Healing the Lāhui

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An OHA grant is helping Kahuna Lāʻau Lapaʻau and Kahu of Moanalua Roddy Akau perpetuate the traditional Hawaiian medical practice of lāʻau lapaʻau.

It’s one of the main reasons that OHA exists – to protect, preserve and perpetuate the Hawaiian culture and the wisdom of our ancestors.

Lāʻau lapaʻau is a traditional medical practice developed by Native Hawaiians. Lāʻau translates as vegetation and lapaʻau means to treat, heal or cure. The practice involves using native plants, herbs and, most importantly, spirituality to treat ailments and injuries.

Photo: Kahu Roddy Akau & Tina Tagad
Kahu Roddy Akau, a Kahuna Lāʻau Lapaʻau, and Hālau o Huluena Executive Director Tina Tagad, on site at Moanalua. Said Tagad, “our project is abut reigniting the cultural soul of a people…money shouldn’t limit access to good health and prosperity.” – Photo: Jason Lees

A $100,000 OHA grant awarded to Hālau O Huluena via the Pacific American Foundation is helping to assure this ʻike is being passed on to future generations.

“Our project is fulfilling the legacy of the late Poʻokela Kahuna Lāʻau Lapaʻau ʻPapa’ Henry Auwae including Kahuna Lāʻau Lapaʻau and Kahu of Moanalua Roddy Akau’s lineal legacy. It’s about the continuity of the stewardship of this knowledge and the preservation and perpetuation of lāʻau lapaʻau,” said Tina Tagad, executive director of Hālau O Huluena.

Tagad said OHA’s funding is helping establish the foundation for the program, which currently has roughly 50 learners who attend class twice a month in Moanalua’s Kamananui Valley. Classes and mālama ʻāina community days are also held at Waikalua Loko Iʻa in Kāneʻohe with all instruction provided by Akau.

“Our project is about reigniting the cultural soul of a people. Itʻs done with the idea that money shouldn’t limit access to good health and prosperity. It’s the teaching, healing and perpetuation of a cultural practice done through God’s work. Lāʻau lapaʻau is transformational, it’s life-changing and it changes the pattern of your life,” Tagad added.

The name Hālau o Huluena has cultural significance.

It was during the reign of Kakuhihewa that the schools at Huluena were born. Huluena means “gathering of the feather capes” and refers to the gathering of chiefly people in this area. This was the place where the cultural practices of hula, oli, lua, lāʻau lapaʻau and Hawaiian language were shared.

During that time, talented children in mainstream Hawaiian society were chosen to participate in the learning at Huluena. This continued until Huluena was razed in 1906 to build Fort Shafter. The schools were then relocated to Kahohonu or Moanalua Gardens.

“My family has been in Moanalua since time immemorial,” Akau said. “As the first inhabitants of the valley, Kahikilaulani and Kamawaelualani, the continuity of stewardship remains unbroken. The previous caretaker was my father, the kuleana was handed down to me and my spiritual journey began.”

Akau began studying with renowned traditional healer Henry “Papa” Auwae in 1996. Akau said one becomes a master in the art when they take a spiritual vow.

“Papa Auwae said no one can certify you, only Akua can. This practice is 80% spiritual and 20% lāʻau. The vow will come when it comes, and you will know when it comes,” Akau said.

Akau said the importance of educating ourselves in the knowledge of our ancestors cannot be understated.

“Every culture has its initiates, to keep the sacred flame burning. In Hawaiʻi, only a few remain. The importance of our ancestors and generational knowledge cannot be described with words; it must be seen through results with divine discernment,” he said.

“Every culture has its knowledge of medicine. It is within your spirit. Everybody has a knowledge of healing within themselves; this is an opportunity for them to light that light. It’s about bringing it to the surface. This practice permeates your ancestry, descendants and kuleana.

Photo: Mamaki
Mamaki is a Native Hawaiian lāʻau that is commonly brewed into tea. It’s packed with antioxidants and has health benefits including boosting our immune systems, regulating blood pressure, lowering cholesterol, cleaning toxins from our blood and more. – Photo: Jason Lees

“Each lāʻau has many uses and it is strongly dependent on your intention,” said Akau, discussing some of the plants he uses in his work. “The first lāʻau I use is kinehi to open the individual up and have them discern. ʻUhaloa is for the upper body including respiratory illness. Then you have pōpolo, which I use for myself and for serious illnesses.

“The OHA grants program is part of a greater movement toward the collective healing of our people. It is a collaboration of the restoration of our community health and lifestyle.”
-Tina Tagad

“It comes down to the spirit of the plant and intention. The purification period is an essential aspect of my work. There are protocols I follow throughout the entire process. Discernment and the individual’s experience are paramount,” he said.

Akau said when it comes to healing there is no comparison between lāʻau lapaʻau and modern medicine because both provide a service to humanity. He said the biggest challenge to his work is access, pollution and conservation, so a relationship with the Trust for Public Lands and the Department of Forestry and Wildlife is vital to their work.

“Everything we do is a spiritual practice – spiritual dignity, spiritual discipline, spiritual currency. It’s ancestral – it’s genealogy, and it’s stewardship. The greatest gift you can give and receive is to honor your calling,” Akau said.

Halau O Huluena group pic
Hālau O Hulueana practice lāʻau lapaʻau twice a month at Waikalua Fish Pond & Moanalua Valley. Photo: Jason Lees

Tagad is very thankful to have Kahu Roddy in her life.

“There are so many words of wisdom that Kahu shares with us,” she said. “I weave these into my daily practice: ‘Be that beam of light for yourself and your family.’ ‘You change, then people around you will change.’ And, ‘Master your humility, your forgiveness, discernment, patience, and your prayers.’”

Regarding their OHA grant award, Tagad said, “The OHA grants program is part of a greater movement toward the collective healing of our people. It is a collaboration of the restoration of our community health and lifestyle.

“This initiative provides an opportunity for programs like ours to revitalize and perpetuate cultural practices and stewardship that help our people, our community, and ourselves.”


To hear reflections from the OHA grantees, visit: kawaiola.news/videos/