Universal Touch: Hawaii

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In Hawaii, touch and massage, or lomilomi, is a part of everyday life. I spoke with Makana Risser Chai, author of Na Mo’olelo Lomilomi and Hawaiian Massage Lomilomi, to learn more. “It was, and is still typical in the older generation, if you are talking to someone, to simultaneously be massaging their hand, arm, neck or shoulder,” Chai told me. She also explained how the Polynesians who came to Hawaii in 900 A.D. brought what they called “romiromi”, which is the indigenous massage of Tahiti. Ultimately it developed in Hawaii as lomilomi.

One of the most popular forms of lomilomi is walking either on the back or on the stomach, and even on the arms, legs and feet of the person. Little to no clothing is used to allow the practitioner to access tissue in the characteristic long, connected strokes.

In the 19th and early 20th century, Western influences stemming from missionaries and Hawaiian statehood led to a reduction in traditional practices, but thanks to a 1970s-era Hawaiian Renaissance, Hawaiian citizens once again embrace old customs of touch. The Hawaiian Lomilomi Association and The Office of Hawaiian Affairs are working to reintroduce Hawaiian traditions, including lomilomi, to younger generations so they can continue to use it in their families. Says Chai, “You see children learning it at the age of four—it’s definitely making a comeback.”