Kumu: A Title of Fact, Fiction or Distraction?

In the past, it was very respectful to address a teacher of a particular profession in Hawaii as Kumu.  Traditionally, it was an identifier given by a community to a master teacher who carried on the responsibilities within their profession.  It was an honor given to this master by the collective based on that person’s abilities and connection to their community.  Part of the Kumu’s responsibilities was to offer their expertise to the needs of the community and in return the community provided whatever support the Kumu required to meet those needs.

Today, I am seeing more and more people identifying themselves as Kumu “so and so” or Kumu of “this or that.”  This is especially true when it comes to teaching a form of Hawaiian healing class.  I guess the term kumu has evolved into a title of authority?  I’ve often wondered, does the title make the person or does the person make the title?  Why do we need a title in the first place?  Who assigns these titles anyway?  None of my Hawaiian healing teachers ever called themselves a Kumu nor did they advertise themselves as a Kumu.  They neither demanded nor required that they be addressed as a Kumu.  This is also true with the recognition as a Kahuna.  So why is there a noticeable increase in the word kumu in front of people’s name?  Some of them are Hawaiians and some are non-Hawaiians.  Is there a school of Hawaiian healing that certifies these people that I don’t know about?  Is there a revised system of traditional Kumu-ism that is being revisited?  What’s going on?  I know there are protocols within the hula groups, but within the Hawaiian healing circles that I have been involved in, it’s much different.  Learning to assist in the healing of the body, mind and soul requires a lifetime of experiences.

Kumu is a term usually used in the context within the Hawaiian culture although not limited to it.  Some examples are; Kumu Hula – a teacher of hula; Kumu Lomi – a teacher of lomilomi; Kumu La’au Lapa’au – a teacher of herbal medicine; and Kumu Haha – a teacher of diagnostics or medical intuition.

The word kumu has many translations.  It refers to a red fish (goat fish), a trunk of a tree, a source or origin of something, a sweetheart, good looking, foundation, title (as to land or position), a purpose or reason, and a name of a variety of red stalked taro.

I have been involved in the Hawaiian healing ways since the age of 6.  In all those years not once did any of my Hawaiian teachers require that they be addressed as a Kumu or promoted themselves as a Kumu.  It was not something that they aspired to become one day within their community and within a certain profession.  I should mention, however, that up to a certain point in the evolution of the Hawaiian people, children went through a selection process to carry on a particular profession.  It was a lifetime of learning that the child was committed to, but to my knowledge, this has not happened since the early 1900’s.  This is true in Kona at least.

The basic premise in learning a skill or gaining knowledge especially from a Hawaiian perspective is to have the ability to provide the best service or expertise possible to others without causing injury or emotional distress to the receiver.  The skill or expertise gained can be used for the exchange of energy, be it money, products, services etc.

The intentions of why an individual wants to learn something, however, will determine the quality of that outcome.  For example, taking a class for one’s personal agenda versus genuinely wanting to expand one’s awareness in healing creates two entirely different outcomes.  In my thirty plus years of teaching Hawaiian medicine and modalities, I have seen those with personal agendas falter and have limited success.  Those that applied their studies for the greater-good almost always sustained financial success as well as growth in wisdom.  Going into a lomi class with the idea of teaching the course one day takes away from the potential of being the best practitioner possible.  Whether you see the correlation or not, the fact is from a Hawaiian indigenous mindset, you must have experience just to become a good practitioner.  From time to time I have seen a few students from my class and other Hawaiian teacher’s class return to their hometown and immediately offer the same class as if they were experts.  In the early 80’s a student of Aunty Margaret Machado wrote a book on lomi verbatim from Auntie’s notes!  She did this the same year she took the class!  In my sixteen years with Aunty Margaret, not once did I ever consider becoming a teacher.  It was later in life that the community-at-large expressed the need for me to carry forward the knowledge and wisdom handed down from a lineage of Hawaiian healers.

The role of the Kumu is to help students strengthen their sense of responsibility.  The role of the student is to help the Kumu lighten that load.  It is a key element in the relationship between student (Haumana) and teacher (Kumu).   It is a connection that lightens as it strengthens.  Sadly, a few so called, “Kumu” mislead many followers with embellished information and fictitious or no lineage connection to a Hawaiian source.  I can see why it is so hard to find the “real deal!”  How can anyone become a teacher just by taking one class? The “rabbit hole” goes very deep in Hawaiian healing concepts and modalities.  I know some of my Hawaiian teachers questioned the integrity of a few self-proclaimed na Kumu (teachers).  In Aunty Margaret’s words, “what are they teaching?”

Often I am asked, how does one find a true teacher of Hawaiian healing knowledge?  How will I recognize him or her?  Can you point me in the right direction?  Aunty Margaret was unique.  She practiced what she taught and taught what she practiced.  A teacher should live their talk and talk what they live.  It is about continuous practice of expansion and self-study.  For a teacher, the student is never wrong or slow or inept.  When I hear a teacher complain about a student, I think there is trouble with that teacher.  There is a famous quote by William Arthur Ward.  “The mediocre teacher tells, the superior teacher demonstrates, the great teacher inspires.”  If the student does not understand the information given, then the teacher must inquire within as to how to better impart that knowledge.  What other avenues can be used to explain a concept.  Creativity is a key ingredient in the bag of tools available to the teacher.

The bond between a Haumana and a Kumu is like two outrigger canoes in the open ocean, each filled with paddlers and a steersman.  If the canoe in the back gets close enough to the lead canoe, it can assist that canoe by pushing it forward from the wake it creates at its bow.  As long as the lead canoe keeps its momentum going forward the rear canoe can assist its progress. The rear canoe represents the Kumu and the lead canoe represents na Haumana (the students).  I like this metaphor because it suggests the deep bond of trust that must exist between teacher and student.  The more the student advances, the more the teacher can give to the student.  I have always felt the nudging by my teachers in my voyage of learning and I still feel them long after they have left this plain.  I shall always seek the expansion of knowledge and wisdom for the greater-good.

The teacher’s entire responsibility is to the student. Their role is to help each student evolve to their highest potential.  There is no agenda to mold a student according to the teacher’s ideas or purpose.  The teacher can provide a safe environment by holding sacred space. This allows the opportunity to guide the student with tools beyond the subject matter of the class or workshop.

My role as a teacher is one that encourages the waking of our group consciousness so each individual can see what his or her true potential can be.  There are eleven instructors in the Mana Lomi organization and every two years we get together to share and discuss how we can better ourselves as teachers.  We don’t look down or up at anyone, but rather “eye to eye.” You will never hear me ask to be called a Kumu nor will you see me advertise as one.  My name is Maka’ala and my title is “Life.”


Thank you


About Maka'ala

Maka'ala is a Kanaka Maoli (Hawaiian ancestry) trained in Hawaiian medicine practices since the age of six. He is the founder of Indigenous Botanicals and Mana Lomi®. He enjoys traveling around the world teaching Hawaiian principles and concepts of being well. In 2005 he was awarded the "Kaonohi Award" for excellence in Hawaiian medicine and community support. He is the author of "Na'auao Ola Hawaii - Hawaiian Principles of Being Well." Maka'ala is the Ambassador-at-large and Minister of Health for the Polynesian Kingdom of Atooi. His focus is "breaking the blueprint" from disease and illness and his mission is "bringing the healer back into the family."
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12 Responses to Kumu: A Title of Fact, Fiction or Distraction?

  1. Kaulana Scalise Jr says:

    Mahalo a nui loa ia ‘oe, Maka’ala.

  2. Right on Maka’ala! This is the same as so many self-proclaimed gurus. A real guru does not give himself the title, he has studied at the feet of master for many years, is one who is already God realized and carries and lifts those who wish to experience the realization, without judgment, only support. You share the pure message of Hawaiian healing.
    God bless,

  3. asz says:

    all true healing comes from the creator and we are just instrusments for the higher work to come thru us and I so appriciate what you said, being some one who has been given a gift to channel healing, I never call my self a healer just a humor therapist, as laughter is the best medicine.

  4. Carol says:

    This is beautifully written and conveys the truth, as you have taught me and as what I believe is my truth. You continue to bless me with the wake of your canoe, and with that momentum I can better assist the haumana that lead me through these waters I have chosen. The gifts that have been offered through the true Hawaiians and Hawaiians-at-heart also buoy up my vessel, which makes the voyage more joyful and fulfilling. You are the one who has continually encouraged me to do my best and be my best, and it is because of you that I humbly teach this beautiful healing potential of Mana Lomi. Mahalo to you, Kumu Maka’ala, and those who came before and continue to push your canoe! Aloha.

    • chris says:

      How much truth can there be from a someone condemning titles in one breath and then giving himself one in the next?

      • Maka'ala says:

        It is a contradiction in truth, but what are you referring to? Am I really condemning titles or are you referring to someone else? I think the article was very clear as to the use of a title. Anyone who knows me, knows what my truth is.

  5. katie says:

    May we repost in Hawaii Health Guide Health Talk? Great info here!

  6. Harry Jim says:

    enjoyed the dialog. Certainly feels that this kumu is in the center of himself. This is a Kumu recognized by the act. honored for sincerity, and respected for effectiveness. We are right to observe marketing as a center point of this consumer culture… We are accurate to notice that has nothing to do with teaching healing….. Faith is always personal, and never private.
    love prevailing. .

  7. Aloha Maka’ala,
    I truly understand what you are saying here.
    I have a wonderful Halau in Juneau Alaska, my students are warm, caring and wanting
    to know more of our culture through dance, chants of both Auana and Kahiko.
    I grew up in the old Hawaii, my training from my grandmother who spoke Hawaiian, grew up traditionally.

    I still recall the grass huts in Honolulu, Waikiki where we congregated, seeing all of our family and friends gather to talk and dance. We knew at an early age what a Kahuna was and what that station represented. Growing up there was never Halaus or Kumus as it is now. All was taught by our grandmother, by my grandmothers sisters who were our source of learning who we are as Hawaiians.

    Many of us live in two or more worlds..due to our heritage we are not only Hawaiians, we have mixture of Japanese, Filipinos, Indians and so on. Being Hapa taught me to be humble while growing up. I learned so much from my own heritage, from this has made me stronger as a person, more so as a human being first.

    I love teaching both Kahiko and Auana, I am still learning who I am as a Hawaiian, I am still learning my Hawaiian language, I am so grateful that I am able to do this.

    Your question: Is there a revised system of traditional Kumu-ism that is being revisited?
    I really don’t know, many of us who lived in the traditional upbringing and seeing or witnessing the new modern era of what Kumu-ism is turning out to be. Time will only tell what grows out of being a Kumu or theorizes what a Kumu should be.

  8. Siovhan Hutcherson says:

    Beautifully said. Thank you, Maka’ala, for sharing. Truly, humility of spirit opens us all to serve as more clear channels through which God’s goodness and healing virtue can flow. I feel like the foundation of that humility is in realizing you don’t create or “own” the knowledge or gifts, but with a right attitude can be in the right position for it to come through you to share freely with others. You have to have maturity, yet maintain the heart of a child, to walk it out….truly, its a balance. At least that’s how I perceive it! Enjoying this!

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