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Hawaiian Healing Haven

Ancient traditions on the Big Island promote good health

“This is the piko, the sacred center of five mountains, a source of great strength,” says Danny Kaniela Akaka. “Hawaii was known as a healing center. It’s powerful. We have active volcanos still giving birth to new lands.” Akaka, a native Hawaiian who for the last 20 years has been the cultural historian for the Mauna Lani resort, speaks with awe about this spot along the Kohala coast that was the ancestral retreat of Hawaiian royalty.

Traditionally called Kalahuipua‘a, Mauna Lani means “mountain reaching heaven” and is situated with a view of five surrounding peaks: the Kohala Mountains, Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, Hualalai and Haleakala.

“This place attracted the ancients,” Akaka says. “The royalty, the elite and the privileged. It was a place where they could reenergize, renew their spiritual energy. This is a high-energy place that promotes healing.” Akaka, who speaks fluent Hawaiian, is a practicing kahu (spiritual keeper) and occaisionally presides over traditional Hawaiian purification ceremonies, called hi‘uwai. Conducted at sunrise, at sunset or sometimes even at midnight, the ritual of purification involves wading silently into the tranquil sea while releasing problems, stress or grief. 

“Hawaiians felt that the salt water had healing qualities,” Akaka says. “It’s not just going into the ocean; it’s allowing yourself to release the negativities within you, anything that creates imbalance in your body. It symbolizes a new beginning, a new start.”

“At times the hi‘uwai is done at sunset, with the thought that you send all your problems into the onohi o ka la (eyeball of the sun),” he adds. “The sun has mystic powers. The sun, as it sets, will forever take your problems with it.” Traditionally, Akaka says, a family might go into the ocean at midnight on the eve of the new year, to prepare for a good year.

Today the grounds of the Mauna Lani include 3,200 acres, with white sand beaches and ancient spring-fed fishponds. The fishponds are considered the spiritual center of Kalahuipua‘a. Samples taken from the bottom of the ponds date as far back as 250 B.C. “The ponds are a special place,” says Akaka. “It’s a vortex, where one could go to feel uplifted. I know people who mainly come here for that reason, just to be able to heal and reenergize, always at the fishponds.”

The popular Kalahuipua‘a Trail winds amid the fishponds, shaded by native milo trees and a grove of coconut palms. It’s a pleasant early morning or evening walk, about 1.5 miles round-trip, passing lava tubes, petroglyphs and archaeological caves. Nearby at the Puako Archaeoogical Petroglyphs district, more than 3,000 petroglyphs comprise one of the islands amazing collections of ancient lava carvings.

Continuing the traditions of old Hawaii is the inspiration for Danny Akaka’s life’s work. “The very magnetism that attracted the ancients is the same magnetism that is attracting people today,” he says, “whether they realize it or not. The same attraction brought me here. I never thought it was my calling to spend time with our elders. But here I am, doing the very things that the kepuna (ancestors) did. The scary thing is, now it’s left for us to continue. “I now understand it was destiny that brought me here.”

The Mauna Lani Resort is 23 miles north of the Kona International Airport. For information about accommodations and cultural programs call 800.367.2323 or visit maunalani.com.

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