Within my culture, we have something called Lāʻau Lapaʻau — translated simplistically as “curing medicine.” From my experience, acknowledging healing not only as a practice but something ingrained within us is rarely, if at all, emphasized due to the dominant western perspective in healthcare.
Many of my people, especially Lāʻau Lapaʻau practitioners, continue to devote their lives to instilling practices and ways of healing that we can partake in at home and especially with our families.
Since I am new to healing as a practice, I continue to ask myself and learn about what this process means. How can centering healing within my life help others around and within my lāhui, Hawaiian for community, to thrive?
Rather than temporary fixes, Lāʻau Lapaʻau revolves around sustainable cures.
As I open up this discussion, I want to note that I am not a Lāʻau Lapaʻau practitioner. Lāʻau Lapaʻau requires a special level of ancestral knowledge, acquired through years of studying under a kumu, Hawaiian for teacher, or succession of teachers who also studied under other kumu Lāʻau Lapaʻau.
This genealogy of ancestral wisdom is not something that anyone can teach themselves in a few days. My discussion around healing is inspired by Lāʻau Lapaʻau and the general values I have personally taken from this practice that is directly a part of my Hawaiian identity.
Having attended presentations by several respected practitioners, I understand that Lāʻau Lapaʻau not only focuses on healing yourself or someone else using native herbs and plants but on long term lifestyle changes. Rather than temporary fixes, Lāʻau Lapaʻau revolves around sustainable cures. Moreover, I noticed that Indigenous ways of healing always start with family as the center; in taking care of our families, we take care of generations to come.
Through my own reflection, I see how much of a toll years of suppression has done to my people. I continue to notice the repercussions of an imperialist dominated world — one that was once foreign to my ancestors. Native Hawaiians are now among the highest populations affected by houselessness, substance abuse, and diabetes here in Hawaiʻi.
We may not always see the repercussions of not taking care of ourselves until visible signs of fatigue appear.
By returning to our original ways of healing and prioritizing addressing the things that weigh heavily upon us, we can find solutions to current problems that date back to a longer chain of colonization and illegal occupation.
Yet, healing is not easy. True healing takes time in order to unpack generations of pain that stem back to our great-great-great grandparents. As kānaka, we can turn to our relationship with kalo, Hawaiian for taro, as an example of the importance of healing.
The modern propagation of kalo, photographed above, traces back to the same kalo that our kūpuna, ancestors, once grew. Each time a new shoot springs up, it can propagate into its own plant. When we choose to neglect our kalo, however, it will start to wilt and die. This process, similar to our own life journey, unfolds slowly, and we may not always see the repercussions of not taking care of ourselves until visible signs of fatigue appear.
Throughout life, it is inevitable that we will be tasked with holding people accountable and sparking conversations that can burden us mentally, physically, and emotionally. As BIPOC we may sometimes notice the unrealistic expectation to be both advocates for ourselves and representatives of our entire culture — especially when entering white spaces.
This general sense I have taken from Lāʻau Lapaʻau also applies to anyone outside of my culture, as true liberation requires us to take healing seriously.
In addressing our heaviest emotions when we feel the most at pain, we will start to notice that this one action may lead us to an entire lifestyle shift. We must continue to remind ourselves that in healing and showing up for ourselves, we also heal our communities, our families, and generations of life-long healers to come.
Last Updated 9/22/20
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