Pacific American-News Journal
`Aukake - August 1996 Volume 2 Issue 8
A CHOICE OF CURE
by Martha Noyes
I first heard about Kalua Kaiahua a year ago when I was at
`Ulupalakua Ranch on Maui, working on a documentary about
Hawai'i's legendary paniolo, Ikua Purdy. Some of the people there
talked of Papa Kalua. They said he was a gifted Hawaiian healer
who lived on Maui. They talked of some of the people he had
healed, and they told me he wouldn't see just anyone.
Because of this, I didn't look for him. But I remembered his
name and the things that had been said, and I hoped that one day
I would meet him.
I have lupus, Some people may find it bewildering that I'm not
a great fan of Western medicine, even though my father is a
physician and my mother is a psychologist. Since my father's work
was largely at the leading edge of medical research, I've always
been comfortable with the understanding that the science of
medicine is both young and imprecise. Research is necessarily
experimental, and inherent in the experimental process is
acknowledgment of the unknown. In short, doctors don't have all
My disillusionment with traditional Western medicine is not
the result of any one experience. It comes from an accumulation
of experiences, and it is a disenchantment, not a denial. Western
medical practices have great value; they simply do not contain
all that is valuable.
One personal biological idiosyncrasy in particular has made me
wary of most Western medicine. If a drug has potential side
effects, there's a good chance I'll experience them, sometimes -
as in the case of aspiring and sulfa drugs - to a
Another factor that has contributed to my disenchantment is
that I'm a bit uncomfortable in large and impersonal
surroundings. Maybe that's a personality flaw. Maybe it's because
I'm a writer and an artist. Maybe it's because, the fact that I'm
Caucasian notwithstanding, I believe the Hawaiian way of doing
things is the right way, and that which is not Hawaiian often
feels invasive and overbearing to me.
Finally, I have a belief, or perhaps it's a theory, about some
diseases, their causes and their cures. For example, I believe
that auto-immune diseases and certain cancers are the result of
long term trauma. Recent studies have begun to show strong
evidence of a causal link between trauma and damage to the human
immune system, including two empirical studies released last year
by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and Harvard
University that linked physiological damage to the immune system
and the brain to childhood trauma.
Concomitant with this belief in trauma as cause and disease
effect, I believe that cure is possible. But I believe that cure
requires elements not yet generally accepted within Western
medicine. Thus, when late last fall my lupus came out of
remission, I wanted to find Kalua Kaiahua.
I was afraid, though. I remembered the words I'd heard at
`Ulupalakua - Papa Kalua won't just see anyone. Under
the circumstances in which those words had been said, I took them
to mean he didn't see haole people. I didn't want to presume that
there was any reason that I might prove to be an exception so I
waited. And while I waited, I asked Kekuni Blaisdell, M.D. for
help. Doctor Blaisdell and my father were colleagues, and I've
known him since I was fifteen. I knew he would respect the choice
I'd made to not take steroids or other drugs. He gave me a
different sort of prescription.
By now I've probably paraphrased his prescription to the point
of inaccuracy, but here it is as I remember it: Pray every day,
meditate every day, laugh every day, spend an hour every day with
someone you love and fill your life with purpose. For several
months that was the only medicine I took. It helped, but it took
so much will, and I didn't have enough will to sustain it daily
and to keep true heart in it.
Then, in January, someone told me Kalua Kaiahua saw people on
O'ahu three days each week, and she gave me his phone number is
`Aiea. I am not an especially brave person. Whatever acts of
courage I may have committed in my lifetime have come from
desperation rather than from bravery. By the second week of
January I was desperate indeed.
I telephoned. A woman answered. I asked if I could see Kalua
Kaiahua. She said I could and asked what was troubling me. I told
her it was lupus, and she gave me an appointment. By this time, I
had little use of my hands or arms. I could not grasp a glass of
water in my left hand, and with my right hand I could not keep
hold of a pen. It was difficult to walk, and just reading was
I was very sad from the pain and sickness, and at times I
wondered if I could continue living if this were how living would
feel. I wanted one thing above all else. I wanted to feel hope
again. That was the miracle I sought.
I walked along the marked pathway at the side of Papa Kalua's
house in `Aiea to the screen door at the entrance to his
treatment room. A voice called out, Come, baby. Come
Papa was working on a person who lay on a massage table. Eight
or ten other people were seated in chairs along the walls,
awaiting their turn for treatment. I signed in at the book on the
little table near the door and took a seat in an empty chair.
Papa smiled at me. His smile touched me. I was safe here; that
was conveyed in his smile. He told me to look around and make
myself at home. As I did so, he talked. I quickly learned Papa
talks as he works. He tells stories and jokes, and he quotes the
sayings he's made up over the years. Sometimes he prays with a
person. In all the hours I've spent with him I've only once heard
him lecture a person, and even that was done gently.
What stuck me most as I sat waiting was the aloha that
permeated the room, the aloha that came from Papa Kalua. That, to
me, is the essence of a healing environment.
Papa was still talking and still smiling. He spoke of a
person's spiritual place in the world. He spoke of needs and
prayers, of hurts and forgiveness, of a person's gifts and of the
uses of those gifts, of visions and how to know them, of broken
families and of cutting the cords that tie one to the past.
When it was my turn on the table, Papa Kalua put his hands on
my `opu, my stomach, and gently and firmly pressed and kneaded. I
didn't know what he was doing. Immediately, I felt some relief,
but my mind was on his words. Uncle, how did you
know? I asked. He continued working and said, I know,
baby. I know. I feel people. I felt you when you came in.
He worked on my shoulders, arms and hands. He worked on my
back, hips, legs and feet. He worked quickly, head to toe in
maybe fifteen minutes.
When he was finished, I had almost full use of my right arm
and hand, and my left arm and hand were about fifty percent
improved. I was much less tired than I had been when I'd arrived.
He didn't stop there, though. He went into the house and
returned with his Bible. He took my hand in his and placed it on
the Bible and prayed.
I suppose I'm Christian. I went to Punahou where each school
day began with a prayer and Chapel was a weekly event. I've
always prayed, but it was something I considered to be personal.
I never thought of myself as being religious, but when Papa Kalua
brought out his Bible and prayed with me it seemed natural and
I wasn't cured when I left Papa's house that day. But I had
gotten the miracle I'd asked for. I left Papa's house with hope
restored. I think I knew then that this was just a beginning. I'm
sure Papa Kalua knew it, too.
Within a week or two, I was coming to the house daily. Papa
asked me if I would help him put together a little book of his
sayings, Kalua Sez is our first collaboration, and Papa's
generosity gives me more credit than I'm due. Kalua Sez is
all Kalua Kaiahua.
In time, Papa mentioned his classes. At first I didn't want to
be a student. I was curious and interested, but I didn't think I
had the right qualities to study Hawaiian healing arts. For
several months, I successfully avoided becoming Papa's student,
or so I thought. I look back now and realize I had become a
student almost immediately. I just hadn't joined a class.
Papa didn't work on my body every day that I went to his
house. It was often enough just to be where he was - to watch, to
listen, to experience. Always I went home stronger than when I
There were so many little moments within these months, so many
hurts healed, so many fears calmed and hearts soothed, so many
little miracles and small flashes of insight, so many little
moments that accumulated more or less to form a continuously
evolving organic whole that I find them difficult to write about
as distinct events.
I remember a young woman who came in frightened and crying.
She was pregnant and her doctor told her the pregnancy was tubal
and needed to be terminated. Papa took her and her mother to a
private room and moved the baby. A few months later, the young
woman gave birth to a healthy eight-pound boy.
I remember a boy who had nearly lost an arm in an accident.
His doctors wanted to amputate the arm. The boy came to Papa
Kalua instead. Over a few months I watched the flesh on his
withered arm begin to fill out, the elasticity return to his
skin, the veins start to stand out, the muscles begin to tone,
and feeling start to return to his hands.
I remember an old woman who had cancer that had already
metastasized. She'd been through chemotherapy, but she was dying.
She came to see Papa. She wanted two things. She wanted to be
able to attend her grandchild's wedding, and she wanted to die in
She was weak and in pain. She sat slumped on the sofa at the
far end of the treatment room. When Papa told her it was her
turn, she tried to rise. Papa saw her pain. He said, No,
mama. You stay right there. I'll come to you, work on your right
He helped her to lie on the sofa and he began to gently work
on her `opu. Her pain and fear and frustration spilled over and
she cried. Papa held her. He told her it was all right, that she
didn't have to fight any more if she didn't want to. He told her
he would take the pain away, and she could see her grandchild
married and be at peace. He kissed her forehead and she held onto
him. It wasn't a long moment. It might not have seemed like much.
But when she left she was smiling.
Papa made no effort to be objective or detached. He felt the
woman's pain. He understood what she was feeling. He gave her
warmth and acceptance and love as he worked her physical pain
away. HE recognized that she had decided to die. I know this
because he and I talked about it later. He would not judge her
choice. He simply gave her peace in accepting it herself.
He touched for in affection, brushed away her tears, stroked
her forehead, embraced and kissed her. When her pain made motion
difficult for her nameless people in uniforms picked her up to
put her on a gurney to wheel her to a table for the doctor's
convenience. Instead, Papa went to her, right where she was, and
knelt on the floor beside her so he could work on her body
without moving her. He dignity was intact. Her spirit was
supported. Her feelings were accepted. Her value was
That was a turning point for me. The next time Papa Kalua
suggested I join his class I said yes. In mid-April I began six
weeks of formal study with Papa Kalua Kaiahua. I'm not objective,
I know, but I think my class was special. There were six of us,
all women. Three were Hawaiian, two were Japanese, and one was
haole. The youngest of us was in her twenties, the oldest about
fifty. Three were married and three were not. Three lived on the
windward side, two lived in town and one lived in Central O`ahu.
All of us had first come to Papa either as patients or as family
What set our class apart was its heart. Each person in this
class approached her understanding of Papa's work first through
her spirituality, and then through the physical application and
intellectual codifying of what she was learning.
We began to work on volunteer patients in our second week.
This is a week earlier than Kalua Kaiahua's students usually
start to work on patients. Here I fell short. I didn't have
enough strength yet, especially in my left arm and hand. After
only a few minutes of effort, I shook. I was ashamed. I thought
Papa would be disappointed in me, and that my classmates would
think me a wimp.
What a waste of shame that turned out to be. My classmates
worked on me while Papa pointed out the peculiarities of lupus.
And he told me that there are many parts to healing and that the
hands-on part is just one. There is the spiritual part, the
intellectual part, the emotional part. He told me I could do
those parts even while I could not do the other and that in time
I could add the physical part.
To make up for what I could not do, I began to study the
plants Papa uses in his healing. I read about them in books, I
asked him about them, I looked for them in the wild and in
botanical gardens, I grew them in my yard. And I drew pictures of
them. I took the drawings to class with me. Papa explained the
ways to prepare the herbs for medicines, and how to use them.
Together, Papa and I produced the book, Hawaiian Healing
My class graduated on the twenty-fourth of May. In a simple
ceremony each of us received a certificate of achievement that
read: This Award is Presented to _____ in Recognition of
Distinguished Achievement in Contrast of Old and New Traditional
Healing and by Recommendation of Ho`ohalike Ko Kahiko Hou La`au
Lapa`au has been granted this certificate. Given by Kalua
Of all the diplomas, awards and recognitions of any kind I've
ever received, this one alone is framed and hanging on my wall.
This one I earned, and this one I'm proud of. This one means
I am not done with Papa Kalua, nor am I done with lupus. I
will learn from him as long as he will have me. I believe I have
lupus for a reason, and through Papa I think I will find a way
for the experience of lupus to be of use.
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Copyright © 1996 Hale Pai Pacific American-News Journal
Last modified: February 28, 1998
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