Courtesy Bishop Museum

Hawaiʻi’s Holistic Approach to Health and Wellness

Hawaiian healing practices involved both the physical world as well as the spiritual one. Practitioners were often identified in childhood for showing compassion and interest, and they could then spend years learning from an elder. Each individual healer’s knowledge and experience affected their practices, so these differed from person to person. Healing techniques using the hands, along with substances from plants, animals, and minerals, were utilized while prayers from healers asked for assistance and guidance. 

From "Kapaemahu" animated film

Lomilomi: The Science of Touch

The use of massage and touch to treat physical ailments can be found throughout the world as well as in Polynesia. It was likely one of the techniques practiced by the healers of Kapaemahu. Lomilomi, as it is known in Hawaiʻi today, was used by trained specialists as both a therapeutic treatment and a means of locating and diagnosing disease. 

Courtesy Bishop Museum.

Lāʻau Lapaʻau: An Indigenous Medical Science and Practice

In the past, there were many different kinds of healers who specialized in healing different parts of the body. Among them, and perhaps the most highly regarded, were the kahuna lāʻau lapaʻau. They had the most extensive knowledge of anatomy and used plant, animal, and mineral products to treat illnesses. Prayer and ceremony were used throughout the collection and preparation of medicinal products, and the treatment of patients.


Courtesy Bishop Museum


In the Hawaiian view, tensions and discord, particularly among family members, could lead to physical illness. To mend bad feelings and diminish traumas, the process of hoʻoponopono could be used. This was comparable to what today might be called group or family therapy, in which honest discussions with agreed upon rules would take place. It was hoped that admissions of wrongdoing and apologies would clear up mental and physical problems.



O deity, give love to the one who is sick.
Forgive his sins, his impurities, his improprieties,
His ungodliness, and his contempt, and his false vows.
Let your anger be appeased with these sacrifices.
Give heed.
Give life to his body
That he may walk standing, go creeping, go moving little by little, till bent with age
Till with the blurred eyes of a rat and as a yellow pandanus leaf and live very long.
It is your life, O deity,
Such is my breathing upon the water to give spiritual power and my prayer.
Such is my worship to thee.
–June Gutmanis, Na Pule Kahiko, 1983, p. 32