An ancient art for modern times
The Lomi Lomi style of holistic bodywork is often referred to as 'the Rolls Royce of massage' that's best known for the deeply relaxing long strokes that sweep the body from tip to toe, over and under, massaging two areas simultaneously and fully engaging the senses so that stress evaporates. As well as being deeply healing, this massage style can also be a divine or transcendental experience.
While Lomi Lomi or Kahuna style massage is thought of as having its roots in Hawaii and other Pacific Islands, it's actual beginnings were likely bought from India as Hindu's have been sailing the Pacific for thousands of years. This massage has many modern counterparts; in the USA it's known as Esalen massage, Chiromassage in Russia and Holistic Bodywork in other places.
There are Lomi Lomi teachers world wide and many videos available presenting many different interpretations. The American regulatory system has so restrained Lomi Lomi that it is no longer recognisable as Lomi Lomi. Some Australian teachers like Tracey Lakainapali are reputed to run excellent courses that are true to the spirit of the massage.
The Hawaiian word Lomi Lomi can mean 'going to and from', 'to knead', 'to squeeze' or 'to make soft' and other similar definitions. In Pukui and Elbert's Hawaiian dictionary Lomi Lomi is described as "to work in and out, as the claws of a contented cat." But for a person raised in the Pacific, lomi lomi simply means massage and this massage style varies according to each practitioners interpretation and ability.
To understand Lomi Lomi, it's helpful to understand that the Hawaiian peoples are genetically related to the Tlingit of Southern Alaska who in turn are related to Tibetans and that elements of Tibetan traditions reportedly still exist in Hawaii. Over 5000 years ago, Tamils (from south India) travelled the pacific and shared their spiritual understanding which we see in the pre European - colonisation Hawaiian culture.
This means that the Hawaiian traditions are more universal than what many people think and the Huna wisdom and Lomi Lomi traditions originate from Vedic India; even the twin hull canoe (catamaran) was first invented in Tamil Nadu and the seedlings for groves of sandalwood trees on Hawaii are from India (Is Huna a derivation of Hindu?). There is no doubt that the Islanders would have some experience of massage as it's instinctual, but Hindu knowledge shaped it into what it was 500 years ago.
Unfortunately, a lot of Island culture has been lost and the massage its'self has been watered down or 'sanitized' in accordance with US political correctness. So little remains of the real art of massage or Lomi Lomi; a massage style without any clear definition.
The Pacific Island Culture was tribal with kings or chiefs, a well established hierarchy and extensive inter island travel and trade. The sea provided well and they practised subsistence agriculture growing poi and other vegetables.
The Hawaiian chain as with many island groups existed as many independent kingdoms and was only merged into one country after 1810 with the help of European weapons, so there would have been some variance between healing methods and attitudes between the different islands.
The people were free and easy going, the functional need for clothing was minimal and what little clothing they wore was more to do with decoration, rank or social status and ceremony rather than for warmth or preserving modesty, a concept not known until the arrival of the Christianity.
The island religion or belief system was one of kapu; a taboo system based on the ancient Hawaiian religion which venerated various gods, goddesses, nature and the elements. This required a veneration of nature as prescribed by the priests or shaman and punishment for wrongdoing often meant that one ended up in the cooking pot, or sacrificed to the gods.
The major health problems were social stresses similar to what we experience today, the most common health problems were injuries like cuts, bruises and broken bones. They had a well developed huna or health care system where massage played a major role in healing and balancing body energy.
Interestingly, Huna is the original art and science of healing and spiritual development of all the peoples of the earth, not just Hawaiians, but it isn't for everyone, it's for those who want to know more about who we are and the nature of the world we live in.
British Captain James Cook is credited with being the first European to discover Hawaii in 1787, although some oral traditions and scholars hold that the Spaniards — who first crossed the Pacific Ocean in 1522 had regularly crossed from Peru to the Philippines by the late 1500s and also inadvertently made landfall in Hawaii without correctly mapping or claiming credit their accomplishment. When Cook arrived, he was well received and some Hawaiians thought he might even be an incarnation of their god Lono, whose sign was white kapa or tapa cloth like the sails of Captain Cook's ship.
For the European sailors after months at sea, the acres of bare flesh and the Pacific's free love attitude were a great delight and the ship crews besides participating in exploiting the natural resources exploited the women and left them with venereal and other diseases.
But when the first Christian missionaries arrived in 1820's, the people had been exposed to 30 years of interference and new diseases which is probably one of the reasons why they quickly converted to Christianity and abandoned the age-old religion which had taught them the value of fear and perhaps the missionaries were able to exploit this. Certainly it must have appeared that these foreigners with their ships and weapons must be right?
The missionaries made the islanders wear clothes and as the western education system was introduced, traditional culture and practices were outlawed and many traditions died. Although some elements of language and culture survive, they have become removed from the original that existed 220 years ago.
Lomi lomi is perhaps best known for the giver using his or her forearms and making generous sweeps over the muscle groups and getting to tight areas with an elbow.
The Polynesians are no small people making massage with the hands a great challenge to penetrate powerful muscles and be effective in releasing stresses, and with years of practise, using the hands alone for deep tissue work eventually incapacitates the hands and the life of the practitioner. Therefore adopting forearm techniques allows the practitioner to apply deeper pressure with less effort as well as extending his or her career length.
]A consequence of using the forearms is that there is a physically closer and more intimate connection between giver and receiver. The Polynesians who seldom wore clothes and were sexually liberal learned that in order to get the job done and return the person to wholeness, the massage was ritualised beginning with prayers to set the intent of giver and receiver making the massage a more spiritual practise.
Lomi Lomi today in the Pacific Islands is a different massage than it was 200 years ago. It has been underground, but also modified as the people themselves changed to suit the changing social climate and beliefs of the new population which consisted of some 250,000 migrants that vastly outnumbered the native Hawaiians.
We live in an age of change, recently in the 60's and 70's there was the surge of liberalism and holistic growth, now we are seeing a contraction and a narrowing of human values along with the emergence of the corporate state where the citizens are slaves to corporate will; but that is another subject.
An Ancient Initiation
Ages have passed since Ho'omaka (the initiate) was been laid out on a long black solid block of lava rock, 4 feet high, by 6 feet by 3 feet. Around the lava rock in each corner and in the centre on each side was a Kukui nut oil lamp that provided light for the five Kahuna to do their work. As the initiate lay there the Kahuna Lomilomi massaged the Ho'omaka for what seemed like days. As they worked, their chants reverberated into the cool night air.
Kau ka hali‘a i ka manawa - A memory appears
He hiamoe ko‘u - at the time of sleep
Ho‘ala na o‘e - Awaken, you
‘O ‘oe ‘o Halaulani O Halaulani
‘O Hoakalei O Hoakalei
Me he manu e kani nei - With the singing of the birds
I te tuahiwi, i te tualono - in the mountain ridges
Ku‘u maha lehua - Is my peaceful lehua
Ku‘u moho ki‘eki‘e la i uka. - My champion of the uplands.
I uka ho‘i au me ‘oe Laka e - To the uplands I return with you, o Laka
I ka nahelehele T- o the deep forest
I hoa ka‘ana no ia tuahiwi, tualono - A companion to share the mountain regions
E ho‘i mai. - Return....
Each day the Ho'omaka went, he felt, deeper and deeper into himself.
This chant is a traditional oli invoking the patron goddess of hula, Laka. It can also be used as a mele kahea or as a ka‘i for the hula pahu. Listen
Three Traditional Principal Lomi Lomi Forms
The initiate would be led in and laid essentially on/at the altar where one or oftentimes four or more Kahuna would massage the initiate for as long as it took.
The kahuna and/or talented healers and caregivers would treat the ill regularly until they were well.
- Luxurious pampering for citizens of rank.
Typically several skilled young women/men would treat ranking males/women with treatments which varied from pure healing relaxation to sensual and erotic bliss.
Lomi Lomi Today
As noted above, there were some differences in the approach to health and healing between the island nations and it is very likely that massage was more developed and more popular in some islands than on others which means that of the few remaining native practitioners and teachers, there is also some variation in philosophy and methodology.
Now that Lomi Lomi has been popularised, there are teachers appearing all over the world, some using the wards Lomi Lomi, others Chiromassage or Esalen Massage. However I see these simply as variations of Lomi Lomi.
As with any massage, it must be absorbed by the student and the student adapts the massage to their own personality when they put it into practice, so the form of the massage changes slightly as normally happens when treating two different people.
Over time as the therapist becomes the teacher, it is almost impossible for them to teach the exact massage they learned many years ago, they add in the results of their experience and knowledge causing the massage to evolve.
The evolution of the massage is also caused by social changes with church and state regulating terms and conditions for massage, and that public attitudes to the human body keep shifting.
In the 1960's it was as though a veil was lifted and the human body became worthy of celebration and now in the 21st century, the veil seems to be coming down again as the economic depression gathers. Are we once again entering a time of narrow mindedness and repression?
For massage, it may mean that political correctness may be the way of the future, so that when going for a massage or performing a massage, the legs will end at the mid thigh and the hips which suffer greatly from stress will no longer be treated except maybe for hip replacement surgery? Of course then, massage will not be able to be used to ease abdominal discomfort or to prevent and detect breast abnormalities.... the list could go on as the powers that be seek absolute dominion over the people of the world continue to grow.
Wise Secrets of Aloha: Learn and Live the Sacred Art of Lomilomi
Kahuna Healing (Quest Books)
Cover image courtesy of Peter Hegre tantra massage