayers, by June Gutmanis. Meaning and function are discussed in this collection of prayers that existed before the overthrow of the ancient Hawaiian religious kapu system in 1819. Collected from various sources, the Hawaiian texts, translations, and family names are those found in the original source which accounts for variant spellings. Softcover, $17.50.

– Nana I Ke Kumu: Look to the Source, Volume 1, by Mary Kawena Pukui’i et. al. A source book of Hawaiian cultural practices, concepts and beliefs. This volume describes and interprets 75 concepts and related applications. Subjects such as hoi’okei’ai (feasting and fasting), hoi’oponopono (setting it right), kaumaha (grief) and inoa (personal names) are discussed. This important work reaches back to unwritten history to clarify Hawaiian concepts and to examine their use in modern life. Softcover, $12.00.

Reaching Out to the Community

We offer our services as a resource for the community of people interested in finding out more about what makes Hawaii such a unique place, Myer says. Hawaii is one of the most written about states in the U.S., with more than 2,000 titles currently in print about the islands. Between 60 and 100 new books about Hawaii are published each year. We feature the best of those new titles in a quarterly newsletter mailed to our friends.

When Myer returned from the Mainland more than 10 years ago, she remembered reading Nana I Ke Kumu: Look to the Source, published by Queen Liliuokalani Children’ s Center. As Myer read it, she realized that many of the cultural practices described were values that she shared, and reflected the way she was raised as a Hawaiian. It was an awakening. The insight helped Myer reconnect to her heritage. Books are one way to regain a personal, family and community fortification. For many today, it may be the only way, according to Myer.

“I’ve been doing retailing of books and things Hawaiian for a long time, Myer says. Business has grown. We’re having a makahiki event that will feature lomi lomi practitioners, and talk about the symbolism and significance of the makahiki season, which is a time of worshipping the Hawaiian god, Lono. My advice to retailers is to do things for the right reasons and customers will come to your store.”

Myer notes that Native Books is a community resource, and a place of pride in and respect for Hawaiians, and the Hawaiian culture. Because of this pride and respect, Myer wants to share information about the Hawaiian culture, language and traditions with those who are interested in learning. She includes herself in this learning process.

Native Books accomplishes this organizational purpose in a variety of ways:

– Through the sales and distribution of books and educational materials focused primarily on na mea Hawaii, things having to do with Hawaii
– By assisting every person who contacts the store for information
– Making sure Native Books can help each person get to a source for the information they need, regardless of the sales outcome (a Hawaiian concept of service)
– Through the examples Native Books sets in the way the store conducts business, and in the way the staff works with one another (they create a business environment of collaborative and shared effort and concern for one another and the community)
– A Hawaiian place of business

If customers are looking for a unique gift, books are an appreciated option, according to Myer. Books about Hawaii are especially valued, since they are usually printed in small quantities, with many hardcover first editions going out of print quickly. Myer can get custom bookplates designed, special gift wraps, and if the timing is right, corporate messages and tip-ins into books just coming off the presses. Quantity discounts are available. If someone needs assistance on developing a book project for a corporate need, Myer knows book designers, packagers, editors and marketing experts.

Native Books encourages schools and libraries to visit the store on School Street that has a showroom of every book in print about Hawaii. Myer offers a 10 percent savings to educational purchasers. She is also pleased to work with resellers interested in carrying na mea Hawaii materials.

“We love to take books on the road and to schools, libraries and communities”, Myer says. “All the events we do that celebrate the native Hawaiian culture, have been well received. Many people don’t understand Hawaiian culture, so we do readings of native Hawaiian books. It always helps that a community-based entity such as our book store can do things that will educate the public about the native Hawaiian culture, including native Hawaiian spirituality.”

Myer’s customers are interested in authenticity, and they want to learn about the Hawaiian culture. Native Books customers have a genuine care for merchandise that has been produced in Hawaii, compared to merchandise that has been imported.

A Successful Formula

The store has a specific niche in that its focus is on local producers, with an emphasis on native Hawaiian subjects. That mix brings a diverse customer base into Myer’s store. The artists are a priority with Native Books, and Myer makes sure they’re happy and that they’re valued. Hawaii is such a spectacular place for Myer, so her store is a reflection of that sense of place.

“It’s our formula, and our customers feel that when they come into our store,” Myer says. The concept of Native Books is to celebrate place. The basic message of our store is a love of Hawaii. Retailers should make it a point to develop a strong relationship with their suppliers. Also, make sure that your suppliers are willing to support you through the tough times too. Customer service is the key. If we’re too egotistical and we think that the business is all about us, wei’re will not have customers. So we focus externally, which is the Hawaiian way.

Myer opened her business during the worst possible time. A more than decade-long economic slump, compounded by the tragic events of September 11, 2001, has resulted in the worst economic crisis in the history of Hawaii. However, Native Books was well received when Myer opened the first store in downtown Honolulu. After that, there was a period when business declined. However, business has increased since then.

“We are focusing on providing customers with a place where they will find extraordinary locally-made items,” Myer says. We have customers that have been with us for many years. We’re always offering incentive and reward programs to our customers. Our customer base consists of predominantly repeat customers. They like the fact that we know them on a first name basis. We also make it a point to know their preferences.

Other than books, the store sells locally made food such as white honey, and sweet potato chips. Native Books also sells Hawaiian salt, kukui nut oils, soaps, glass, wood, stone, bone, Niihau shells, lauhala hats, fine art, photographs, craft supplies, rubber stamps, decals, muumuus, jewelry, and much more.

Pa Halau a Ola, a group of lomi lomi practitioners provide their healing art at Native Books/Na Mea Hawaiii’s Ward Warehouse store. The Lomi Pa members re Kapono Souza, Keoho Lewis, Manu Suganuma, and Ginger Armstrong.

Native Books/Na Mea Hawaii, is located at Ward Warehouse (Ala Moana Boulevard) in Honolulu. Telephone: 808-596-8885 or 1-800-877-7751 (toll free). E-mail: Web address:

Other Native Books outlets in Hawaii are:

– Native Books Warehouse/Showroom at 1244 North School Street in Honolulu. Telephone: 808-845-8949 or 1-800-877-7751 (toll free). E-mail:
– Native Books & Beautiful Things at 222 Merchant Street in Honolulu. Telephone: 808-599-5511.
– Na Mea Hawaii at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, 2005 Kalia Road in Waikiki. Telephone: 808-949-3989.
– Na Mea Hawaii at the Lahaina Cannery Mall, #B3, 1212 Honoapiilani Highway in Lahaina (Maui). Telephone: 808-667-5345.

Supplemental sources:

– Soulwork Systemic Coaching (
– Danielle Wallace (
– Hoi’omana ‘C Hawaiian Gods (
– Hawaiian Medicine, prepared by Andy P. Lee, 1996-97, University of Hawaii School of Medicine (
– What is a Kahuna? By Serge Kahili King (
– Ancient Hawaiii by Herb Kane, published by Kawainui Press, 1998, (

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