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Polynesian drawing of two hearts

Ho’oponopono, the Hawaiian Practice of Forgiveness


An ancient art of healing that teaches us the importance of forgiving affronts and how this is related to physical and emotional health.

Ho’oponopono is an ancestral Hawaiian practice in which people get in touch with their anger, accept their errors (both are causes of disease for this culture) and work on them until their burden disappears.

For many of these Polynesian peoples, the illness of the body is a product of the errors we make during our lives, identified as the violation of kapu or spiritual laws. For some of these cultures, illness is caused by the anger of the gods, and for others it exists because mistakes attract evil deities. Regardless of the belief, the common denominator is that atonement of these faults begins with confession and apology, which make the error and its metaphysical consequences lose their importance, as if to attract a kind of spiritual lightness; that is ho’oponopono.

Polynesian drawing of two hands clasped.

For hundreds of years, similar practices among indigenous cultures have existed in the South Pacific islands of New Zealand, Samoa and Tahiti. Originally, in its most ancient version, ho’oponopono was practiced by shamanic healers, the kahuna lapa’au, and was done in the presence of various family members. It was a type of family conference in which, through discussion, confession, regret and prayer, one was able to obtain the pardon of the gods and of the person who was affronted.

Over time, ho’oponopono began to be performed not by a priest, but by the oldest family member. The ritual began with a prayer and then a decree on the transgression was created, which was discussed among those present, always in a conciliating tone. During the ceremony, there were several periods of silence that led to reflection. Afterward, each person present stated his or her sensation and feelings. Finally there was a confession: regret was expressed by the affronter and he or she publicly apologized, which allowed those involved freedom from their mistakes and resentment. The ritual closed with something known as ‘oki, “let the past go”, and a meal that would traditionally include algae kala (sargassum) as a symbol of liberation.

The 20th Century saw the birth of a modern rite derived from traditional ho’oponopono which allowed this practice to become a practical self-help tool in solitude, a type of self-healing ceremony that consists mainly of prayer (prolonged repetition of a simple phrase such as “forgive me,” “I’m sorry,” “thank you,” “I love you,” “I forgive you”) to release affronts, regret, anger and to atone for blame.

Nowadays, the practice of this beautiful ritual could shed light on human emotional processes (specifically on blame, anger, regret, empathy and forgiveness), which medicine increasingly relates to physical ailments, and existing as an alternative method related to psychoanalysis, Buddhist studies and psychosomatic medicine.

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