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The History of Huna
by Serge Kahili King

No one really knows when the ideas that comprise the philosophy of Huna were first put together. Some of the ideas have been traced back to the writings of Greek philosophers, to the Old Testament, and to the Upanishads of India, but as a coherent philosophy, it is anyone's guess.

Some of the Hawaiian legends that I was told say that the philosophy was brought to Earth by visitors from the Pleiades, but there is no way to verify that. When no one explanation can be proven right, then no one explanation can be proven wrong, either.

So, let us look at the subject from a completely different angle, not as how Huna did become a coherent philosophy held by members of a particular culture, but how it might have happened.

The main premise behind our tale is the well-known aspect of human behavior whereby we derive most of our ideas about life from observing the world around us. Actually, it is not only by observing, but by interpreting what we observe in terms of our language, culture, and personal experience. Because of that, different peoples in different places at different times may have completely different ideas about life. Our tale, however, concerns the Polynesians and the philosophy that we know exists today.

We will begin by using our imagination to move our minds back in time many centuries ago, perhaps many millenia. We do not have any dates, but it had to be a time when the Polynesians were actively sailing and exploring the entire Pacific Ocean.

Unlike many other people, they did not set out to conquer or claim the lands they visited. Sometimes they were looking for places to settle, of course, and there were undoubtedly conflicts from time to time. However, there exist no known legends, traditions, histories, or artifacts that indicate any attempts to create a Polynesian empire or system of colonies governed by a single homeland. What we do know is that they adopted new things from other peoples when they found them useful, like sweet potatoes from South America, and shared some of their things with others that those people found useful, like chickens with South America. It is possible, even probable, that the Polynesians touched South and North America, Australia, and Asia, in addition to most of the islands of the Pacific. In the course of such activity it is also probable that they noticed how differently other people spoke, dressed, behaved, and believed. Out of this experience it is then probable that they developed the first principle of Huna, that the world is what you think it is, and that when you change how you think, you change your experience. As a Hawaiian proverb states: 'A'ohe pau ka 'ike i ka halau ho'okahi - All knowledge is not taught in the same school.

For the early Polynesians, the ocean was not a vast, empty, mysterious place that separated people, but a sort of movable land that connected everyone, instead. They found that no matter in which direction they traveled, there was always more ocean and more land that it connected to. And, more people who, although they had many differences, also had many similarities in form and substance. Overhead they found the same stars, changing position in the same way that islands do when you sail past them. So a natural idea - the second principle - might have arisen from this experience, that there are no limits. Along with the meaning of connection, there had to be the discovery that every problem had a solution, even if it was not an easy one. The proverb relating to this is: 'A'ohe pu'u ki'eki'e ke ho'a'o ia e pi'i - No cliff is so tall that it cannot be climbed.

A major source of food for the early Polynesians came from the sea. Fishing for them was a science and an art and a necessity. For ocean fishing they had a very wide variety of hooks made of shell, bone, ivory and wood for different fish and different methods of fishing. Interestingly, and in spite of of the creativity and technology used in making them, Polynesians attached more importance to the innate ability of some fishhooks to attract more fish than others. From various sources, including a legend about the demigod Maui in which a distraction of attention on the part of his brothers enabled a giant fish to escape its hook, it seems clear that this innate ability is directly related to concentration, the need to keep one's attention on the fishing to ensure success. In other words, energy flows where attention goes. This is borne out in two Hawaiian proverbs: Hamama ka waha he po ia ole - When the mouth yawns, it is a night on which no fish are caught; and He makau hala 'ole - a fishhook that never fails to catch (said of one who attracts and holds what one wants).

The importance of the present moment is built into Polynesian languages. In Hawaiian in particular there are no past or future tenses, only markers that let one talk about the past and future in relation to the present. Culturally, we find that the Hawaiians did not celebrate birthdays (with the exception of the first year of the first born) or anniversaries of any kind. Nor did they make any long-term predictions of the future, except for what could be deduced from an analysis of current conditions. Possibly, this kind of behavior came from spending a lot of time on a small boat in the middle of the ocean, where issues of past and future fade into insignificance in the face of current needs. In any case, an intrinsic part of Polynesian culture is the idea that now is the moment of power, or, in Hawaiian: Noho ka mana i keia manawa - Power resides in the present moment.

The widely-known "Aloha Spirit" is also an intrinsic part of Polynesian culture, even where the word aloha is not used. Friendly acceptance, kindness, mercy, grace, charity, compassion, love... all of these meanings are encompassed by that single word. The roots of the word may point to the way in which this concept developed. Oha means love, friendship, and joy, while alo basically means to share an experience face-to-face. What immediately comes to mind, in our tale of ancient Polynesians traversing the ocean in slow-moving canoes that might have carried as many as a hundred people huddled together for weeks or months at a time, is the necessity for developing some kind of communal spirit strong enough to withstand the dangers, discomforts, and disagreements that must certainly have arisen during any such voyage. The Aloha Spirit is not simply a nice thing to do. For the ancient Polynesians it must have been vital for survival as well. Thus the idea that to love is to be happy with someone or something. A related Hawaiian proverb is: Ke aloha, ke alo, ke oha, ka ha - Love is being in the presence of someone or something, sharing joy, sharing breath.

The Polynesian idea of mana has been greatly misunderstood. Far from being a "mysterious fluid that permeates the universe" as some anthropologists like to think, or a type of energy like prana or chi as some metaphysicians like to think, mana is more properly translated as power, in the sense of influence, or the ability to have an influence. In Polynesian thought everything has mana, some innate power of its own. Some things, like the forces of nature, obviously have tremendous mana, and some people, through their energy, skill, knowledge, confidence, or position of authority, have considerable mana of their own. The idea of the sixth principle, that all power comes from within, is exemplified by the ancient Hawaiian concept that mana resides in the bones. In fact, the bones of lucky or highly skilled men were prized as material for lucky fishhooks. However, the real understanding that mana is more of a non-material thing comes out in this Hawaiian proverb: Aia no i ka mea e mele ana - Let the singer select the song.

The ancient Polynesians had many kinds of canoes, many kinds of fishhooks, many variations in their languages, many calendars suitable for different islands, many different names for the same things... In short, they were very flexible in their behavior, again, because it fostered survival and creativity. Like other peoples, there were times in their history when small-minded leaders feared and repressed change and variation, but on their own the Polynesians were eminently adaptable. They were seekers after truth as they sailed the seas, but not a transcendant truth that can never be demonstrated or put to any practical use. For them, as the seventh principle says, effectiveness is the measure of truth. Anyone can say that something is true, but what good is that unless the truth has some value in terms of living life. In my opinion, this Polynesian attitude is beautifully expressed in this Hawaiian proverb: Ho a'e ka 'ike he'enalu i ka hokua o ka 'ale - Show your knowledge of surfing on the back of a wave.

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