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Kahuna

Category: Indigenous people

Hawaiian Chief

The Kahuna tradition is a set of beliefs and practises that were used by ancient Polynesians including those from Hawaii, Tahiti, the Samoans, Tongans, Futuans, Soloman Islanders, New Hebrideans, Rarotongans, Taumotuans, Marquesans, Mangarevans and the other Polynesian islands and the Maoris in New Zealand.  There is also the possibility that the same beliefs were used in Easter Island.  All these peoples trace their roots to India and even further west and their language has Indian roots.

The Hawaiians for example arrived in Hawaii around about AD 500 from the west and were entirely isolated from outside contact until about AD 1100 when a few Samoans arrived.  This isolation was only broken in 1778 when Captain Cook and the white invasion began.

Although I have used the word Kahuna to provide a single term for the methods used by these peoples, through language differences the word ‘kahuna’ has changed in different parts of Polynesia.  It is tufunga in Tonga and Samoa, tuhuna in the Marquesas, Tahua in Tahiti, taunga in the Cook Islands and tohunga in the Maori lands of New Zealand.

The Kahunas were and are shamans.  A genuine Kahuna has made contact with his Higher Spirit, however, the degree and the ease of contact together with the completeness of contact is the measure of a Kahuna’s power.  The Kahunas themselves make a very clear distinction between a Kahuna and a medium for example.  Whilst a medium tends to be used by the spirits and is thus not in control, a Kahuna is in control and uses the spirits.

The Secret Science Behind Miracles – Max Freedom Long
there were several kinds of Kahunas in Hawaii before they ceased almost entirely to understand the ancient lore.  Some were hardly more than spiritualistic mediums.  Some were prophets.  Some laboured to control wind and weather.  A few were able to perform almost any part of the magic, be it healing or controlling the elements.

In Hawai there was also a lesser Kahuna class known as kelo-kelo.  Tahiti had an equivalent but differently named class.  One of the duties of these lesser shamans was to operate what was once called by white immigrants ‘the coconut radio’ because their job was to pass messages and news around the islands via spiritual means – so no smoke signals, no mobiles, no radios, no drums,  - simply the person’s mind – inter composer communication.

The Kahuna kaula was a prophet and thus represented one of the highest type of Kahunas possessing more power than the other types.  He or she also tended to be one of the most ‘moral’ of the Kahunas.

The Kahunas’ knowledge was passed down orally to chosen apprentices, much as it is in most shamanic societies.  Apprentices, male and female,  were picked out for their potential to become shamans and much like all shamanic societies a considerable amount of personal sacrifice was required of them.  They underwent many years of pretty rigorous training. 

They did not use plants or drugs as South American shamanic societies do, but they appear to have used kundalini energy and sexual stimulation.

Almost the entire Middle East, and the East from India, China, Japan, the other Buddhist countries [Burma, Laos, Tibet, etc]  all the way through to the Pacific Islands used sexual stimulation techniques to obtain a spiritual experience.  This was at one time probably the most frequently used and prevalent mechanism of spiritual experience – until the whites of the west arrived with their puritanical belief systems.

Some background - Huna

Jimmy Nelson photography

Present day 'Huna' as taught by a number of California based groups – though probably effective in a moderate sort of way - has nothing to do with the techniques that were practised by the Ancient Polynesians including those on Hawaii.  A good simple introductory book for learning about the Californian version of Huna is Charlotte Berney's Hawaiian Mysticism.  It is however, not correct to classify this version, which combines relaxation techniques and forms of contemplation, with the genuine Ancient Polynesian traditions.

Huna was originally developed by an American called Max Freedom Long.  Some of the descriptive information about Polynesian shamanic society was documented by him in his books The Secret Science behind Miracles and Recovering the Ancient Magic, [plus others].  In these books he attempted to document some of the practises of the shamans, however, his descriptions are peppered with his own beliefs and are annoyingly free of many descriptions of the Hawaiians themselves.  About 80% of the books are about his own beliefs and not about Hawaiian society, so they make for very annoying reading for anyone wanting to learn more about the Hawaiian culture.  He appears to be advocating the start of a new religion based on Hawaiian beliefs – but it is very clear from his descriptions that none of the people he met let him in on their techniques.  In fact the very word he devised to describe the approach – Huna -means 'Secret' .

Long clearly stated that his 'Huna' principles were not in any way synonymous with the traditional religious practises of the shamanic Hawaiians.  They couldn't have been of course, because he didn't know them.

But we do owe to him a debt of gratitude for documenting at least something of what  the Hawaiian system was about and that it existed.

Other sources

Jimmy Nelson

One of the potentially most reliable sources of information on Kahuna methods was a man called Dr William Tufts Brigham.  He was the  highly respected curator for the British Museum in Honolulu from 1888 to 1918.  He was a scientist, an anthropologist and a recognised authority on Hawaiian flora fauna and culture.  At the time that Freedom Long met him he was 82 and had amassed a huge amount of information on Kahuna culture and had spent the best part of 40 years documenting what he had found.

But he never published a book and Freedom Long, though occasionally quoting from his observations appears to make scant use of all the evidence Brigham amassed.

So we have something of a tragedy here, in that Freedom Long had a wonderful opportunity and – to use an English expression – blew it!

Dr Brigham had seen the kahunas fail to get their sons and daughters to take training and learn the techniques.  And since all the techniques were handed down under vows of inviolable secrecy the majority – the vast majority of genuine Kahunas had gone by 1900, 17 years before Freedom Long arrived. 

Dr Brigham had enjoyed a great deal of trust within the Kahuna society, had witnessed  healing, death prayers and had even enacted a death prayer himself [in defence].  He had also fire walked, so he knew the genuine nature of the abilities of the Kahunas.  But even he had never been able to find out how it was done.  The fire walking was achieved with the help of Kahunas – he did nothing except walk on lava in the belief that they would look after him – and they did.

Kahuna history

Jimmy Nelson photography

By the time Freedom Long went to Hawaii as a teacher in 1917, the shamanic practises had all but died out.  Even those documented by Dr Brigham had degenerated into a sort of 'magic tricks', form of spiritual practise.   Much of the so called spiritual practises were what is called 'low magic' in spiritual circles, although some higher forms such as healing existed. 

They included:

Environmental control – including
Healing and non healing – which covered the extremes of
Inter composer communication - both with
Prophecy

Fire walking

In all the examples I have provided you apparently see the Laws of Nature or the Universe disobeyed or reversed.  Men can levitate – so defy the Laws of Gravity, they can raise the dead, they can control the wind and the weather – so adapt the laws of the clouds and rain and wind.  And they can also modify the laws of ‘burning’  – the program of ‘burning’.  In effect the normal ‘software program’ that would operate ‘to burn’ is ‘turned off’.

I suspect there are few westerners believe that this is possible.  But I know it is.  The laws of the universe are like the software of the universe – spirit is software and a true shaman can through his Higher spirit request for the laws to be adapted or overturned and if truly truly powerful can adapt a law and add a new one.

Jesus levitated – he walked on water.  He reversed the laws of death.  He healed.  So could truly powerful shamans in kahuna society and many other societies.  Jesus was a Kahuna.

Jimmy Nelson photography

There are many more instances of all these with observations by, principally, Dr Brigham in Freedom Long's books. 

By the 1900s a very large number of 'pseudo-shamans' had sprung up whose motive was power and influence, who had built temples and shrines to aid contacting the gods and who even practised sacrifice in a horrifically vain hope of invoking the gods.  If we look at numerous shamanic societies, we can see the same degeneration.  Once the ability to genuinely invoke spiritual experience goes, those desperate for power and influence build temples [or churches] and offer sacrifices.  We see it in the Mayan cultures, and Incan cultures, for example and even in some branches of religions such as Hinduism.  The Jews had already degenerated to this level by the time we get to Moses.  The Catholic church offers 'sacrifices' during the mass.  There is the possibility it also occurred in Celtic cultures.

So what we have in the kahuna methods that Brigham documented is a sorry remnant of what must have been a much more advanced shamanic society.  There are five main reasons why kahuna society had all but gone by the 1900s.

  • Christianity – Christianity was introduced into Hawaii around about 1820 and the beliefs of the Christian missionaries were totally and utterly at odds with those of the shamanic culture they found. To a Polynesian, we have three selves, to a missionary we have one soul.  To a Polynesian there is a Higher spirit that we contact, but 'God' is inaccessible because incomprehensible.  To a Christian missionary the only spirit we communicate with is God and this God is some sort of accessible father figure with a penchant for answering our prayers as long as we are Christian and act in a supposedly moral fashion [where the morals are defined by the missionaries].  The conflict was extreme.

    The Secret Science Behind Miracles – Max Freedom Long
    the early missionaries thought this a most droll and idiotic concept, worthy only of 'heathens' and 'savages'.  To them man had but one soul and their job was to save it if possible.  As they arrived in Hawaii in 1820 and the subconscious was not discovered by Freud until over half a century later, they can hardly be blamed for laughing at the kahuna beliefs.

    …....or perhaps they can be blamed, because tolerance of other people's ideas is supposed to be a Christian virtue.

  • Jimmy Nelson photography
    Immigration – a wave of immigrants to Hawaii in the 1800s had brought in diseases from which the indigenous population had no immunity and the population declined rapidly, along with non Kahunas, went many Kahunas.
  • legal changes – under the edicts of Christian missionaries the Kahuna were forbidden to practise their rituals or to perform healing.

    The law of Hawaii concerning healing by the use of magic reads:
    Section 1034 – Penalty, Any person who shall attempt the cure of another by practice of sorcery, witchcraft ananna, hoopiopio, hoounauna or hoomanamana or other superstitious or deceitful methods, shall, upon conviction thereof, be fined in a sum not less than 100 dollars or be imprisoned not to exceed 6 months at hard labor.

  • cultural changes – children went to schools where they were forbidden to speak the Hawaiian language and were taught both English and Christianity.  The result was a loss of much traditional knowledge
     
  • the kundalini connection – the practices on which the shamanic traditions of the Polynesians was based is that of kundalini energy and kundalini energy is largely sexual in nature.  At the time of the introduction of Christianity into the Hawaiian islands and other Polynesian islands, all sexual practices were looked on by the Church as 'sinful' unless they were for procreation.  You could not have had a set of cultures more in opposition – the clash must have been quite awful – from a freely sexual culture to one of repression and guilt for natural acts.  Instill the beliefs that sex is bad into a child and there is no way it will want to be involved in a set of traditions whose primary form of working is via sex!
Jimmy Nelson photography

As we have seen, Christianity was introduced in the early 1800s and the people of the islands of Hawaii were fairly rapidly converted, principally I suspect because their own religion had degenerated.   It was likely to have been riddled by fear from the death prayers, was also totally stymied by all the taboos [tabus] that had accumulated, and was also no longer genuine, as the introduction of the temples and sacrifices attested.  So Christianity, which involved none of the more frightening aspects probably came as a welcome relief. 

But the genuine Kahunas, although technically forbidden to practise by Law, still appear to have soldiered on. 

But a shamanic society that is outlawed will soon find itself much more incapable of continuing as before.  The main problem is that of finding apprentices.  Few children would want to go through all the shamanic training in a society in which their training was forbidden. 

To put it rather crudely given the choice between issuing death prayers and surfing which would you choose?

So again finding out what the genuine practises were is hard work and whatever I have managed to piece together is probably far short of what was once there.

Beliefs

The table below shows the correspondences as best as I can piece them together:

Concept

Kahuna name

Energy

The body as well as the entire universe is composed of energy flows.   This energy is known as MANA. Symbolically all energy which rises or falls in the body is described as 'water'

See – 003092 – Mana

 

Spirit

Also known as mana, it is just mana in a different  [usable] form

 

Trinity

The Creator and Created are recognised as is the Higher spirit.  The Polynesians used the symbolic Sun and Moon to represent the Creator and Created

See – 003098 – Kahuna sun and moon

Intelligence hierarchy

An Intelligence hierarchy of various helpers and spirit beings is recognised .

The collection of Higher spirits which formed a sort of hierarchy of ascending levels of intelligence was known as PO'E AUMAKUA – the Great Company of Spirits

 

Ultimate intelligence

Although the kahunas believed in an Ultimate creative source, they did not pray to it, and did not believe [as in Christianity or Islam] that somehow it acted on their behalf, or that it sent out punishments or rewards for good behaviour.  The Ultimate Creative source, being all functions of everything, was incapable of being understood or communicated with. 

Moral code

There is one paramount moral rule that governs all kahuna based society and that is DON’T HURT  with its parallel LOVE

All life is organised around these principles

 

Spiritual path

The root La is part of many words use in kahuna symbols.  It means the Sun or Light.   A-la is also used meaning the path to the Light.  The path to the Sun or the red path is the highest form of spiritual path in all shamanic society, it contrasts with the path to the moon which is the path of reincarnation. 

The path to the Sun or the Light, is the path that leads to no reincarnation. 

La-a means consecrated and holy.  Ka-la means the cleansing and preparation needed to take this path.  Hoo-lala means to lay the foundation for such work.  Hoo-la means to heal, so healing is a higher spirit function.

Ko is the Polynesian and kahuna equivalent to Samadhi.  It is the subjugation of the will to such an extent that the composer takes over completely.  Ko means annihilation  or the final complete and permanent subjugation of the will, such that the person becomes their Higher spirit.  In this case the Kahuna say that ‘Thou and I are One’.

 

Meridians

The channels through which energy flows are called akas.  Akas could be fixed template like flows in the body or can be formed by activity. 

Flows can be between people, hence if I kissed someone with great affection, the activity would generate a permanent communication channel between me and the other person through which energy could flow.  Bridge.

The Secret Science Behind Miracles – Max Freedom Long
the kahuna vocabulary gives us several words to describe in using this act.  First a 'hand' is made and extended toward the person we wish to contact.  Second, upon reaching the person, it is necessary to 'pierce and enter the shadowy body of the subject as a spear would pierce a dense physical body

 

Kundalini

 The techniques that were employed by the Kahuna appear to have been very similar to those used by the Chinese and the Qigong set of procedures, but the details are very scanty.  They were from all the evidence kundalini based and sexually based. The main methods being sexual stimulation, sex magick and peakingMaking love also figured prominently.

The tattoos of the Maori for example  [the genuine ones at least] show the curling vine symbols and also occasionally the flames of the energy so generated by the experience – going up the spine and lapping round the arms and the neck, even the energy that surges around the face impacting the third eye.  Those who had been through the process were often tattooed as a Harlequin

 See also 003100 – Kahuna kundaliniand 003101 – Kahuna kundalini

and 003103 – Kahuna aura

Higher spirit

In Kahuna belief the Higher spirit was called the AUMAKUA ; it was both male and female and was an 'older [meaning  wise], parental [so it cared for you, trustworthy , acted on your behalf and could be trusted] spirit'.  It was incapable of cruelty and totally averse to cruelty, as such sacrifices of any sort or hurt of any sort, would simply have sent it away.  By hurting others, you lost connection to the Higher spirit.  All spiritual experience of any seriousness was directed via this spirit.  All prayers and rites were directed to this spirit and it was Loved, deeply loved.  No sacrifices were offered to it, no bribes were offered.  It did not command the lower selves but acted in the same way that a parent acts to a child.

 The Higher spirit never judged, only helped when asked via prayer and did not interfere with the Will of the Middle Self.  Through the Higher spirit one received

Each person had their own Higher spirit .  Animals and other living things had Higher spirits too, occasionally there was a group spirit acting on behalf of a number of instances of that type of thing. It was possible to communicate via the Higher spirit with other Higher spirits and hence communicate with other things.  So communication was possible and information on the properties of plants or animals was possible by communication with the higher spirit or group spirit of the thing concerned.

The Higher spirit acted in order to communicate with higher  intelligences/spirits where more help was needed.  Thus all prayers [like the weather prayer or the communication with animals] was achieved via this higher spirit.  As we can see, the model is extraordinarily similar to my model, and I did not have the benefit of the Hawaiian system when I drew up my model.

  • Ma - The word Ma means twining as a vine.  One of the symbols used extensively in Hawaiian practice was a cross with a vine twirling up in a double spiral.  The symbol is identical to the caduceus and the kundalini symbolism that uses the snakes instead.  The Hawaiians did not use snake, they used a vine.  
  • kua – means high point mountain

The symbol used for the Higher Spirit is that for Infinity .

See also 003099 – Kahuna Higher spirit

 

Conscious

The Conscious is called the Middle Self  or UHANE.  The Uhane is where personality resides and gives us the 'I' feeling.  The Middle Self has the following functions

  • the Will and thus directs all action except for the Autonomic functions
  • memory – Memory as the Polynesians saw it is like a tree structure or a bunch of connected grapes. 
  • reason and logic
  • learning
  • language and speaking
  • the ability to analyse and synthesise
  • imagination and fantasising ability

In the Polynesian system it has no control over perceptions or the sensory systems.  But all communication between the Lower or Basic self and the Middle self is via perceptions.

 

Subconscious

The subconscious was called the Basic or Lower self or UNIHIPILI

 This Basic Self is treated as an unconscious but very influential character in its own right.  It has 'a mind of its own'.  It can fight back.  Generally speaking this level serves the Middle self providing it with information to help the Will make the necessary judgements.  But if it is not taken notice of enough, or ignored, or has been damaged in some way via destructive perceptions or false information, it will respond accordingly in a negative way.

The Kahuna system treats the unihipili a little like an innocent or a child.  It takes everything literally and acts on it.  It communicates and understands much like an animal in gestures, symbols, or pictures not words.  But it is highly skilled at that form of communication,  with an intuitive grasp of  signs and signals that the Middle self has not.  

In the Kahuna system its logic is also basic – that if you like of a little animal – all the basic instincts, sex and food, survival, love and joy and fun, anger and tears.  It likes to be creative, it likes painting and music, dancing, singing, running and the fresh air, beauty and peace or excitement.  It is highly loving – this is the highly loving aspect in us, if we do truly love, this is where it comes from.

It can become very ill from neglect.  Because it is innocent it is very open to suggestion.  Quite a number of Kahuna techniques particularly those for healing, are aimed at the subconscious.

Its memory is actually the perceptions – the facts as they were recorded, not some version the Middle self constructs later to form a memory which may be substantially distorted to fit some erroneously constructed belief system.  Being innocent it can be really hurt.  According to the Kahuna system, the functions it contains are

All inter composer communication  and as a consequence practically all medium skills are achieved at this low level, via the links between perception systems.  If a link is present, the Basic self can follow it if you let it. see 003102 – Kahuna

The kahuna system and spiritual experience

Jimmy Nelson photography

In Kahuna, the Basic Self is in control of all energy – Mana.  The Kahuna systems stipulates that  the energy of the Basic self is needed to make contact with the Higher Self.  The Basic Self has to be in good repair in order for this to happen.  The Basic Self must be happy!

The Kahuna system states that contact between the Higher self and the Basic self occurs during sleep – deep sleep – so sleep always helps in maintaining the links, but if contact is broken with the Higher Self, if the Basic Self is not kept happy and if not enough sleep is obtained, the Basic Self can become either very ill, or lose all vitality.  A Basic Self that has lost contact with its Higher Spirit is known as a 'lost soul' in Polynesian belief [and numerous other shamanic cultures].  Simply put we die, whatever the Will may want, we die because the Basic self gradually shuts down the autonomic functions or the immune system and we are a gonner.

The centre of all the Basic Self's energy is the Solar Plexus, so Pain in the solar plexus means an awakening of the Basic self or problems there. 

In general the seat of the Basic Self , according to Kahuna belief , is the heart.  This is where the Basic self resides and where Love is to be found, an idea with which most people would find considerable sympathy.

In order to unite Basic self and Higher self – and thereby achieve a person capable of all the feats of the Kahuna - the energy from the Basic Self  had to rise up and unite with that of the Higher Self.  Thus the energy of the Basic Self was used to ignite and form contact with the Higher Self.  There were three ways in which this was produced

  • the Basic self had to be kept 'happy’ and filled with energy
  • the Middle self had to be stilled
  • the energy produced by the basic self had to be directed to obtain the experience
Jimmy Nelson photography

The Basic Self had to be kept 'happy'
If the Basic Self was 'unhappy' in any way, energy would not be forthcoming to promote the spiritual experience, hence the Kahuna system is full of ways of keeping the lower self happy via art, food, music, sex , love and so on.   One of the big blocks to spiritual experience is when the Basic Self is harbouring guilt.  The way to remove guilt that is used in Kuhana methods is called KALA.  The ritual removal of guilt.  In concert with this is another technique – that of ritual forgiveness.

The Middle self had to be stilled
The block to experience was the Middle Self, so the middle self had to be stilled.  The techniques here are not in any books I could find [unless they are buried somewhere in Dr Brigham's notes].

The energy had to be directed
The main technique appears  to have revolved around the practise of sexual stimulation, as  well as other forms of stimulation including stimulation via triggers.  More details have been provided in these sections as I have used the ideas.

Observations

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