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Hoʻoponopono (ho-o-pono-pono) is an ancient Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness. Similar forgiveness practices were performed on islands throughout the South Pacific, including Samoa, Tahiti and New Zealand. Traditionally hoʻoponopono is practiced by healing priests or kahuna lapaʻau among family members of a person who is physically ill. Modern versions are performed within the family by a family elder, or by the individual alone.

File:Map of Hawaii NA.png

Map of Hawaii

Polynesian antecedents


Map of Oceania, use full resolution (3,89 MB) to see any Polynesian island east of New Guinea and west of Easter Island (Rapa Nui)

In many Polynesian cultures, it was believed that a person’s errors (called hara or hala) caused illness. Some believed error angered the gods, others that it attracted malevolent gods, and still others believed the guilt caused by error made one sick. “In most cases, however, specific ‘untie-error’ rites could be performed to atone for such errors and thereby diminish one’s accumulation of them.”[1]

Among the islands of Vanuatu in the South Pacific, people believe that illness usually is caused by sexual misconduct or anger. “If you are angry for two or three days, sickness will come,” said one local man.[2] The therapy that counters this sickness is confession. The patient, or a family member, may confess. If no one confesses an error, the patient may die. The Vanuatu people believe that secrecy is what gives power to the illness. When the error is confessed, it no longer has power over the person.[3]

Like many other islanders, including Hawaiians, people of Tikopia in the Solomon Islands, and on Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, believe that the sins of the father will fall upon the children. If a child is sick, the parents are suspected of quarreling or misconduct. In addition to sickness, social disorder could cause sterility of land or other disasters.[4] Harmony could be restored only by confession and apology.

In Pukapuka, it was customary to hold sort of a confessional over patients to determine an appropriate course of action in order to heal them.[5]

Similar traditions are found in Samoa,[6] Tahiti, [7] and among the Maori of New Zealand.[8][9] [10]

Traditional practice


Overlooking Kalalau Valley from Koke'e State Park, where Nana Veary held retreats to teach hoʻoponopono

File:Starr 050407-6273 Pandanus tectorius.jpg

The fruit of the hala tree is used to make a lei at the completion of hoʻoponopono in the tradition of kahuna Makaweliweli of Molokaʻi

“Hoʻoponopono” is defined in the Hawaiian Dictionary[11] as “mental cleansing: family conferences in which relationships were set right through prayer, discussion, confession, repentance, and mutual restitution and forgiveness.” Literally, hoʻo means “to”. Pono is defined as

“goodness, uprightness, morality, moral qualities, correct or proper procedure, excellence, well-being, prosperity, welfare, benefit, true condition or nature, duty; moral, fitting, proper, righteous, right, upright, just, virtuous, fair, beneficial, successful, in perfect order, accurate, correct, eased, relieved; should, ought, must, necessary.”

Ponopono is defined as “to put to rights; to put in order or shape, correct, revise, adjust, amend, regulate, arrange, rectify, tidy up, make orderly or neat.”

Preeminent Hawaiian scholar Mary Kawena Pukui wrote that it was a practice in Ancient Hawaii[12] and this is supported by oral histories from contemporary Hawaiian elders.[13] Pukui first recorded her experiences and observations from her childhood (born 1895) in her 1958 book.[14] Author Max Freedom Long, who lived in Hawaiʻi from 1917 to about 1926, documented traditional hoʻoponopono as used by Hawaiian families in his 1936 book.[15]

Although the word “hoʻoponopono” was not used, early Hawaiian historians documented a belief that illness was caused by breaking kapu, or spiritual laws, and that the illness could not be cured until the sufferer atoned for this transgression, often with the assistance of a praying priest (kahuna pule) or healing priest (kahuna lapaʻau). Forgiveness was sought from the gods[16] [17] or from the person with whom there was a dispute.[18]

Pukui described it as a practice of extended family members meeting to “make right” broken family relations. Some families met daily or weekly, to prevent problems from erupting.[19] Others met when a person became ill, believing that illness was caused by the stress of anger, guilt, recriminations and lack of forgiveness.[20] Kupuna Nana Veary wrote that when any of the children in her fmaily fell ill, her grandmother would ask ask the parents, "What have you done?" They believed that healing could come only with complete forgiveness of the whole family.[21]

Hoʻoponopono corrects, restores and maintains good relationships among family members and with their gods or God by getting to the causes and sources of trouble. Usually the most senior member of the family conducts it. He or she gathers the family together. If the family is unable to work through a problem, they turn to a respected outsider.

The process begins with prayer. A statement of the problem is made, and the transgression discussed. Family members are expected to work problems through and cooperate, not “hold fast to the fault.” One or more periods of silence may be taken for reflection on the entanglement of emotions and injuries. Everyone’s feelings are acknowledged. Then confession, repentance and forgiveness take place. Everyone releases (kala) each other, letting go. They cut off the past (ʻoki), and together they close the event with a ceremonial feast, called pani, which often included eating limu kala or kala seaweed, symbolic of the release.[22]

In a form used by the family of kahuna Makaweliweli of the island of Molokaʻi, the completion of hoʻoponopono is represented by giving the person forgiven a lei made from the fruit of the hala tree.[23]

“Aunty” Malia Craver, who worked with the Queen Liliʻuokalani Children's Centers (QLCC) for more than 30 years, taught courses in traditional hoʻoponopono. On August 30, 2000, she spoke about it to the United Nations.[24]

Modern uses

Traditional applications

In the late 20th century, courts in Hawaiʻi began to order juvenile and adult offenders to work with an elder who would conduct hoʻoponopono for their families. The hoʻoponopono is conducted in the traditional way, without court interference, with a practitioner picked by the family from a list of court-approved providers.[25]

Some native practitioners provide hoʻoponopono to clients who otherwise might seek family counseling.[26]

Freedom from Karma


The site of the partially restored remains of the village of Koaiʻe in the Lapakahi State Historical Park of the island of Hawaii, North Kohala district. Beginning in the early 20th century, this village has been a center for lapaʻau

In 1976 Morrnah Simeona, regarded as a healing priest or kahuna lapaʻau, adapted the traditional hoʻoponopono of family mutual forgiveness to the social realities of the modern day. For this she extended it both to a general problem solving process outside the family and to a psycho-spiritual self-help rather than group process.

Simeona’s version is influenced by her Christian (Protestant and Catholic) education and her philosophical studies about India, China and Edgar Cayce. Like Hawaiian tradition she emphasizes prayer. Unlike Hawaiian tradition, she describes problems as the effects of negative Karma, saying that “you have to experience by yourself what you have done to others,” and you are the creator of your life circumstances. Any wrong doing is memorized within oneself and mirrored in every entity and object which was present when the cause happened. As the Law of Cause and Effect predominates in all of life and lifetimes, the purpose of her version is mainly “to release unhappy, negative experiences in past Reincarnations, and to resolve and remove traumas from the ‘memory banks’.”[27] Karmic bondages hinder the evolution of mind, so that “(karmic) cleansing is a requisite for the expansion of awareness.”[28] Using her 14-step-process would dissolve those bondages.[29] She did not use mantras or conditioning exercises.

Her teachings include: there is a Divine Creator who takes care of altruistic pleas of Men; “when the phrase ‘And it is done’ is used after a prayer, it means Man’s work ends and God’s begins.”[30] ‘Self-Identity’ signifies, e.g. during the hoʻoponopono, that the 3 selves or aspects of consciousness are balanced and connected with the Divine Creator.[31] Different from egoistic prayers “altruistic prayers like hoʻoponopono, where you also pray for the release of other entities and objects, reach the Divine plane or Cosmos because of their high vibrations. From that plane the Divine energy or mana would come,”[32] which would transform the painful part of the memory of the wrong actions in all participants to Pure Light, on whatever plane they are existing; “all are set free.”[33] Through this transmutation in the mind the problems will lose their energy for physical effects, and healing or balancing is begun. In this sense, Simeona’s mana is not the same as the traditional Polynesian understanding of Mana.

Creating state of Zero

After Simeona's passing in 1992, her former student and administrator Hew Len, co-authored a book[34] claiming to teach Simeona's hoʻoponopono. Len makes no claim to be a kahuna. Contrary to Simeona's teachings, the book says that the main objective of hoʻoponopono is getting to “the state of Zero, where we have zero limits. No memories. No identity.”[35] To reach this state, called 'Self-I-Dentity', one has to repeat constantly the mantra, “I love you. Please forgive me. I'm sorry. Thank you.”[36] It is based on the principle of 100% responsibility,[37] taking responsibility for everyone's actions, not only for one's own. If one takes complete responsibility for one's life, then everything one sees, hears, tastes, touches, or in any way experiences is one's responsibility because it is in one's life.[38] The problem isn't with our external reality, it is with ourselves. To change our reality, we have to change ourselves. Total Responsibility advocates that everything exists as a projection from inside the human being.[39] As such, it is a modified version of the philosophy of solipsism.

See also


  1. Oliver, p. 157
  2. Parsons, p. 55
  3. Parsons, p. 61
  4. Parsons, p. 70
  5. Parsons, p. 151
  6. Parsons, p. 12
  7. Parsons, p. 159
  8. Parsons, p. 217
  9. Buck, pp. 405-6
  10. Handy, p. 242
  11. Pukui, Elbert
  12. Pukui, Haertig, Lee, p. 61-62, 67
  13. Chai, p.47-50
  14. Pukui, Handy, p. 184-5
  15. Long (1936) p. 246-248; Long (1948), pp. 250-2, 279, 303. Though not everything in these books is traditional Hawaiian, these particular sections are authentic descriptions of hoʻoponopono.
  16. Kamakau, p. 95
  17. Malo, p. 75 (English)
  18. Titcomb
  19. Chai, pp. 52-54
  20. Pukui, Haertig, Lee, p. 60
  21. Veary, p. 34
  22. Pukui, Haertig, Lee p. 60-80
  23. Lee, p. 49
  25. Steuterman, p. 34
  26. Shook
  27. Simeona, p. 36
  28. Simeona, p. 77
  29. Simeona, pp. 45-61
  30. Simeona, p. 51
  31. Simeona, p. 31
  32. Simeona, p. 25
  33. Simeona, p. 17
  34. Vitale, Len
  35. Vitale, Len, p. 31
  36. Vitale, Len, p. 32
  37. Vitale, Len, p. 41
  38. Vitale, Len, p. 22
  39. Vitale, Len, p. 24


  • Buck, Peter Te Rangi Hiroa, The Coming of the Maori, Wellington, Whitcombe and Tombs (1950)
  • Chai, Makana Risser, Na Moʻolelo Lomilomi: The Traditions of Hawaiian Massage & Healing, Bishop Museum Press (2005) ISBN 978-1-58178-046-8
  • Handy, E.S.Craighill Polynesian Religion, Kraus Reprint & Periodicals (1971)
  • Kamakau, Samuel, Ka Poʻe Kahiko (The People of Old), Bishop Museum Press (1992)
  • Lee, Pali Jae, Ho'opono, I M Publishing (2008)
  • Long, Max Freedom, Recovering the Ancient Magic, (1936) (reprinted Huna Press, 1978)
  • Long, Max Freedom, The Secret Science Behind Miracles, (1948) (reprinted De Vorss and Co., 1983)
  • Malo, Davida, (Chun, trans) Ka Moʻolelo Hawaii: Hawaiian Traditions, First Peoples Productions
  • Oliver, Douglas, Polynesia in Early Historic Times, Bess Press (2002) ISBN 978-1-57306-125-4
  • Parsons, Claire F., Healing Practices in the South Pacific, Institute for Polynesian Studies (1995) ISBN 978-0-939154-56-2
  • Pukui, Mary Kawena and Elbert, Samuel H., University of Hawaii (1986) ISBN 978-0-8248-0703-0
  • Pukui, Mary Kawena, Haertig, E.W. and Lee, Catherine, Nana i ke Kumu: Look to the Source, Vol 1, Hui Hanai (1983) ISBN 978-0-916630-13-3
  • Pukui, Mary Kawena, E.S. Craighill Handy, The Polynesian Family System in Kaʻu, Hawaii, 1958, Mutual Pub Co, (Hawaii 2006) ISBN 978-1-56647-812-0
  • Shook, Victoria E. Hoʻoponopono: Contemporary Uses of a Hawaiian Problem Solving Process, University of Hawaii Press (1986) ISBN 978-0-8248-1047-4
  • Simeona, Morrnah, Self-Identity through Hoʻoponopono, Basic 1, Pacifica Seminars (1990)
  • Steuterman, Kim Rogers, “Sacred Harmony,” Hawaii Magazine (Jan/Feb 2004)
  • Titcomb (1948) “Kava in Hawaii,” Journal of Polynesian Society, 57:105-171, 144
  • Veary, Nana, Change We Must: My Spiritual Journey, Institute of Zen Studies, Honolulu (1989) ISBN 978-1-877982-071
  • Vitale, Joe, Hew Len Ph.D., Zero Limits, Wiley (2007)

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