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Education: Higher Education

The Healing Elements: A Native Hawaiian Perspective

Class 4. Spiritual Elements: Healing Hands


Kahuna is the Hawaiian term for an expert in a given profession. There are various classes of kahuna, including priests, healers, engineers, and artisans. Literally, the term means “keeper of hidden knowledge.” With Western contact, “kahuna” was stereotyped as a superstition-based sorcerer. This class examines the spiritual aspects of Hawaiian healing, which go beyond such a stereotype. The class will trace how the Hawaiian art of healing survived decades of colonization and persists in the 21st century. The objective is for students to develop an understanding and respect for the Hawaiian art of healing.


Pre-class Assignment

Students read the article by Hilgenkamp and Pescaia, Chang, the excerpt from Nana I Ke Kumu II and the Handy’s article and be prepared to discuss the questions below.

class activity

Teachers provide an overview of the meaning of kahuna and the various types of kahuna based upon the readings and lead a discussion of the following questions.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the term for a Hawaiian healer and what does it mean? 
  2. How do the Hawaiian classes of Kahuna compare with modern medical specialties?
  3. What various methods of healing were employed by Hawaiian Kahuna?
  4. What was the role of spirituality in the healing power of Hawaiian Kahuna?
  5. What contributed to the decline of Kahuna Lā‘au Lapa‘au as community healers?
  6. Why and how were the practices of Kahuna Lā‘au Lapa‘au revived in the late 20th Century?

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