UH Med Now

One of Our Future Physicians Will Dance in 2019 Merrie Monarch. The Career Advice from his Kumu Hula? “Remember to Think Hawaiian.”

Date: April 18th, 2019 in Alumni News, Community Outreach, JABSOM News, Native Hawaiian Health, Rural, Student Life    Print or PDF

Kinimaka dances kahiko hula

Pictured: Andrew Kinimaka, JABSOM MD 2019, performing at a JABSOM MD Senior Lūʻau in 2016. Amanda Shell photos. Lūʻau.

The Kumu Hula says the mele reminds us that Native Hawaiian healing included the scientific and the spiritual dimensions of healing.

By Tina Shelton, JABSOM Communications Director

Later this month, fourth-year University of Hawaiʻi medical student Andrew Kinimaka will stand ready to take the stage at the 2019 Merrie Monarch Festival. Sometimes called the Olympics of Hula, Merrie Monarch is a weeklong display of the best of Hawaiʻi‘s traditional storytelling art form. Kinimaka will be dancing with Halau Hiʻiakainamakalehua, a hula group that represents the Native Hawaiian deity Hiʻiaka, the goddess of hula dancers, chant, sorcery and medicine.

Its kumu hula are Keano Kaupu and Lono Padilla. Kaupu says he sees parallels between medicine and the mele (the chant or song accompanying hula movements).

“I think modern-day medicine is based on scientific studies, whereas Hawaiian healing is both scientific and spiritual — and you hear more about the spiritual in our particular mele. The goddess Hiʻiaka was known to be able to give and take life.   She is the one that regenerates, re-energizes forests on a barren lava field, heals the land after the devastation, gives it life. Metaphorically she can give life through physical healing, she can bring people back from death. And many of our mele really depict those particular characteristics and are very similar to what doctors do. They are trained to restore life. They are trained to mālama (care for) people.   And our Hawaiian culture was no different. We had our own kahuna laʻau lapaʻau (Hawaiian plant medicine experts) that did it. To me the parallels are both literal and metaphorical.   Doctors heal, or they try their best to. I think it is very important for people like Andrew to remember.  And that applies to almost everyone, including practitioners who are really deep into Hawaiian practice.  We tend to forget to think Hawaiian.”

“We tend to forget to think Hawaiian.”

When Kaupu says “We tend to forget to think Hawaiian,” he means that advances in technology, the rapid pace and conveniences of modern life sometimes obscure the most basic things.

“That is why what Andrew is doing is fantastic! Through hula, while we can’t teach him everything that laʻau lapaʻau teaches, since hula touches every aspect of Hawaiian culture, hopefully, we can at least guide him spiritually in his career as a doctor and remind him that if ever he needs spiritual connections to his kupuna (ancestors) for healing, it is there.”

Kinimaka dancing a modern hula in 2016

Kinimaka dancing a modern or auwana hula in 2016.

Kinimaka agrees that hula has helped him to become a better doctor.

“I can definitely sense changes in the way I think and feel since my immersion into hula for Merrie Monarch training. In hula there’s an emphasis on learning through watching and listening, which I’ve needed to adapt to from the large amount of reading I’ve done in medical school. This newer style highlights being fully present in my learning and committing to the process. I feel more comfortable speaking and understanding the Hawaiian language. I am aware that while I am training to deliver healthcare in the medical setting, health really begins in families and communities. I am more than ever looking for ways to connect my practice to the practices of those in the community in order to bridge this gap,” said Kinimaka. He adds, “and because of all these changes, I’m more excited to be staying in Hawaiʻi for my training in internal medicine. I have a better idea of how to be a Hawaiian physician for the communities of our pae ʻaina.”

Dr. Kinimaka, as Andrew will be known upon Commencement on May 11, 2019, attended Kamehameha Schools Kapālama. He will begin his residency in Internal Medicine at the Kaiser Permanente Hawaiʻi.

Kinimaka with his kumu

Pictured: Kumu Hula Lono Padilla, Andrew Kinimaka, Kumu Hula Keano Kaʻupu

At the University of Hawaiʻi medical school, students are taught that Native Hawaiian healing practices preceded Western medicine in the Islands. When you tour the campus, you see images of Native Hawaiian healing plants etched into the towering glass windows of the school’s halls or carved into the exterior walls. Inside its clinics, future physicians learn cultural competency, how to respect the traditions and customs of the diverse people they examine and treat and how to communicate more effectively by honoring those people’s unique values. In the school’s laboratories, Native Hawaiian scientists have recently documented early findings* in their research showing that diabetes risk among young people in Hawaiʻi can be significantly reduced by substituting our 21st century lifestyle with the exercise and nutrition available to early Hawaiians — sustainable farming, requiring vigorous work that yields healthy fruits and vegetables.

Sometimes it is wise to remember to “think Hawaiian.”

Note: Also dancing at the 2019 Merrie Monarch are Anthony Lim, MD 2022 Candidate, and Rui Morimoto, MD 2021 Candidate, with Hālau Nā Mamo O Puʻuanahulu.

Additional Information:
*See: Preliminary Results Show 60% Improvement in Diabetes Risk in Waianae-based Lifestyle Study

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