The Kahuna: Versatile Masters of Old Hawai’i (My Foreword)

In 2000 I worked with Likeke R. McBride’s publisher Petroglpyh Press to produce a revised edition of his book The Kahuna: Versatile Mystics of Old Hawai’i (1972; revised 1983) .

In 1983 Dad had issued “Additions and Corrections” to the text as a response to some of the comments he had received over the years. In this spirit, I wrote an essay for the publisher to be added as “Additions and Corrections – 2000.”

David and Christine Reed of Petroglyph Press turned my “Additions and Corrections – 2000” into a new Foreword. I was surprised, honored and grateful!

In 2000 Petroglyph Press published the new edition of Dad’s book, The Kahuna: Versatile Masters of Old Hawai’i. My Foreword follows:

“Foreword by Andrew S. McBride”

“I am honored to have been able to assist David and Christine Reed of Petroglyph Press in a minor revision of The Kahuna. Written by my father, Likeke R. McBride, The Kahuna was first published in 1972; a revision with important additions and corrections was published in 1983.

“Part of this book’s enduring value is the knowledge imparted and the respect with which it is provided. Dad loved Hawai’i, the Hawaiian people, and was profoundly affected by the genius of Hawaiian civilization. One example of its genius is the brilliant achievement of na kahuna.  

“I am very proud of Dad’s work including this book and of the fact that he helped stimulate interest in Hawaiian culture and traditions in a career spanning over 30 years as scholar and author, entertainer, educator, and craftsman.

“His approach in writing this book was significant. He understood and presented the kahuna in a Hawaiian context, in my opinion its only legitimate context. Dad clarified our knowledge of the kahuna, and downplayed the longstanding, widespread perception that kahuna were merely ‘witch doctors’ or sorcerers.

“The use of ‘Big Kahuna’ in certain television shows, movies, and in commercial snacks is misuse and cultural appropriation which does nothing to help us understand na kahuna of old Hawai’i.

“As appealing as the kahuna might be to people interested in New Age matters, it strikes me as a misreading of the kahuna and as cultural appropriation also. This even though the appropriation might be sympathetic to the achievements of the Hawaiians.

“Today the prestige of being linked to kahuna is undeniable. Hawaiians – some very prominent – state their descent from kahuna lines proudly and without reservation. It was not always this way; for 150 years na kahuna were suppressed. Recently, a local resident of O’ahu confided in me that she was studying to become a kahuna right after she explained her interests in the power of crystals and other New Age concerns.

“Interest in na kahuna continues to grow. Kahuna traditions continue to affect culture, life and events in Hawai’i and the world. In late May 1998, a writer for the Honolulu Advertiser reported that Iwi’ula Aupuni, a Hawaiian kahuna living in Seattle, Washington, blessed USS Missouri – the famous beloved battleship – for its voyage to Pearl Harbor, Hawai’i under tow. A large photograph of Iwi’ula Aupuni blessing the battleship was featured in a prominent front page article.

“When the ka’ai (sennit caskets) believed to contain the sacred bones of Liloa and Lonoikamakahiki were discovered missing from Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Honolulu in early 1994, prominent Hawaiians discussed the disposition of the ka’ai. Kumu hula Frank K. Hewett wrote a letter to the Advertiser editor that the ‘kahuna tradition should decide the disposition of the ka’ai.’ In another letter to the editor published that day distinguished scholar Rubellite K. Johnson argued differently and concluded with a statement that ‘reviving the kahu (priestly) office for this particular ka’ai … has grave implications.’

“Our store of knowledge about the kahuna continues to grow with the publication of new books. Malcolm Naea Chun translated and edited the 1867 Report of the ‘Ahuhui La’au Lapa’au of Wailuku, Maui on Native Hawaiian Health. Chun’s translation and careful examination of this text has given us additional information about the medical kahuna, names of practitioners and their teachers and knowledge of medical practices – particularly of Maui in the first half of the 1800’s. This newly translated text recovered much information perhaps thought lost forever. This book also discounts any lingering belief that the Hawaiians acted passively in the face of devastating foreign diseases.

“Chun’s examination and translation of other Hawaiian language texts has added to what is known of the kahuna and Hawaiian medical practices. His biographies of Davida Malo, S.N. Hale’ole and S.M. Kamakau, gathered in Na Kukui Pio ‘Ole: The Inextinguishable Torches, provide additional information about these scholars as important sources for information concerning the kahuna. In particular, Hale’ole wrote about the Hawaiian Priesthood.

“In conclusion, interest in the kahuna continues to grow. The tradition, while greatly diminished due to terrible losses in the Hawaiian population from diseases introduced since contact with foreigners, is regaining some of its strength and acceptance. This is a promising development.

“Perhaps it is time to gather all of what we do know about the kahuna, and subject the knowledge and its sources to careful examination and deep synthesis. Thus, we can attempt to piece together more of our fragmentary knowledge of the kahuna, speculate carefully and learn even more. In time our understanding may yet deepen.

“In ‘Olelo No’eau: Hawaiian Proverbs and Poetical Sayings, Mary Kawena Pukui wrote:

” ‘Ua lehulehu a manomano ka ‘ikeha a ka Hawai’i (Great and without end is the knowledge of the Hawaiians).’

“As we learn more about the kahuna and their abilities and knowledge, this beautiful phrase continues to ring true.

Me ka pono [with respect], Andrew S. McBride, Mililani, Hawai’i”

Blessings to the memory of Likeke R. McBride. Blessings to the memory of Mary Kawena Pukui.

A sincere “thank you” to David and Christine Reed of Petroglyph Press.

The Kahuna: Versatile Masters of Old Hawai’i remains in print. Please follow the link for ordering information.

About Andrew Shattuck McBride

I am a writer, editor, writing coach, and consultant. I work in a variety of genres, including poetry, short stories, and creative non-fiction. I also have a couple of novels simmering on back burners. THANK YOU to Nan Macy of Village Books for taking this photo (June 2011).
This entry was posted in Andrew Shattuck McBride Writer, Authors, Books, Likeke R. McBride, Likeke R. McBride Memorial Foundation, Notes on the Literary Life, Samples. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Kahuna: Versatile Masters of Old Hawai’i (My Foreword)

  1. Andy,

    I just e-mailed the Basically Books store to get a copy. I have a friend who is Hawaiian and I just know he’d love this book! Hopefully the shipping won’t break the bank. =).

    Write on!

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