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The Basics of Ho'oponopono

Ho'oponopono is a method of restoring harmony within a group or an extended family.

The word ho'oponopono literally means "setting right...to restore and maintain good relationships among family, and family and supernatural powers."

The metaphor of a tangled net has been used to illustrate how problems within a family affect not only persons directly involved, but also other family members. The family is a complex net of relationships, and any disturbance in one part of the net will pull on other parts. This metaphor re-enforces the old Hawaiian philosophy of the interrelatedness of things.

Ho'oponopono is a process of problem solving. The process of ho'oponopono generally includes the following:  

  1. Prayer
  2. A statement of the problem
  3. Discussion of the problems
  4. Confession of wrongdoing when applicable
  5. Restitution when necessary
  6. Forgiveness
  7. Release.
I. The Opening Phase

The ho'oponopono begins with a prayer or pule in Hawaiian. The prayer is asked to ask our 'aumakua (personal God or Universal deity) for assistance and blessing in finding, discussing and solving the problems at hand.

The appeal to the aumakua not only asks the aumakua or Higher Self for help but also heightens and often strengthens the individual's personal emotional commitment to solving their own problems and helping others in the family to solve the problems at hand.

Prayer lays the foundation for sincerity and truthfulness, which are necessary ingredients for making the process successful and obtaining good results for all involved.

The Statement of the Problems

In order to solve a problem one must first determine what the problem is, define it and get to understand it. This is essential for problem solving and it is also essential to the success of ho'oponopono. In ho'oponopono this process is divided into several stages. These stages are the kula kumuhana or period of identification of the problem and the Hala.

Kkula Kumuhana

This term has a number of different meanings in relations to ho'oponopono. Beside the period of identification of the problem it also represents the pooling of the strengths for a shared purpose, such as solving the problem. Implicit then within this concept and what it represents is recognizing the problem or problems and joining together within the ho'oponopono to define it, understand what actually happened, the motivations and forces that caused it and then solving it working together for this purpose and, importantly, for no other ulterior motives.

It has an additional meaning as it refers to the role of the leader in reaching out to a person who is resisting the ho'oponopono process to enable that person to participate fully. Hence, the understanding that the leader is charged with making sure that everyone does work together to create an amicable solution.


The fruit of the kula kumuhana, the period of identification, is to find the problem as it affects everyone in the group. This begins with stating the transgression the hurt or wrong that has been done, the crime or offense. One of the most powerful features of Hawaiian healing is the concept of the One Sin Rule. That is no transgression or injury has occurred unless an individual intentionally set out to hurt another. However, one can unintentionally hurt or cause a problem.

When intentional hurt has occurred this is a sense is seen as a major transgression which requires a series of responses beyond a simple apology. It may include cleansing, restitution and occasionally even retribution

Hala implies that the perpetrator (the person creating the problem or causing the wrong) and the person wronged (the victim) are bound together in a relationship of negative entanglement called hihia.

This web of negative entanglement is dynamic and tends to have many forms and shapes. It suggests that after the initial hurt or wrong has been done there are a series of events and circumstances that lead to new problems, deepening of the hurt or wound, increased misunderstanding, guilt, fear, anger, shame and need for revenge. In the Hawaiian way of thinking it creates a complex knot of difficulties that can escalate the problem and may even take on a new life of its own.

The role of the leader is to pick one of these problems and work with the group until the knot is loosened and begins to unravel. Once one aspect is unraveled then the process begins to uncover and resolve the other layers of the problem one at a time until the family or group is once again free and clear and the problem is resolved and all are free. I refer to this process as peeling the onion. With each succeeding layer the onion (problem) becomes smaller until at some point there is nothing left, the crying is finished and all can join in and enjoy the fruits of their labor.

II. The Discussion Phase

The discussion period is where the conflict is worked out. Here is where the layers of the problem are peeled away. This is possibly the most structured aspect of ho'oponopono. It requires structure for it can erupt at any time into a torrent of opinion, anger, rage or hostility.

During the mahiki it is the job of the leader (haku) to keep the people from directly confronting one another. When direct confrontation occurs to commonly leads to emotional outbursts and misunderstandings. Traditionally Hawaiians believed that emotional outbursts or personally directed expression of emotions discouraged the problem solving effort. Hence, expression of emotion directly to another other than positive emotions is discouraged and it is the job of the haku to make sure that the problem solving function is not undermined.

On the other hand, it is important that each person involved, directly or indirectly, shares their feelings and gets them out in the open. The process used is to direct the comments toward self-scrutiny. The individual is directed in such a way that they look openly and honestly at their own feelings (mana'o), how the events affected them, they can examine and probe themselves and what effect the event had on them both positively and negatively. Essential to the process, however, is to avoid accusations, blame or recriminations.

If tempers do get out of control or the discussion is turning negative the haku may declare a ho'omalu a cooling off period, a period of silence and self-control. This purpose of the ho'omalu is to give time and space to allow the members of the ho'oponopono to reflect on the purpose of the process and to bring their aroused emotions under control.

III. The Resolution Phase

As the discussion unfolds soon everything that needs to be said is said, the problem is exposed, the web of events is unwrapped and laid open. Everyone can see the effects of the wrong, each person has explored their feelings and to some degree their emotions and now it is time to begin the directed steps of resolving all of the issues at hand. In this stage each person has the opportunity to confess or apologize (mihi) for their role in the wrong doing and to give and receive forgiveness. This must be genuine and binding for the results to hold up and the problem to be complete and experienced out completely by all involved.

It is expected that forgiveness is given whenever and by whoever asks for it. If the wrongdoer asks forgiveness from the person wronged, it is expected that forgiveness will be given and meant. To insure this, a system of restitution was built into the process. It is at this point that the terms and conditions are negotiated and agreed upon. If agreement cannot be reached then the process of the ho'oponopono is restarted with the inability to reach agreement and the issues that separate the parties as the new problems to be solved.

This confession and the acceptance of the apology begins the process of cleansing (kala) that is necessary to heal all of the parties involved. The knot is untangling and loosening and with kala it is being entirely undone. Both the person who has confessed and the person who has forgiven are expected to mutually release (another meaning of kala) each other. Kala means that the conflict and hurts have been released and are cut off (oki) and complete. The knot is unraveled and the net is untangled all parties are once again free to function normally and healthfully.

IV. Closing Phase

The work of the ho'oponopono has been done. The process is complete. The problem resolved, the integrity of the family or group is reestablished and harmony and balance are reestablished. All that is left is to close the process with a ritual that insures lasting peace and harmony. This is the pani ritual.

The form of the pani is decided upon by the haku. He or she can simply call a closing of the meeting and dismiss everyone. Often the haku may choose to present a summary and summation of what took place. In most cases there is certainly a ceremony of reaffirmation of the strengths of the family or group and a pronouncement of their enduring bonds.

If other layers of the problem need to be worked out the pani is postponed. If the problem or problems have been successfully worked out this is declared and closed forever, never to be brought up again by anyone.

The closing pule, the pule ho'opau is then performed. The ceremony is officially closed and the group traditionally shares in a snack or a meal (breaking bread together). Usually the foods eaten is prepared by all of the members of the group.


The ho'oponopono is a highly structured process with four distinct phases:

1. The opening phase which includes a prayer and a statement of the problem or problems.

2. The discussion phase during which all of the participants share their thoughts and feelings in a calm manner listening to each other as they speak.

3. A resolution phase that allows exchange of confession, forgiveness and release.

4. A closing phase which allows a summation of what has happened and an ability to give spiritual and emotional closure to the process and individual thanks for participation.

Hawaiian Words of Ho'oponopono and their Meanings

Aumakua - Personal god; totally benevolent, totally trustworthy parental spirit; guardian angel

Haku - The leader; the person who puts things in order

Hala - The transgressor; the sinner; the one who committed the offense; the person who has missed the mark

Hihia - Entangled; difficulty; problem; state of perplexity; to be lost by going a stray; to be offended; to be entrapped.

Ho'omalu - Shade; shelter; protection; peace; control; quiet; safe; to restrict, suspend; to make peace between warring parties

Ho'oponopono - See above; to correct; to put order to shape or adjust; amend; rectify.

Kala - To loosen; untie; free; release; unburden; absolve; let go; acquit; cleanse. To forgive as a debt; to release one from payment.

Kala hala - Means atonement, to pardon or absolve from sin.

Kkula kumuhana - To pool thoughts and prayers to solve a common problem; to set a topic of discussion; an agenda

Mahiki - To jump or leap; to pry or pull up or down; to cast out spirits, to exorcise. In relationship to ho'oponopono, to treat in turn as troubles.

Mana'o - Thoughts; ideas; beliefs; opinions; expectations; suggestions; mind; plan purpose; counsel; strategy.

Mihi - Remorse; repentance; apologize; be sorry; contrite; to regret; confess; break off from an evil (sinful) course of life. To express feelings of sadness or grief in the countenance; to have regret for past conduct.

Oki - To cut; to sever; separate; annul; cancel; to end or finish any talk or business; to put an end to.

Pani - To close up an opening; to substitute something; fill a breach; agreement; to put one thing in the place of another.

Pule - A prayer; a magic spell; blessing; grace; ask a blessing

Pule ho'opau - Closing prayer.


Ho'oponopono, Contemporary Uses of a Hawaiian Problem-Solving Process, E. Victoria Shook, An East-West Center Book, Honolulu, 1992.

Nn I Ke Kumu, Vol 1, Pukui, M, E. Haertig and C. Lee, Honolulu: Hui Hnai, 1972.

Nn I Ke Kumu, Vol 2, Pukui, M, E. Haertig, C. Lee and J. Mc Dermott, Honolulu: Hui Hnai, 1979.

Hawaiian Dictionary, Hawaiian-English, English-Hawaiian, Pukui, M. K., Elbert, S.H., University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1971.

A Dictionary of the Hawaiian Language, Andrews, l. Charles E. Tuttle and Company, Vermont, 1980.

To read the next article in the series, Structure of Hawaiian Healing, click here.

ŠAllco Medical Enterprises, Inc. 2012

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