In the Islands, “Medicine is generally practiced by the priests (kahuna la‘au lapa‘au,) whose contemplative way of life has led them to acquirement of some knowledge of botany …”
“… they understand the use and application of vomits and clysters, which are drawn from the vegetable reign, and sometimes exhibited with success.”
“Topical bleedings is also in use, but a larger share of priestcraft and mummery enters into their practice. Fortunately the good constitutions and temperance of these islanders prevents their having often occasion for the skill of their physicians.” (Shaler, 1804)
The medical practice in the 1820s and 1830s was not as advanced as many people might assume. The end result of treatments by Western doctors and Hawaiian doctors were the same: purging, vomiting, sweating or managing pain.
Disease was not well understood and was attributed to a mixture of outside influences and physical influences of the afflicted person. Climate, age, temperament, gender, lifestyle, and “constitution” (a subjective idea of how susceptible to disease people were) were thought to cause disease.
Remedies included changes of climate, cupping or bloodletting (in order to weaken the disease you had to weaken the patient), changes in diet, herb or plant based ingestible medications, external topical plasters, and chemicals were all part of the Western pharmacology.
Dr Gerrit P Judd was one of the very few Western doctors in Hawai‘i that was interested in learning about Hawaiian medical practices and remedies. He hired Native Hawaiian assistants and apprentices. (Mission Houses)
Judd’s fairness would not let him condemn everything about the native materia medica. No doubt other haole physicians had indulged a curiosity about kahuna medications, might even have tested or used some of them.
But Dr. Judd was the only haole physician of the 19th century who has left evidence that he knew from personal experience the properties of at least some of the native medicines.
Always inquisitive, always sympathetic to the good things his adopted people could offer, and genuinely fond of them as individuals, Judd investigated their pharmacopoeia very early in his career as a physician among them. (Bushnell)
“It has been an object with me not to oppose the practice of the native physicians in mass, but to endeavor by the best means in my power to correct and modify their practice so that it shall save, not kill, the people.”
“It is my intention, if possible, the coming year to make Ho‘ohano (his assistant) acquainted with the native practices as it now exists and make him the agent for collecting facts on the subject.”
“It is out of the question for us to think of putting down the native practice unless we will attend all the sick ourselves, since it is not human nature to be sick & die without seeking some means of alleviation.”
“The idea of improving the native doctors has therefore suggested itself to me as an exceedingly important one demanding immediate attention.” (Judd, Report to Sandwich Islands Mission, 1839)
“At the commencement of the year (1839) I took a young man who had been at the Seminary six years, with a view to giving him instruction in the Medical art.”
“I commenced the investigation of the native practice and by the aid of these two assistants (Ho‘ohano & Kalili) obtained from several native Drs the various doctrines and practices of the art which have come down through the legalized channels mai ka wa kahiko mai (from ancient times.)”
“These investigations occupied several weeks in the early part of the year and have been continued as opportunity afforded.”
“We also instituted a series of experiments on native medicines which resulted pretty much as all experiments of the kind usually do.”
“We found we could prepare from the native Gourd alone, or combined with Koali (morning glory) or Pipa (Japanese plum) and extract which would physic most delightfully & like Brandreths Pills to any amount which might be desirable.” (Judd, Report to Sandwich Islands Mission, 1839)
Over the years Dr Judd modified his practice to include Native Hawaiian ingredients in his treatments. He also published the first medical textbook in 1838, Anatomia, and founded the first medical school in the Kingdom of Hawai‘i in 1870. (Mission Houses)
Anatomia is the only medical textbook written in the Hawaiian language. Dr Judd, for a time the only medical missionary in the Islands, wrote the text in 1838 to teach basic anatomy to Hawaiians enrolled at the Mission Seminary (Lahainaluna.)
Working from a standard elementary textbook of the time, Judd provided his students with more than a simple, straight translation. He devised a new vocabulary and explained medical functions and practices in words that would be understood by a Hawaiian.
Judd’s use of Hawaiian terms and descriptions gives us insights into native cultural and healing practices in the early decades of the nineteenth century.
Anatomia is a valuable addition to the growing collection of translations on native health and will be greatly appreciated by linguists, historians, and students of Hawaiian language and culture. (Mission Houses) The image shows the Judd Dispensatory at Mission Houses.