By Zach Royer
Please cast aside any notions you may have from Hollywood movies or TV of what the term Kahuna represented in the past, and still represents today. They were not witch doctors, but some were ( and possibly are ) practitioners of dark arts.
The word Kahuna is derived from Kahu, which means caretaker. Also, huna means secret; so together, a Kahuna was the keeper or caretaker of secret or sacred knowledge. In other words, a Kahuna was a professional expert of a given field of knowledge and practice. They were much like the guild masters of Medieval Europe, or indeed the Freemasons, in that their expertise was kept away from the prying eyes of the general public, and thus was kept secret.
Beyond being the leading practitioner of his or her craft or profession, each also acted as the interface between his “guild” so to speak, and its Patron and or Matron Spirits. Prayers and offerings were regularly made to the Spirit or Spirits in order to solicit Mana. This would include asking for special powers or energies, and solutions to problems of a technical or spiritual nature.
The Kahuna nui advised his Ali’i on spiritual matters, and conducted rituals in order to invoke spiritual help and guidance. The Luakini was the principle Heiau, and thereby the largest and most elaborate, where these rituals would usually be performed.
The Luakini Heiau were the Heiau of the Ali’i and were dedicated to Ku as the patron Spirit of politics and warfare. Food offerings were presented at the Luakini for Ku on a regular basis, because it was believed that if a spirit was not fed on a regular basis, he or she would drift away. When it was deemed necessary, the gift of a man was offered to Ku. An enemy slain in battle, or a convict or slave were the most common of these rare gifts. Only a healthy man was ever offered, not a woman, child, deformed man, or one of old age.
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