Submitted By k13kacarr
In this current day and age, technological advancements like antibiotics and medical instruments have taken precedence over things like home remedies and herbal healing leaving them practically obsolete. Through technology, many argue that we’ve been able to “improve” our overall health and extend our longevity. But through technology, many have lost sight tradition, the ways of our ancestors, the “organic” way of living. Taking a look back at our history, it’s clear to see that Hawaiians survived thrived even, off the land. It provided much more than just food, water, and shelter, it provided other things like medicine and healing. With the Hawaiian Islands being the northernmost Polynesian settlement and the most isolated, a unique and diversified plant life was able to develop.
According to Gutamanis, before the initial contact in 1778, the Hawaiian culture was oriented around these ideals of harmony and interconnectedness. Hawaiians placed high value on the Hawaiian plants and were even called “gardeners” instead of farmers by Dr. E. S. Craighill Handy, one of the first people to study La’au Lapa’au in depth. Nowadays, many would agree that Hawaiian medicine was skillfully developed as they recognized the importance of both mental and physical health. In the same way, Abbott speaks on how Hawaiians placed diseases into 2 categories, causes from forces outside the body and causes from forces within the body. She continues on by saying that the first category mentioned above, came from things like “spite, hate, or jealousy of another person; from the displeasure of a ghost, spirit, spiritual guardian, or ancestor; or from a sorcerer.” In order to be relieved, prayers and offerings were given. On the other hand, internal body illnesses were cured by healers and cures that were applied to the body. Abbott lists the names of these healers as the kahuna haha or medical diagnosticians, kahuna lapa’au or medical doctors, and kahuna la’au lapa’au or herbalists. She further explains the differences in each practitioner and whom one would see for each specific illness. For internal organs and body parts, one would see the kahuna haha. For cures, one would see either the kahuna lapa’au or kahuna la’au lapa’au. Gutamnais though, only speaks of the kahuna la’au lapa’au.
Both authors speak on how a kahuna la’au lapa’au comes to be, stating that it training begins at a young age, though the specific age varies slightly. Abbott states that this takes place around 5 years of age, whereas Gutamanis gives a less definite answer giving a timeline from birth stretching to the boy’s teenage years. However, they both talk about how the boy then shadows an expert in the field learning a multitude of different things including 4 recurrent physical treatments: induced sweats, steaming, immersion n fresh or salt water, and sunning.
One of the main similarities between both authors and arguably the most important part of this essay is the application and uses of different plants. Both authors list a vast variety of plants, all of which consists of the same uses and preparations. Take for example, boils or external ulcers/sores. Both authors recommend the patient to apply roasted, mashed Kukui because this is what’s used to threat this ailment though the entire plant can be poisonous.
In her book, Gutamanis incorporates both auditory and literary sources to provide the reader with a first-hand view of what it was like. Her book is a composition of stories using colloquial language that tells an informal background of this aspect of the Hawaiian culture. Whereas Abbott takes a more concrete, formal approach giving background information followed by a list of frequently used plants and their uses. Overall, both authors gave the same information, though Abbott’s provided a more detailed historical perspective. One of the main summary points that both concluded is that though the Hawaiians’ medicinal practice was ahead of its time, it didn’t stand a chance to diseases and ailments that came with Western contact. Both authors reference the Cook expedition is 1778 as a pivotal point with Gutamanis affirming that with the introduction of the venereal disease, the kahunas worked to cure the disease and though symptoms were reduced, “no effective control was developed.” In the same way, Abbott asserts that the Hawaiians weren’t prepared for the introduction of these new diseases leading to the death of thousands.
It’s clear that both authors share the same perspective and overall respect for this ancient Hawaiian practice. Evidently, through both of their mana’o, this “organic” and herbal medicinal practice should be weighed on more heavily in modern times as it encompasses both spiritual and physical health. With the help of our elders and ancestors, we, as Hawaiians, can turn back the hands of time and revive this valuable practice and utilize it to its utmost potential.
Abbott, Isabella Aiona. La'au Hawai'i: Traditional Hawaiian Uses of Plants. Honolulu: Bishop Museum, 1986. Print.
Gutmanis, Jane. Kahuna La'au Lapa'au, The Practive of Hawaiian Herbal Medicine. Aiea: Island Heritage, 1994. Print.