by Betty Fullard-Leo
Auntie Margaret Kalehuamakanoelulu'onapali Machado held both my hands in her firm grip and prayed softly in Hawaiian. "'Amene," she concluded, peering intently into my face. "You have pain, tightness in your right shoulder." Unerringly she poked the spot that made me wince. At 82, Auntie Margaret is a modern kahuna lomilomi, schooled in the old ways by her grandfather and now passing her skills on to a younger generation at classes conducted on the lana'i of her Ke'ei beach home.
Lomilomi massage was one of the most often used forms of physical therapy in old Hawai'i. It was often a family occupation with methods varying from family to family, though generally the village kahuna would train the family member who was destined to inherit the knowledge over a period of years to be sure of his ability as a lomilomi healer.
Having a massage was not simply a way to relax for half an hour; it was a comprehensive spiritual and physical ritual that began with prayer and continued with cleansing the body internally and externally. Herbal teas or a sea water-freshwater mix acted as a purgative to eliminate toxic wastes from the body. Red clay or Hawaiian salt might be rubbed on the skin to facilitate external cleansing as preparation for the massage while the patient alternately relaxed in a steam hut, then plunged into the ocean, which helped to increase circulation. Auntie Margaret also uses herbs gathered from her yard-aloe for burns and other skin ailments, kukui to cleanse the colon-and at the back of her house, students can relax in a steam room at the end of a grueling day.
Once on the massage table in days of old, a patient's strained muscles and inflamed joints might be wrapped with ti leaves-generally believed to ward off evil spirits. The kahuna lomilomi chanted and prayed for all pain to be removed, as his hands began a general massage over the entire body. The massage might be intended to relieve bronchitis, to reposition an unborn child in the womb, to relieve sprains and other aches, or to shape long, slender fingers on a baby destined to dance the hula. Kahuna lomilomi might use heated stones to speed circulation to badly sprained areas, and when deeper massage seemed necessary, lomilomi sticks might be employed, or the therapist might even walk on the patient's back.
A kahuna lomilomi might also use chiropractic methods on toe and finger joints, neck and spine. During treatment, a patient was expected to think healing thoughts. The kahuna completed the treatment by placing his fingertips on the patient's forehead and navel and having him breathe deeply.
Kahuna knew they could transfer their thoughts into the patient's subconscious, similar to mild hypnosis, to instill feelings of well-being, and they believed they could transfer their own vital energy into a person who was sick.
Today, Auntie Margaret is possibly the most esteemed kahuna lomilomi in the Islands. At her Big Island home near Napo'opo'o, she offers three-week training sessions to develop "the loving touch" in those who truly wish to learn the art of Hawaiian massage. Her assistant, Doctor Mark Lamore teaches anatomy and physiology in classes that run from eight in the morning to five in the afternoon. Often, massage therapists come from far-flung corners of the world-Sweden, Germany, Australia, Guam-to learn and take Auntie's methods home with them. Her soothing voice, calm demeanor and strong hands seem to embody an accepted definition of the aim of Hawaiian massage: "Lomilomi is an attitude on the part of the therapist, who must be clean and positive in mind, body and spirit...the (patient) trusts that lomilomi can help and comes from a higher power." Auntie Margaret explains it more directly, "Hawaiian lomilomi is praying work."
For those who wish to experience lomilomi, luxury hotels, such as The Orchid at Mauna Lani, Four Seasons Hawai'i at Hualalai, and Kona Village have incorporated Hawaiian healing traditions into treatments offered at their spas. At The Orchid Hotel, spa director Jean Sunderland, a former student of Auntie Margaret's, has introduced the "spa without walls" concept by taking massage sessions out of doors into cabanas by the sea, where the sounds of lapping waves and an affinity with nature increase the soothing effects, just as in old Hawai'i. Unique Hawaiian oils concocted of ki, maile, sandalwood, pikake, tuberose and other plants are used during massages at The Orchid.
At the Four Season's Resort at Hualalai most of the massage therapists have completed training sessions at Auntie Margaret's, and she has given her approval of resort programs by blessing the fitness facility. One of her students, Maryann Rose Broyles works both at Four Seasons and at the neighboring Kona Village Resort, where spas have been designed to reflect a Hawaiian sense of place, sans marble and glittery accouterments, with massages administered in open garden areas or thatch-roofed hales. Broyles concocts aromatherapy oils, some with Hawaiian scents and ingredients such as plumeria, kukui oil and macadamia nut oil that are used during lomilomi. She has taken Auntie's instructions to heart and prays before treatment sessions. She says, "Patients don't have to know, prayer can be silent, but they will feel it and open their hearts to you. I practice ho'oponopono, too." Auntie explains the necessity of ho'oponopono: "Before the sun sets every day, you must empty your heart of jealousy and anger." A student who overhears adds, "With Auntie Margaret, you can feel her unconditional love."
The Big Island's Kohala Coast is gradually gaining a reputation as a wellness destination, a place to tone flabby muscles along resort jogging trails and in hotel workout rooms, but also a place to find peace of mind, spirit and body under the hands of massage therapists trained by a kahuna lomilomi in the secrets of ancient massage.
photo credit: Betty Fullard-Leo
Readers may submit editorial comments to any of our stories by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We would be happy to attach your comments and feedback to anything we publish online. Thank you for your interest.
Story appeared originally in Coffee Times print magazine and appears online for archival purposes only. Any use or reprinting of these stories without the expressed written consent of the author is prohibited.