Kahuna were central to Hawaiian life and without them, nothing moved forward. They advised the chiefs and the people, and kept the culture intact. Kahuna were masters of many trades, but most commonly known for healing and foretelling the future. The kahuna had the ability to invoke the Gods with chants, prayers, or offerings to receive messages for the king.
For each major God, there was a special group of kahuna to perform services in his name. Creative arts of hula (dance), chant, and sculpture were under the control of the priestly artisans. The term kahuna derives from kahu or caretaker. In the event a person dies, the kahuna were the leading practitioners to ensure that the deceased were handled and cared for properly.
The kahuna had the ability to invoke the Gods with chants, prayers, or offerings to receive messages for the king. For each major God, there was a special group of kahuna to perform services in his name. Creative arts of hula (dance), chant, and sculpture were under the control of the priestly artisans.
The term kahuna derives from kahu, or caretaker. Kahuna were men of wisdom and respected by the people. They would dress in white malo (loin cloth) and white Kīhei (cloak), which signified sacredness, and pray before the kuahu and Heiau (altar or place of worship).
These prayers were often accompanied by sacrifices to the gods, embellished by ritual, enhanced by the beat of the pahu drum (prayer drum), or given the ultimate solemnity of complete silence among listeners. In the event a person dies, the kahuna were the leading practitioners to ensure that the deceased were handled and cared for properly.
Kāula - A prophet. Papa is a class/denomination. There were many prophets in the ancient days. Their main work was to foretell important events which were to occur in the future such as war, weather or a new king.
Kahuna ‘Aumakua - Performed ritual of offerings of animal sacrifices and offerings acceptable to the deities so that the soul of the dead person could live together with his spiritual guardians.
Kahuna Hoʻouluʻai - Agricultural experts
Kahuna Hui - a priest who functioned in ceremonies for the deification of a king (Malo).
Kahuna Huikala - Performed the ceremony of purification and had cleansed the place where the body had been.
Kahuna Kālai - Carving experts.
Kahuna Kālai Waʻa - Master canoe builders
Kahuna Kiʻi - Caretaker of images
Kahuna Kilo hōkū - Experts in weather, seasonal changes, astronomy and navigation.
Kahuna Kilokilo - Observed the skies for omens.
Kahuna Kuhikuhi puʻuone - One who locates the site for the construction of Heiau, or temples.
Kahuna Kuni - Performed autopsies to find out the cause of death.
Kahuna Lā’au Lapa'au - A medical practitioner especially skilled in herbal medicine.
Kahuna Nui - Advised the king on spiritual matters and conducted rituals. They deified the chief's body to be transformed into an ‘aumakua or guardian spirit to protect the families.
Kahuna Pule - Communicated directly with the Gods through prayer and chants.
Kahuna ‘anā‘anā - The priest who prayed for a person’s death. They were greatly feared and shunned as an assassin of the rich or greatly beloved. These priests were known for placing curses on the living as well as the dead.
Bones of the dead were considered to be prizes to these kahunas. On occasion, human bones were shaped into implements for personal gains, such as fish hooks, jewelry, and war weapons. Teeth were also extracted and used to decorate ceremonial bowls and sculptures.
The Kahuna ‘anā‘anā were very skilled in their craft-placing spells and curses on their victims. They were the outcast by the community, obscure and often dressed in dark clothing.
It is unknown how a Kahuna ‘anā‘anā was chosen to do their craft and do they still exist today. Kahuna ‘anā‘anā mission was to obtain power through a shred of clothing, a bit of hair, fingernails, or toenails to cause harm or death to their enemies. This kahuna would skillfully craft funerary sculptures and ki’i (statues) in different sizes and place them into a grave to harass the deceased spirit throughout his time in the afterlife.
If a person stole this object unknowingly from a cursed gravesite, he or she would suffer from the Kahuna ‘anā‘anā curse. Chanting were a method used to place a curse over the dead and spirit. Sometimes They would make images which were carved from the human bones. The deceased teeth extraction was also part of the dark spiritual craft by these people performed in the shadows of the night. To see a Kahuna ‘anā‘anā at work would have been to see evil itself.
In the Hawaiian custom, there was a constant battle between good and evil kahuna. Each cast its own spells and curses upon their rivals. The Kahuna Kuni was the priest in charge of performing rituals to ensure that the spirit of the deceased would travel safely into the afterlife. He would compose prayers to his Gods to ward off curses made by the Kahuna ‘anā‘anā. Good kahuna guided the people and often wore white cloaks and loin cloth.
Kahuna nui (head priest) showed his status by holding the symbol dedicated to the god of peace Lono. The sacred symbol a tall wooden pole which had a small image carved at its upper end. A cross piece was tied below the image from which were hung long banners of white Kapa (bark cloth), feather pennants, ferns and imitation birds. This was standard of Lono, the akua loa. The Kahuna Kuni would pray, his faith so strong that supernatural things would occur all around him.
The spiritual forces were so powerful that solid rocks would melt, and thunder and lightning would rumble and fill the sky. Any large trees that stood close by this ceremony withered as though they had been scorched by fire.
Kahuna and their followers dedicated their lives to appease the gods and to have a close connection with them in the afterlife. Hawaiians considered any alteration or removal of objects or bones from a burial site to be sacrilegious, as it was believed to disturb the spirit. If a burial was desecrated, the ‘uhane (spirit) would not descend to heaven, but instead remain in the Ao polohina (dark and hazy state).
Hawaiian Chant Translation
A-a ke ahi, ke ahi a ka po o Lani-pili.
Ai hea ke ahi, ke ahi a ka po o Lani-pili?
A i ka lani; make i ka lani;
Popo i ka lani; ilo i ka lani;
Punahelu i ka lani.
Hoolehua i ka lani ka make o kahuna anaana,
Me ka lawe-maunu, e Kane.
Ahi a Ku o ke ahi.
Kupu malamalama o ke ahi o ka po a,
Ahi a Kulu-a-lani e a ana.
Ku o Wakea, a ke ahi, he ahi no keia pule.
English Chant Translation
The fire burns of the night of Lani-pili.
Where burns the fire, fire of the night of Lani-pili?
It burns the heavens;
Death in the heavens; corruption in the heavens;
Maggots in the heavens; mildew in the heavens.
Heaven speed the death of the kahuna anaana,
And the one who got for him the maumu, O Kane.
It is the fires of Ku that burn.
Flash forth light of the burning night,
The fires of Kulu-a-lani are burning.
Wakea stands up and the fire burns, fire for this prayer.