Western medical school for Hawaiians, 1870.

Kahunas.

We understand that one of our physicians, who is thoroughly conversant with the native language, has been authorized to form a class of eight or ten Hawaiian young men, (graduates of the highest schools,) for instructions in the principles and practice of medicine.

There has never been made, that we are aware of, any systematic or earnest effort to instruct Hawaiian youth in the medical art. The knowledge that is necessary to be acquired to make a skillful and thoroughly competent practitioner is not to be obtained in this country, which as yet, does not possess medical schools and colleges, and the difficulties in the way of sending Hawaiian pupils abroad to obtain a medical education, are so various and insurmountable, as almost to preclude any hope of being overcome.

The way has never been so cleared as to excite in the minds of our native youth any ambition to prepare themselves as medical men, or to hope they might fit themselves to exercise the art among their own race, with any expectation of being useful. No opportunities have been afforded them to acquire even the most elementary instruction in the treatment of sickness and disease; or to learn anything of hygienic rules for the preservation of health; or the curing of those simple maladies which form so large a part of the ailments of a population.

Outside the seaport towns, there are no resident physicians, and consequently, in the country districts, proper medical treatment is almost, if not quite, beyond the reach of the people; and by reason of the population being scattered over large areas, it is most unlikely that any improvement will ever take place through the voluntary settlement of foreign physicians in the various districts of the Islands.

In the matter of health, therefore, the people are left to take care of themselves, depending either upon their own crude and imperfect knowledge of medicines, or what is far worse, the dangerous remedies and the death-provoking practices of the native Kahunas. These persons, despite the oft-repeated instances of their utter inability to deal with disease even in its simplest forms, and the many unnecessary and suddenly fatal terminations which end their patient and treatment at one and the same time, are still able to retain their hold as skillful doctors, upon the imagination of the natives chiefly because there are no others of their own race who are better instructed than they in the use of medicines, or who have a superior knowledge of the nature and treatment of diseases. Medical superstition is a stronghold in the hands of the native charlatan, from which he can only be driven out and his practices be rendered harmless by arming some of a like class with himself with sufficient medical education to meet and combat his mischievous, ignorant, and bad practice.

The law is insufficient to meet this evil, although its penalty for mal-practice is heavy, and although the courts have, in some instances, applied the punishment in cases where the death of the confiding victim has been little short of murder at the hands of the ignorant kahuna.

As these persons thrive by the ignorance of the people concerning proper medical treatment, and depend upon that tendency in every sick person, whether of this nation or any other, to listen to any information, however absurd, which promises to shed light on the path to restored health, and to try any remedy, however inappropriate and severe, which they are assured will prove a sovereign and sure cure; so it is their interest to perpetuate a popular belief in their skill, and to make popular superstition retain its hold upon the public.

We advert to one that has been so sedulously instilled into the Hawaiians that it may almost be said to have become an universal belief: Certain kinds of disease or sickness are mai maoli; certain other kinds are mai haole. The former, therefore, can only be cured by native doctors and native medicines, they are beyond the reach of foreign physicians; the latter can, perhaps, be treated advantageously by the foreigners, as they know something about them.

However absurd such a classification of diseases may be, and more especially as the range is extended or shortened, according to the belief that the individual kahuna treating the case may have in his own medical skill, or perhaps in the pecuniary reward, or otherwise, that is in prospect, its effect, in perpetuating bad practice and in sacrificing the lives and health of the people, is just as large as though the classification were the soundest in the world.

It is impossible, we believe, to reconstruct an old kahuna by any instruction in the domain of the medical art, or to supplant his influence over the people by any amount of talent in imported medical men. But we do believe that he may be gradually rooted out, and his place supplied by native practitioners, who, having a fair knowledge of the proper treatment of the simpler forms of disease, the nursing of the sick, the management of the sick room, and the ability to instruct their ailing neighbors and friends in hygiene and the rules for the preservation of health, will do a great deal for the preservation of life among the native people. Among such native doctors will probably arise some who will be ambitious to go abroad, in order to fit themselves thoroughly, while in any case, they will acquire sufficient knowledge to distinguish grave diseases from light ones, and to recommend such as are beyond their own skill to the hospitals, or the care of our competent physicians.

(Hawaiian Gazette, 11/16/1870, p. 2)

Kahunas.

Hawaiian Gazette, Volume VI, Number 44, Page 2. November 16, 1870.

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One thought on “Western medical school for Hawaiians, 1870.

  1. This should be read in conjunction with the 1867 “Must We Wait in Despair”, translated and edited by Malcolm Chun, First People’s Productions, 1994. From the jacket: “Must we wait in despair is the response by Native Hawaiians to the suffering and death of the Hawaiian population in the 1860′s. With little confidence in public health, they openly questioned what could be done to save themselves. Many of them were trained professionals and met to do something about this tragic situation.”

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