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A milo leaf floats in the hands of healer Mahealani Kaiwikuamo'okekuaokalani Henry.photo by Linny Morris Cunningham
Vol. 8, No. 3
June/July 2005


The Spirit Well (Page 6)

Dane Silva

Together, hooponopono, lomilomi and laau lapaau form the holistic triad of contemporary native medicine. Dane Kaohelani Silva, who practices integrated holistic Hawaiian medicine, is one of the healers putting them all together. Dane is president of the Hawaiian Lomilomi Association and a respected kumu of native healing arts. Chosen by the elders to become a healer because he demonstrated unusual powers of intuition and sensitivity, he trained rigorously for years, learning lomilomi and laau first from his family and later from masters like Uncle Bill Kanui and Papa Henry Auwae, one of the Big Island’s most respected kahuna laau lapaau.

"But understand: It’s more than technique," he tells me over drinks and grinds at his home near Pahoa on the Big Island. "The training develops something inside. You need to have empathy and aloha. You need mana." Dane is careful to point out that mana is often mistakenly thought to be "life force," similar to the Chinese concept of chi. "Mana is spiritual power," he says, "Everyone has life force, but if it’s unfocused, it works against you. If you can compress and focus it, it becomes an awesome power. In the traditional way of training, we learn to focus, accumulate mana and use it for healing." As these abilities develop, so does what Dane calls the "wireless" in your head, the ability to communicate with spirit, with nature and with others, both living and dead, who supply information or come to assist in the healing. Echoing Aunty Mahealani, Dane says, "When I work, I’m surrounded by ancestors. Not only my family lineage, but the lineage of teachers as well. And their teachers." Well aware that to the uninitiated, this might sound like so much wishful delusion, he adds: "We risk being called nutcases when we talk about what we’ve seen. The only way to justify it is to say that many of us have seen it together."

Dane stresses that this ability to focus mana is not reserved for any priesthood or spiritual elite. "It’s just an increased awareness; anyone can learn it," he says. Still, there are risks, one of which is the growing number of people who have imperfect, diluted or fragmentary understanding of what they’re practicing. While Dane sees it as part of his kuleana, his responsibility, to promote Hawaiian healing, he also has accepted its corollary: protecting it from inauthentic practitioners. I ask him how the average person can know if someone’s a true kahuna? "If someone tells you they’re a kahuna," he says leaning into his words, "they’re not."

"There’s always a risk that native healing can be taken out of context or misapplied," agrees Pat Linton, executive director of Five Mountains Hawaii. Five Mountains is a small non-profit headquartered in Waimea whose mission is, in part, to promote the Big Island as a healing destination and to support indigenous medicine—in the twenty-first century. "Modifying the tradition to keep it relevant has always been an important part of that tradition," says Linton. "Papa Henry taught his students that laau lapaau began as a way of treating injuries caused by accidents and war wounds. Post-contact, the Hawaiians encountered infectious diseases, so they had to adapt laau to deal with new ailments. Today, the question is: How do we use laau to deal with the diseases of modern civilization, like cancer and chronic illness?"