Understanding the Power and Meaning of Mana
As we mentioned earlier, Native Hawaiians believe that the land has its own mana.
But what is mana, exactly? Author, cultural specialist and educator Malcolm Nāea Chun says in his book, Hoʻomana: Understanding the Sacred and Spiritual, mana is not an easy concept to translate. Many scholars have devoted entire texts to the concept.
Its basic definition from the Hawaiian Dictionary will start to give you a sense of the meaning: “Supernatural or divine power.” The Mānoa Heritage Center suggests thinking of it as “spiritual energy and the universal life force.”
But as the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ book, Mana Lāhui Kānaka argues, there’s no English translation that fully captures the meaning and significance of mana from a Native Hawaiian perspective.
To give you a better sense of how the concept of mana infused the life of the Native Hawaiians, we’ve included a few examples from Mana Lāhui Kānaka:
“In ancient Hawaiian society, Native Hawaiians believed that the gods were both their ancestors and the primary source of the mana, which was embodied in the land, in objects and forces and in kānaka (people/Native Hawaiians).”
“Historical records and scholars indicate that Native Hawaiians believed there were two sources of mana in kānaka: mana that was inherited genealogically and mana that was acquired through belief or practice.”
“In a traditional Hawaiian context, nature and culture were intertwined. ‘The ‘āina (land), kai (ocean), and lewa (sky) were the foundation of life and the source of the spiritual relationship between people and their environs’ (Maly, 2001). It stands to reason, then, that places and resources were believed to hold, impart, and embody qualities of mana.”
Download your own copy of Mana Lāhui Kānaka from the OHA website.
We’ve given you a quick primer on the concept, but only by understanding the culture of the people who revered this powerful life source can you begin to truly grasp it.