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For other uses, see Kahuna (disambiguation).

Kahuna is a Hawaiian word, dened in Pukui & Elbert
(1986) as a priest, sorcerer, magician, wizard, minister,
expert in any profession. (See also Ancient Hawaii.)
Forty types of kahuna are listed in the book Tales from
the Night Rainbow. Kamakau lists more than 20 in the
healing professions alone, including for example Kahuna
la'au lapa'au (an expert in herbal medicine) and kahuna
haha (an expert in diagnosing illnesses).
With the revival of the Hawaiian culture beginning in
the 1970s, some native Hawaiian cultural practitioners
call themselves kahuna today. Others, particularly de-
vout Christians, disdain the term. The word has been
given an esoteric or secret meaning by modern follow-
ers of Max Freedom Long and Huna to emphasise a
priestly or shamanic standing; however, those interested
in true Hawaiian traditional mysticism must understand
that Huna is not Hawaiian and should be wary of any-
one using the term.
1 Legal status of kahuna
Many myths have grown up around kahuna. One is
that kahuna were outlawed after the white man came to
Hawaii. It is known that there were many dierent types
of kahuna. Kahuna can be divided into two categories:
craft kahuna, such as klai waa, an expert canoe maker,
and hookele, an expert navigator; sorcerers including
kahuna anan and lapaau (healer). According to one
source, there were ten types (or ranks) of sorcery kahuna.
1. Kuhikuhi puuone (literally to direct divination):
one who locates the site for the construction of heiau,
or temples.
2. kilokilo: one who divines and predicts future events,
a prophet.
3. Hoounun: one who can send spirits to cause an
4. Anan: one who can pray someone to death.
5. Nnuli: one who studies natural signs, like clouds,
rains, and winds.
6. Hoopiopio: one who touches a part of his own
body, thereby causing injury to his victims body in
the same place (like voodoo dolls)
7. Hookomokomo: one who can send a spirit, usually
evil, to possess its victim.
8. Poi Uhane: one who can catch a spirit and force it
to do its bidding.
9. Lapaau: one to practices procedures of medicinal
10. Oneoneihonua: one who performs the human sacri-
ces at the luakini heiau.
It is said that the one who can master all of the ten types,
becomes a Kahuna Nui (Great Kahuna). It is known that
Hewahewa, a direct descendant of Paao, was the Kahuna
Nui to Kamehameha I.
Craft kahuna were never prohibited; however, during the
decline of native Hawaiian culture many died out and did
not pass on their wisdom to new students. As an exam-
ple, when the Hklea was built to be sailed to the South
Pacic to prove the voyaging capabilities of the ancient
Hawaiians, master navigator Mau Piailug from Satawal
was brought to Hawaii to teach the Hawaiians navigation.
It is often said that the missionaries came to Hawaii in
1820 and made kahuna practices illegal. In the 100 years
after the missionaries arrived all kahuna practices were
legal until 1831, some were illegal until 1863, all were le-
gal until 1887, then some illegal until 1919. Since 1919,
all have been legal, except sorcery which was decriminal-
ized in 1972.
The rst Christian missionaries arrived in 1820. The
most powerful person in the nation, Kaahumanu, did not
convert until 1825. But it was not until 11 years after mis-
sionaries arrived that she proclaimed laws against hula,
chant, awa (kava), and Hawaiian religion.
King Kamehameha V came to power in 1863. He dis-
dained the law and encouraged the revival of native prac-
tices. (Chai) Many kahuna who had been quietly prac-
ticing came forward. On Maui, a group of eight Hawai-
ians founded the 'Ahahui La'au Lapa'au in 1866. They
were not only kahuna; several were also members of the
Hawaii Legislature. They interviewed twenty-one kahuna
to compile a complete resource of prayers and remedies
for the Legislative record. (These interviews have been
republished in the book Must We Wait in Despair? by
Malcolm Naea Chun.)
Both Kamehameha V and his successor, King Kalakaua,
invited kahuna to come to Honolulu to share their wis-
dom. They compiled oral and written histories and docu-
mented the prayers, chants, hulas, and remedies for heal-
ings. Kalakaua convened groups of kahuna to consult
with each other to preserve their heritage. This and many
other moves by Kalakaua outraged the Christian resi-
dents. In 1887 they forced the Bayonet Constitution upon
the King, stripping him of most of his personal authority.
While all this legal maneuvering has been going on, many
traditional practitioners have continued to practice as they
and their ancestors have always done.
2 Non-Hawaiian uses
The use of the term in reference to surng can be traced
back to the 1959 lmGidget, in which The Big Kahuna,
played by Cli Robertson, (Martin Milner in the TV
episode), was the leader of a group of surfers. The
term then became commonplace in Beach Party lms of
the 1960s such as Beach Blanket Bingo, where the Big
Kahuna was the best surfer on the beach. Eventually, it
was adopted into general surng culture. Hawaiian surf-
ing master Duke Kahanamoku may have been referred to
as the Big Kahuna but rejected the term as he knew the
original meaning.
In popular culture, the 1999 movie The Big Kahuna with
Kevin Spacey in the lead role has a scene where he is
worshiped as 'the big kahuna' with native headdress.
By coincidence, the word kahuna also means priest in
Hebrew, referring to the priests of the Holy Temple de-
scribed in the Bible. The word most often appears in the
form Kohen (or Cohen). The clothing (beged) of the
priest are called bigdei kahuna.
3 See also
Ho'oponopono, ancient Hawaiian forgiveness pro-
cess, often practiced by a kahuna
Maven, a termfroma dierent tradition with similar
Morrnah Simeona, regarded as a kahuna la'au
Tohunga, a cognate term and title in Mori tradition
Big Kahuna Burger, a ctional chain of Hawaiian-
themed fast food restaurants that appears in the
movies of Quentin Tarantino
4 Notes
[1] Chai, Makana Risser (2005), Na Mo'olelo Lomilomi: The
Traditions of Hawaiian Massage and Healing, Bishop Mu-
seum Press, pp. 34, 177178, ISBN 1-58178-046-X
[2] Kamakau, Ruling Chiefs, p. 298-301.
[3] Hall, Sandra Kimberly (2004), Duke: A Great Hawaiian,
Bess Press, ISBN 1-57306-230-8
[4] http://www.chabad.org/search/keyword_cdo/kid/9985/
5 Bibliography
Chai, Makana Risser Na Mo'olelo Lomilomi: Tra-
ditions of Hawaiian Massage & Healing; ISBN 1-
Hall, Sandra Duke: A Great Hawaiian; ISBN 1-
Gutmanis, Jane: Kahuna La'au Lapa'au - Hawaiian
Herbal Medicine [Medical Kahuna], Island Heritage
(www.islandheritage.com), 1976, English, ISBN 0-
Kahalewai, Nancy S. Hawaiian Lomilomi - Big Is-
land Massage, ISBN 0-9677253-2-1
Kamakau, Samuel Tales & Traditions of the People
of Old; ISBN 0-930897-71-4
Kupihea, Moke: Kahuna of Light -The World of
Hawaiian Spirituality, 2001, Inner Traditions Inter-
national, ISBN 0-89281-756-9
Lee, Pali Jae Ho'opono and Tales from the Night
Malo, David: Hawaiian Antiquities (Mo'olelo
Hawai'i), Bishop Museum Press, 1951 (1903)
The Kahuna: Versatile Masters of Old Hawaii von
Likeke R. McBride, ISBN 0-912180-51-X
Nana I Ke Kumu (Look to the source), by Mary
K. Pukui, E. W. Haertig, Catharine A. Lee; # Pub-
lisher: Hui Hanai; (May 1, 1980); ISBN0-9616738-
Pukui, Mary Kawena; Elbert, Samuel H. (1986),
Hawaiian Dictionary, Honolulu: University of
Hawaii Press, ISBN 0-8248-0703-0
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