top of page
Foggy Forest


Native Hawaiian Expert Teachers

Kathryn Braun

Aloha. I’m a relatively new member of PIMA and wanted to share some news from our research with Native Hawaiian expert teachers of traditional language, crafts, healing practices, and philosophy in Hawai‘i.

As background, it’s important to know that Native Hawaiians had a thriving and sophisticated social structure that was environmentally friendly and sustainable. Contact with Europeans and Americans brought disease as well as economic and social charges through which Hawaiians lost population, language, land, culture, and power. 

Even after contact, Hawai‘i was a self-ruling sovereign nation recognized by the UK and other countries. However, in 1892 the US overthrew the government and imprisoned the Queen, and the US declared Hawai‘i as its territory in 1898. Sustainable agriculture was replaced with large plantations, and Hawai‘i became a popular tourist destination and a strategic location for the US military.

Under US rule, educational and social policies were enacted that strongly discouraged residents from speaking Hawaiian and practicing their traditions. For example, children were whipped for speaking Hawaiian at school, so their parents stopped speaking to their children in Hawaiian. Most of the traditional practices went underground. Thus, few elders today know the language or practice Hawaiian ways.

The Hawai‘i Constitution was amended in 1978 to reverse these trends. Since then, Native Hawaiian immersion schools have been funded by the state, and today students can earn their elementary, secondary, and tertiary degrees in Hawaiian. 

To make this a reality, much of the knowledge of language and traditional practices have had to be resurrected. My colleagues and I recently published a book of stories featuring Native Hawaiian who have led this resurrection.

Ka Māno Wai: The Source of Life is the title of the book, which features 14 esteemed kumu loea (expert teachers) who are knowledge keepers of Hawaiian cultural ways. These elders reflect on how they learned their craft, how they are currently practicing it, and how they are teaching others.

Chapters feature expert teachers of Hawaiian spirituality, care of the dead, land management, healthy eating, language, song, conflict resolution, herbal healing, traditional massage, cordage, weapons, martial arts, law, and medicine.

The title of this book, Ka Māno Wai: The Source of Life, has multilayered meanings. Wai is the word for water. In the same manner that water sustains life, ancestral practices retain history, preserve ways of being, inform identity, and provide answers for health and social justice. The book is available through the University of Hawai‘i Press in hardcover and paperback.

About the Author

Dr. Kathryn L. Braun is a professor and Barbara Cox Anthony Endowed Chair of Aging at the University of Hawai‘i. She has a long career in research and evaluation to improve the health of Indigenous and minority populations. Her current scholarship focuses on helping Native Hawaiian elders document their personal stories of struggle, resilience, and meaning, offering lessons for service providers and young people. She also is an investigator on several federal grants to train the research and geriatric workforces in Hawai‘i. Email:


bottom of page