Papa ʻIliʻili

n. Arrangement of pebbles in the form or a man used for instruction by a kahuna hāhā. (Kam. 64:108.)

The training of medical kahuna, or specialists/experts, in Hawaiʻi was quite extensive. You think becoming a physician today is difficult with 8+ years of schooling and then a few more years, perhaps, of internship? Back in the day, kahuna started training as children. Young children. And they specialized in their practices as do many doctors today.

One part of training included a papa ʻiliʻili, which was an arrangement of pebbles in the form of a kanaka (man, human). The papa ʻiliʻili was used to teach the students parts of the body. The pebbles were different colors, shapes, textures. Students had to identify all parts of the body: movable parts, fixed parts, lumps, ridges, everything. Sometimes he had to do this with his eyes closed. You can imagine that a sensitive touch was developed. And that this skill could then transfer over to the human body. Big. Small. Male. Female.

The kahuna who was a master of this is the kahuna hāhā, the kahuna who used palpation or feeling/touching.

So while medical journals, manuals, and textbooks weren’t part of their “official” training, they devised other creative ways to train professionals in the field of medicine, and the papa ʻiliʻili was one of these special means.

Copyright: 2016 – Liana Iaea Honda. All rights reserved. All versions of “He Momi e Lei ai”, in its entirety, past and present, is the property of L. K. I. Honda. Reproduction and use of any kind other than the sharing of this website is prohibited. Alteration to the original content in any form is prohibited in every and any instance, and use in any other variant is prohibited without written consent of the author. Adress inquiries to: hemomi [at] Definitions and wise sayings are from: Hawaiian Dictionary by Pukui and Elbert, 1986. ʻŌlelo Noʻeau – Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings by Mary Kawena Pukui, 1983.

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