“My first full lomi massage was transformational,” says Naluai. “I knew this is what I was meant to do.” Sports medicine and its fixation on isolated joints seemed inadequate after this taste of holistic medicine. With an appetite whetted for Hawaiian healing arts, Naluai sought out relatives on the kanaka maoli (native Hawaiian) side of her family — someone who might have traditional knowledge. She came up empty. As far as she knew, any healers within her family had passed on, taking their secrets with them.
She traveled around the state, learning from various lomilomi practitioners, until a friend introduced her to Aunty Mahilani Poepoe. The voluptuous, white-haired Hawaiian greeted Naluai with a knowing smile. “My grandmother came to me in a dream two days ago,” the elder woman said. “She told me you were coming and to be ready to teach.” After talking, the two women discovered that Poepoe’s grandmother and Naluai’s great-grandfather were sister and brother. Naluai had found the healer within her family.
Poepoe ran a free lomilomi clinic at her home in Waiehu, a predominantly Hawaiian neighborhood in central Maui. From sundown to well past midnight each Wednesday, people gathered in the carport. They brought along their keiki (children), grandparents, and even animals for healing. They offered mangos and pickled pipinola (squash) as payment and played ‘ukulele to pass the time until their turn with Poepoe.
“She was a seer,” says Naluai. “She could see where the injuries were in their bodies, or if nutrients weren’t being assimilated. She’d read them, and then send them over to us working on the tables.” Naluai and a few other assistants would massage them. No privacy, no fancy spa atmosphere — just powerful bodywork.