By Wesley Sen
Early visitors to the beautiful Hawaiian Islands were met by a happy, relaxed
people greeting them with the now familiar “Aloha” and flower leis.
This friendly culture was steeped in ancient spiritual traditions that had been
preserved from generation to generation through Hawaiian chants and oral history
and the sacred dance of hula. Most revered were the Kahuna, experts in their
chosen profession. Kahuna specialized in areas ranging from stargazing to canoe
building; skills chosen in childhood and mastered through training.
The Kahuna lomi lomi were masters of body manipulation and healing massage. They practiced their ancient art with a deep connection to nature, surrounded by ocean breezes, colorful sunsets, and unpredictable volcanoes. The Kahuna lomi lomi were priests who practiced the healing arts with much reverence, love, and spirituality.
They believed that physical discomfort and disease were the results of suppressed emotions, mental disturbances or spiritual disharmony. The traditional lomi lomi healing session began with a thorough investigation into the nature of the dysfunction, as well as prayer, fasting and several sessions in the steam hut. Once the malady was identified, the treatment would often begin with heated stones and herbal poultices. Then the Kahuna would massage and use particular lomi lomi strokes necessary for that individual.
The lomi lomi technique focused on finding congested areas in the body and dispersing them, by moving the palms, thumbs, knuckles and forearms in rhythmic, dance-like motions. Setting the intention for healing, the Kahuna would also utilize prayer (pule), breath (ha), and energy (mana). The practice of lomi lomi was common within each Hawaiian community and contributed to a vibrant, healthy society.
Early visitors to Hawaii noticed and commented on this healing art. In 1803 Archibald Menzies wrote, “A number of natives placed themselves around us to lomi lomi and pinch our limbs, an operation which we found on these occasions, very lulling and pleasing when gently performed.”
In 1819 a Mr. Frecient wrote, “Two females about 40 years old knelt down on each side of me and squeezed and rubbed my limbs with all their might. All the parts of the body were pressed between the hands, going from the arms to the legs and from the thighs to the shoulders. Here it is employed as a means of making people sleepy.”
In the 1820s early missionaries to the Hawaiian Islands found the native healers to be accurate in their diagnosis and treatment of illness, and in mending broken bones. They considered the Hawaiians to be heathens, however, and in 1893, after years of political upheaval, the new government outlawed all spiritual traditions, including healing arts, the study of the Hawaiian language, and hula dancing. But the sacred traditions did not die; they were hidden and practiced in secrecy, passed down only within the Hawaiian community (ohana), through ike maka lihilihi a maka alawa, which means to do by observation and insight.
The tradition of ike maka lihilihi a maka alawa was noted in a Board of Health report in 1896 by Charles Peterson, M.D., who wrote, “The practice of Kahunas [sic] in this district is, I am confident, quietly carried on. The Hawaiians will not expose them, and investigation only elicits falsehoods and assertions of ignorance.”
It wasn’t until the 1970s that the laws were changed and Hawaiians were free to pursue their native heritage and spiritual traditions without fear of punishment. This freedom rekindled a flame in the heart of many native people and led to a resurgence of interest in their cultural heritage.
Hawaiian elders were sought out and questioned about their knowledge, and grassroots organizations sprang up around them. In 1973, Aunty Margaret Machado, a respected kupuna (elder) from the Big Island, decided to share her family’s knowledge by teaching it to anyone who had a sincere desire to learn, Hawaiian or not.
She felt it was time for the ancient healing gift of lomi lomi to be felt throughout the world. While Aunty Margaret was criticized by many in the Hawaiian community for revealing the secrets of lomi lomi, it was through her efforts that lomi lomi was brought to the forefront of a resurgence of interest in native Hawaiian healing.
The Hawaiian Pocket Dictionary defines lomi lomi as a method “to rub, press, crush, massage, rub out; to work in and out, as claws of a contented cat.” Another translation is, “to break up into small pieces.” In the early 1900s lomi lomi was coined “Hawaiian massage” by the legal system.
While lomi lomi is often referred to as a spiritual massage, the technique is also practical and specific. It is, for example, effective in breaking up calcium deposits and lactic acid build-up. Lomi lomi is more than just a technique; lomi lomi is a system of medicinal physiotherapy that looks to the source of the problem and not just the symptom. Therefore, the areas of concentration would be the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system, structural alignment, and gastrointestinal systems of the body. It is important to deal with the psycho-emotional issues that affect the autonomic nervous response along with the emotional release.