Reviving Tradition: Hawaiian Ceremonies Offer Spiritual Healing in the Aftermath of Devastating Wildfires

The aftermath of the catastrophic wildfires that swept through Maui brought about not only physical devastation but also a stirring response deeply rooted in Hawaiian culture and spirituality.

While practical efforts like food distribution and debris cleanup were essential for recovery, a distinct form of healing was taking shape through the revival of traditional Hawaiian ceremonies.

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The Cultural Response: A Gathering of Unity and Healing

Hōkūlani Holt, a highly respected kumu hula (hula teacher), emerged as a guiding light during the aftermath of the catastrophic wildfires. With a profound understanding of the healing power of cultural traditions, Holt orchestrated a poignant gathering that transcended the visible scars left by the fires. Just 12 miles from Lahaina, in the heart of a grassy courtyard, she meticulously curated an experience that not only addressed the physical devastation but also nourished the spirit of the community.

A Symbolic Half-Circle: The Convergence of Spirit

Against the backdrop of nature’s resilience, Holt’s leadership took center stage. In a symbolic half-circle formation, approximately 50 individuals converged, each holding a cup of water. This seemingly simple act held profound significance, symbolizing the intricate interconnectedness of the body, soul, and the sacred ʻāina (land). The unity represented in the half-circle mirrored the community’s determination to come together in the face of adversity.

Sacred Sounds of Healing: Pū ʻohe’s Resonance

The resonance of hollowed bamboo pipes, known as pū ʻohe, reverberated through the air, infusing the atmosphere with a deeply resonant energy. Holt’s choice of this traditional instrument was intentional, evoking a connection to ancestral wisdom and the ancient rhythms of Hawaii. As the collective voices joined the hauntingly beautiful sound of the pū ʻohe, a harmonious symphony of unity and hope filled the courtyard.

Chanting for Unity and Resilience: Voices Echoing Healing

With Holt’s guidance, the collective voices of the gathering began to chant. This melodic and rhythmic expression echoed the sentiments of the community — a heartfelt plea for unity, resilience, and profound healing.

The words carried the weight of generations, binding the participants together in a shared commitment to rebuild, rekindle, and revive.

  • Guiding Light of Tradition: Hōkūlani Holt, an esteemed kumu hula, led a response steeped in cultural heritage.
  • Courtyard of Transformation: In a grassy courtyard just 12 miles from Lahaina, the community gathered.
  • Interconnected Half-Circle: Around 50 individuals formed a half-circle, holding cups of water symbolizing unity.
  • Soulful Symbolism: The cups represented the profound interconnectedness of body, soul, and sacred land.
  • Resonance of Ancestry: Hollowed bamboo pipes, the pū ʻohe, added ancestral resonance to the event.
  • Ancient Rhythms Revived: The haunting tones of pū ʻohe connected participants to ancient Hawaiian rhythms.
  • Harmony of Voices: Collective voices joined the pū ʻohe, creating a harmonious symphony of hope.
  • Chanting for Renewal: Guided by Holt, participants chanted for unity, resilience, and profound healing.
  • Binding Generations: The chant’s words carried the weight of generations, uniting the community’s commitment.

Hōkūlani Holt’s gathering exemplified the potency of cultural rituals in times of adversity. Through symbolism, sound, and chant, the event embraced the spirit of unity and resilience, underscoring the deep-rooted connection between Hawaiian culture and the journey toward healing.

Spiritual Recovery Amidst the Devastation

Amidst the practical recovery efforts, a profound need for spiritual recovery emerged. While a majority of Hawaii’s residents identify as Christian, and Buddhism maintains a significant presence, the resurgence of traditional Hawaiian spiritual practices has gained momentum.

This revival is particularly poignant among Native Hawaiians, who maintain a profound connection to the land (ʻāina) as a source of spiritual sustenance.

A recent survey highlighted that over 40 percent of Native Hawaiians engage with the land or sea for religious or spiritual purposes.

The Role of Kumu Hula in Ceremony

Cody Pueo Pata, another influential kumu hula, provided insight into the role of these cultural leaders in facilitating ceremonies during times of crisis.

Their ability to organize ceremonial responses that extend beyond practical concerns is integral to addressing the community’s spiritual needs.

The expectation for kumu hula to orchestrate ceremonies has become almost second nature, underscoring their significant role as spiritual guides.

Chants and Prayers for Healing

Keali’i Reichel, a celebrated Hawaiian musician, shared the meticulous process of selecting prayers for the ceremonies.

These prayers, carefully chosen to initiate healing for both the land and its people, avoid negative repercussions such as flooding or debris displacement.

Drawing an analogy to the act of pulling back an arrow before releasing it, Reichel emphasized the need for precision and intent in channeling the power of chant.

A Reawakening of Tradition

Marie Alohalani Brown, a professor of Hawaiian religion, shed light on the historical suppression of Hawaiian culture and spirituality. Despite the influence of Christianity on the islands, traditional spiritual practices endured, harking back to the early Pacific settlers in Hawaii.

The 1970s witnessed a pivotal Hawaiian Renaissance, marking a resurgence of previously stifled practices.

Unity and Healing Through Ceremonies

The ceremonies led by Holt and fellow kumu hula provide a platform for reflection, unity, and the revival of cultural identity. Attendees, spanning generations, find solace and a renewed sense of community through these gatherings.

These ceremonies serve as a testament to the endurance of Hawaiian traditions, their power to mend wounds, and the capacity to unite amidst adversity.

Conclusion: A Harmonious Restoration

In the wake of the wildfires’ devastation, Hawaii’s response demonstrates the intricate interplay between spiritual healing and cultural revival.

Through the guidance of kumu hula like Holt, the resounding chants of the community, and the shared commitment to cultural preservation, the islands find strength.

The ceremonies become a beacon of hope, echoing across the land, symbolizing the enduring spirit of Hawaii and its people’s harmonious journey towards restoration.

How To Help

Red Cross: Make a gift to Red Cross Disaster Relief by, visiting, calling 1-800-RED CROSS (800-733-2767) or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.


The Hawai’i Community Foundation: The Maui Strong Fund, managed by the Hawai’i Community Foundation, is actively receiving donations to support those affected by the fires. Remarkably, the foundation has already amassed $1 million in aid for fire victims, as reported by Hawaii News Now. If you wish to contribute, you can visit the fund’s official website. For any inquiries or further details, please reach out to Donor Services at or contact them directly at (808) 566-5560. Your support can make a significant difference in this crucial time.


Maui United Way: Established in 1945, Maui United Way is dedicated to tackling the essential needs of Maui’s community by prioritizing education, income, and health initiatives. In response to recent disasters, the organization has established a dedicated Maui Fire and Disaster Relief Donations Page, streamlining the process for online donations. Your contribution can have a meaningful impact on the lives of those affected.


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