Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Changes in Kanaka Maoli Men's Roles and Health: Healing the Warrior Self

Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Changes in Kanaka Maoli Men's Roles and Health: Healing the Warrior Self

Article excerpt

In the 225 years of contact with the Western colonial powers, the health and well-being of Kanaka Maoli (Hawaiian) men has declined dramatically. Studies seeking the causes for these adverse changes in morbidity and mortality do not demonstrate specific physiological or environmental sources for these declines in vitality. This paper describes pre-contact cultural structures that shaped and guided the lives of these men toward constructive and healthy ends. The authors pose an argument for sociocultural factors that may be noteworthy in understanding lifestyle choices made by pre-contact Maoli males. Some of these practices are considered for possible revival since they may produce positive changes in current negative health realities for modern Kanaka Maoli men.

Keywords: Kanaka Maoli (Hawaiian) men, men's health, cultural trauma, cultural trauma syndrome, cultural wounding, male warriors, colonization, rituals

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   The survival of a culture depends as much, if not more, on the
   continued existence, recognition, and celebration of a coherent
   self-perception--on the preservation of a cultural identity--as it
   does on the continued existence of a sustained population or physical
   boundaries ... a culture can be destroyed or supplanted by
   other means than genocide or territorial conquest. A culture's
   identity is defined by its deepest values: the values its citizens
   believe are worth defending, worth dying for.... And it is that
   "way of life" that warriors fight to maintain. (French, 2002)

Early European explorers arriving in what today is called Hawai'i remarked on the amazing health and vigor of the indigenous Kanaka Maoli population (Beckwith, 1932, p. 74). In the 250 years since its first contact with Western colonial powers, the resident culture of the Hawaiian archipelago has undergone a series of traumatic changes; some initiated by the indigenous population, but most forced upon it by contact with the modern world. The loss of an indigenous sense of self, one with a clear sense of traditional roles and responsibilities for native men, has removed Kanaka Maoli males from connection to values and practices that once sustained their vitality and well-being at the highest level. One marker of these changes is that modern Hawaiian men are consistently categorized by the most grievous of health status indicators. Studies in environmental factors and genetics have not fully answered questions as to why these declines have occurred and why increases in morbidity and mortality are so virulent in this specific population demographic.

In this paper an explanatory model for understanding how social history impacts group health and well-being--cultural trauma syndrome--is presented. Special attention is given to pre-contact Kanaka Maoli men's roles as the physical and spiritual protectors of their society. Through examination of changes in these roles, with special attention to indigenous warrior values and practices, the reader is introduced to a plausible cause for the decline in health and well-being of Kanaka Maoli men in the colonial period (1778 to present). Also, the way back to health through a process of healing education and cultural renewal is examined.

While focused on the warrior archetype and role, this paper is not a call for a revival of the ways of war making by modern Hawaiian men, for they already swim in an ocean of anger and grief. This paper is instead a call for restoring the fullness of the values underpinning pre-contact Kanaka Maoli warrior traditions. These traditions encompass education, moral development, physical health, and social responsibility, all within the borders of a structure of life-giving values. Amplification of these practices and values will allow present-day Hawaiian men to re-establish a state of personal and collective wholeness and allow them to once more be Maoli, spiritually true. As was done in the past, following these traditions is likely the most efficacious path for modern Hawaiian men to realize their journey out of dire circumstances to a fullness of health and vitality. …

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