Many people might have heard the word Kahuna and may wonder the origin of the Kahuna, and how does one become one?
The Kahuna came with the First Migration to the islands, in the 4th century or earlier, depending on what family genealogies you might come across. But at any rate, it was centuries before the next big wave from Polynesia, in the 12th century, which radically changed Hawaiian society. The first people navigated by the stars and came with their Iwi Kupuna, the bones of their ancestors, and buried them here in the islands to establish a birthright and the Hawaiians as the indigenous people.
These Kahuna were from specific families, all chiefly genealogies. They have kept continuous, unbroken family practices to the present day. To date, one can count on one hand the number of families who can point to a genealogy this old and recite it. This is absolutely required of one claiming to be Kahuna.
Why you might ask? The Polynesians had an oral society and passed down sacred information about healing, star navigation, martial arts, Hula, their history and spirituality, and more by word of mouth. The penalty for changing anything, or for faking a genealogy was death. Polynesian societies had genealogy specialists for this reason, to trace and establish the birthright. And this might make sense now if you have Polynesians friend or family members with an uncanny ability to learn by ear — music for instance. The easiest way to teach orally is to put it in song, chant, and dance.
Before the 12th century, there was only one classification for Kahuna, and that was the Kahuna Lapaau. The Healer. In the 12th century, we started seeing a new classification of Kahuna with the second wave of migrants, under the broad influence of the priest Paao and his comrade, Pilikaeaea. We then had specialists in canoe making, star navigation, and more, and at least in written history those people claimed the title of Kahuna as well. Each practice was highly spiritual and also followed a strict rule of passing information along within the family only. However, all of those other lineages passed away, partly because of foreign disease decimating the native population.
Importantly, there was a big difference between the spirituality and practices of the First Migrants and the Second Migrants. The society shaped by Paao and the second wave was Patriarchal. While the original society recognized equality of the female. Thrust upon us was the highly oppressive Kapu system which separated the male from the female and degraded her. Some of the Kapu were certainly good, such as presevering natural resources. The penalty for breaking a Kapu was usually instant death.
Now we bring ourselves to the present day: All the other lineages are gone, the only one left is the Kahuna Lapaau, the Healer. In order to claim the title, not only does one have to point to an unbroken genealogy going back to the First Migration, one has to go through a requisite 20 years training at a minimum. And then one must be released by proper rituals. It is not a piece of paper. Anything less than that makes clear that the person is not a Kahuna. A Kahuna must also be able to explain clearly specific things about the nature of Spirit and how Healing is accomplished.
And even after that, it is up to Ke Akua and all of Nature to determine whether one truly is a Healer. Because if Ke Akua and Nature do not give permission to use the plants or anything else as medicine, it can become poison. And a Kahuna cannot afford to do something as a hit or miss, they are responsible for the outcome. And more is at stake: you cannot stand outside of a tornado and reach in to bring someone out without going into the tornado.
You cannot get the training for being a Kahuna from a workshop, a college program, a certificate course, or even from a well-meaning person who can trace his/her lineage back to great grandma. The training is thousands of years old and comes from an oral society. Nothing is written down. The word “huna” means secret, and if something is being bought and sold in the marketplace and written in books, it’s not a secret. Nor is it within the Culture of the Hawaiians do so.
What of people who claim to be Kahunas through something called Huna? Huna is a New Age, Western practice which has nothing to do with traditional Hawaiian spirituality or Culture. As it was invented in the 20th century by the American writer Max Freedom Long, “Huna” clearly lacks the genealogy which is crucial. And there is no 20 year training process, which was required even with all the specialties that used to exist, such as star navigation. And the very fact that it has things written in books and recorded on online videos is proof positive that they are not Kahuna. If anything many Hawaiians are outraged by their practices and claims because as well-meaning as these people might be, they are committing a cultural insult and contributing to cultural genocide.
What about certified traditional Hawaiian healers, is that different from Kahuna? YES. And can anyone practice traditional Hawaiian healing to the public under the law. NO. Those seeking to practice traditional Hawaiian healing must consult an attorney licensed in Hawaii to know the requirements and procedure, to seek certification.