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OHA: Office of Hawaiian Affairs

OHA releases book on mana

HONOLULU (Nov. 20, 2017) – The Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) today released a book that explores mana, a foundation of Hawaiian culture and identity that is often referred to as supernatural power but, as the new publication reveals, is far more fluid and complex.

The 300-page Mana Lāhui Kānaka is a multidimensional study of mana: what it is, how to articulate it, and how to access and cultivate it. The book, which is available free to the public online, was co-authored by OHA Ka Pouhana and Chief Executive Officer Kamanaʻopono Crabbe, Ph.D, Dr. Kealoha Fox and Holly Coleman.

“We intend for this book to be a positive view which, through connecting our kūpuna’s words and ideas with contemporary understanding, can then move forward with assertive forward- thinking built from the core of our cultural strength – the mana possessed by each one of the kānaka, mana that is ʻōiwi, the mana lāhui,” wrote Crabbe in the book’s introduction.

Mana Lāhui Kānaka expands on Kūkulu Hou, Crabbe’s vision for rebuilding the Native Hawaiian people and communities by using the culture, practices and wisdom of our kūpuna as a guide for our future. Understanding mana became critical to the Kūkulu Hou framework because mana was central to our ancestors’ worldview, Crabbe said at the launch event for Mana Lāhui Kānaka.

“But when trying to delve further into the issue, we realized that there was little written literature on mana. That led to five years of research to really understand this concept of mana, which is one of the fundamental pillars to our identity as Native Hawaiians. We wanted to capture the essence of mana as our kūpuna lived it, how we aspire to achieve it in our daily lives and continue its legacy in the 21st century,” Crabbe said.

“It was vitally important that OHA conducted this research to reclaim, revive and restore mana as a central and prominent principle, as an illuminating beacon that will shape and continue to guide individual character, collective actions and our future deeds as a lāhui.”


Historically, European and American scholars described mana in Oceanic cultures as spiritual, supernatural, a magical force, a source of power and more. In Hawaiian traditions, the book states: “Mana was part of a vibrant system that intertwined many other foundations of Hawaiian culture and identity, and was evident to Native Hawaiians through akua, and in their aliʻi, themselves, and their environment.”

However, English translations of mana fall short of expressing its meaning and significance from a Native Hawaiian perspective, which is more implicitly discussed in traditional oral literature, genealogies and Hawaiian mele and moʻolelo, notes Crabbe.

A quote from Bradd Shore’s Mana and Tapu points out how essential it is to understand mana, even if the concept is hard to define: “Manulani Aluli Meyer and other scholars have long held that it’s impossible to understand the Polynesian worldview without understanding mana as central to contemporary Native Hawaiian identity. Mana is often felt, seen and experienced, rather than described in words; moreover there are ways to gain and lose mana through behavior. Here, mana is part of the spiritual world, but felt in the material world. In Western terms it might be described as power, or an essence of god or godliness. In some Polynesian languages the literal meaning of mana is ‘thunder, storm or wind.’”

Ancient Hawaiians believed mana could be inherited through lineage or acquired through great feats, skill, artistry, talents and gifts, which are cultivated through education and training.


Mana Lāhui Kānaka dedicates a chapter to social science methods and research that can help identify and assess mana with relation to the body, mind and spirit. Another chapter offers descriptions of lived mana: “There comes a time when something happens that ignites the spirit and the hearts of the poʻe. You know, that comes from our ʻāina, that comes from the land. And it’s a voice that we all pick up collectively and we hear, and we work in the capacity that we’re meant to work to address what is happening,” noted a member of the focus group discussions on mana.

“[A] ssessing mana requires a multi-dimensional approach informed by a variety of sources – the assessment of mana requires many different perspectives covering different domains. For these reasons, mana is not likely to be captured by a single assessment,” the book notes in its conclusion.


Mana Lāhui Kānaka isn’t meant to be prescriptive, instead it includes a framework for ways mana can be used to raise our communities. “[P]rograms/behaviors/communities etc. that want to consider mana should keep the following in mind: Mana could be construed as a disposition, a set of behaviors, beliefs, knowledge, experiences, or a combination of any of the aforementioned,” notes Crabbe.

Mana Lāhui Kānaka is available at oha.org/mana. In subsequent months, OHA will be reaching out to larger communities to discuss mana, in person and online. Kanaka ʻōiwi are encouraged to participate and express their own ideas on how mana can be used to strengthen communities, and the lāhui at large. Follow us and use the hash tag #manalahui on social media in the coming year.


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