More on the Hawaiian Board of Health, 1886.


An Incomprehensible Law—Discrepancy Between the English and Hawaiian Versions.

In the case of an appeal from the Waialua District Court, respecting an alleged kahuna, Judge Preston yesterday rendered a decision in the Intermediary Court substantially as follows:

The statute under which this decision has been brought appears to me to be rather incomprehensible. It is “An Act to Regulate the Hawaiian Board of Health,” section 3 of which says, “Said Board, or a majority thereof, shall give to each applicant a certificate certifying to the Minister of the Interior the qualification of the applicant to practice native medicine in any kind of disease, or for the treatment of chronic disease or hereditary diseases, or the cure of broken bones, as may be stated in the application.” Then section 4 prescribes that “The Minister of the Interior shall grant on the order of the said Board a license to any applicant who has received a certificate of his qualification to practice medicine in any kind of disease, upon receiving twenty dollars.” It seems that there should be four or five licenses granted according to the enumeration of maladies in the third section. Section 6 prescribes the penalty: “Any native Hawaiian who shall practice native medicine without having obtained a license shall be fined upon conviction thereof before any Police or District Magistrate in the sum of twenty dollars.” There is nothing about the curing of broken bones. It is only for the practice of native medicine without a license that the penalty is specified. What is “native medicine?” I do not know, and this statute fails to tell me. Only a native Hawaiian is liable to this penalty. No Hawaiian Board has been appointed. I think the scope of the law would be for the Court to apply it to every practitioner of medicine. I feel very doubtful as to the meaning of the law. I am not satisfied that the defendant is guilty of practicing native medicine. I think she is entitled to the benefit of that doubt, although I cannot help thinking that she is a kahuna. Last session a law was passed making the native version the one to go by provided there was a diversity between it and the English. Fortunately for persons who render themselves liable under this Act, His Majesty withheld his signature from that bill, for section 6 in the Hawaiian version of this law prescribes a penalty of fifty dollars, such penalty being the only one that could be inflicted in this case. The English version says the penalty is to be twenty dollars. How the mistake arose it is impossible to say, but there it is. I presume that the section was amended and the amendment not copied properly in both versions. The defendant is discharged.

[There is a lot to be said about this article, but for me the most interesting statement was: “Last session a law was passed making the native version the one to go by provided there was a diversity between it and the English.” How and why did this change get made, if indeed it did get revised.]

(Daily Herald, 12/31/1886, p. 3)


The Daily Herald, Volume 1, Number 103, Page 3. December 31, 1886.


1 thought on “More on the Hawaiian Board of Health, 1886.

  1. In 1865, when the board was established, practitioners were to file applications showing specific treatments for 5 ailments they were able to treat. Those applications were the basis of the book “Kahuna La’au Lapa’au” by Gutmanis. The license originally allowed the kahuna to implement those 5 treatments, not the whole range of medicine as interpreted here in 1886. In addition to primacy being granted to the Hawaiian version (special case after 40 years?) perhaps the process had eroded or become generalized in the 20 year span. The judge says no board exists. This opens a window onto a whole group of research topics. Mahalo.

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