boat logo


Huna Article

Huna International

HUNA - does it really exist.
by Philip Young

I want to address the ongoing controversy that seems to exist in the Huna community and indeed among the Hawaiian people themselves and that is the question as to whether Huna actually existed as a distinct teaching or understanding in Hawaii in the form in which it is taught today. The answer to that question in my experience is YES.

What Huna is, or what a Kahuna was really, was somebody who was able to take the invisible in the culture (or indeed in any culture) and make it visible and to then use it practically and pragmatically in his or her own field of endeavor. What I mean by that is that Huna is in a cultural sense "what you learned at your grandmother's knee." its all the fundamental beliefs and assumptions about reality that pervade ANY culture. The reason why this process was perhaps more useful in Hawaii than in the modern western world is that in Hawaii (and Polynesia in general) there existed a natural culture that, in large part, consisted of people who lived close to nature and who worked with the cycles and seasons of the earth and oceans.

There is a Huna in Western culture. It's predominately a scientific understanding of reality but it has all sorts of other aspects also. Mostly, we simply live it. We don't think about it or question it. How many of you who live in a Western culture when you spill salt, take a pinch of it and throw it over your shoulder? How many of you know the hidden significance of that or was it just what your parents and grandparents did and so you unhesitatingly do the same. Few people do know the answers and even fewer seek them out. Such occurrences are invisible, its just part of the culture. These behaviors can look VERY strange to someone from another culture with its own but different Huna. Our Western Huna includes all the superstitions, the various and multi-layered beliefs that we have, as well as the scientific understandings that we accept and much more besides. We don't necessarily know how a television or a telephone works, we simply use them. The Kahunas in any culture are the people who make the invisible visible, the people who look at the underlying beliefs and assumptions and take them out of the culture, and then study how they function and their relevance and, of course, occasional irrelevance. They then use that knowledge in a new way in their own field so that they can achieve a higher level of excellence.

So in Hawaii when someone became a Kahuna they took all of the underlying assumptions in the society; the things that were 'invisible' that people just accepted, the gods, spirits, aumakua, the cycles and seasons of nature, kapu laws, how the religion functioned, and made all those invisible cultural structures visible. They then began to interact using these understandings in a conscious way so that their communication with the gods and spirits could reach a different level that would support them in a more profound way in any particular field, be it the making of canoes, catching fish, wood carving, sailing or navigation, fore telling the future or in prayer, or agriculture. In a sense a Kahuna reads the unconscious mind of a whole race or culture and embodies that in their life. They then became true masters of their craft. They became an acknowledged keeper of the secret. They literally kept the secret of that which was hidden or woven into the fabric of the culture. Hence the old phrase "let that which is unknown be known" has a far different meaning than is generally taught or understood. It didn't mean to teach to all and everyone openly but it was a training motto or maxim used in the various Halau.

Here in the West we have a somewhat different way of thinking about this in that we do have people who step outside of the culture and who study it, we call them philosophers and sociologists. The difference between the West and ancient Hawaii is that they don't then necessarily use that knowledge to better themselves or to make them more effective in life, in fact, in our modern Western Halau or Universities, the knowledge that they have discovered often stays in that rarefied atmosphere without those discoveries being used for the benefit of modern society in some way. Occasionally, of course, it does happen that some of this knowledge does filter into everyday life and change it in some way. Would that we had more modern Kahunas in the West!!

Philip runs his own site at Masterworks International.

Aloha New Zealand - School of Huna and Hawaiian Shamanism

palm isle
[Top of page]  -   [Contact us]