The meaning of Ho’oponopono
by Graeme Kapono Urlich
There are a number of different meanings or “spins” being put on the definition of this word.
A couple of Hawaiian teachers suggest it means “to make right more right”, from
one of the meanings of pono, "right", being doubled and the prefix ho’o
meaning “to make”. This is not incorrect in the context of what they are teaching but, as you
will see below, “right” is only one of the many meanings of pono, and the meaning of
ho’o is not fixed either.
There was a conference of Kupuna, in the 1980's I think, and at this conference it was agreed
that straightening things up is the translation of ho'opono (making pono - doing the
right thing - straightening things out) and it was different from ho’ponopono, which was to
mean restoring harmony in a situation. Ho’opono does not show up in the Mary Kawena Pukui &
Samuel H. Elbert dictionary which is accepted as the most complete and accurate one. Perhaps it is a
From this dictionary we see:
Ho’o: is treated as a prefix because it only appears before bases; unlike prefixes however,
it takes the stress of a word as does the following base;
Pono: goodness, uprightness, morality, moral, qualities, correct or proper procedure,
excellence, wellbeing, prosperity, welfare, benefit, behalf, equity, sake, true condition or nature,
righteous, right, upright, just, virtuous, fair, proper, beneficial, successful, in perfect order,
accurate, correct, eased, relieved, should, ought, must, necessary.
Ponopono: neat, tidy, in order, arranged, cared for, attended to, administered.
Ho'oponopono: To correct, to put to rights, to put in order or shape, correct, revise,
adjust, amend, regulate, arrange, rectify, tidy up, make orderly or neat, administer, superintend,
supervise, manage, edit, work carefully and neatly, to make ready, as a canoe man preparing to catch a
Ho'oponopono 'ole: slovenly, untidy, disorderly, careless.
Ho'oponopono hou: to revise, reorganise, re-edit.
Ka ho'oponopono 'ana: regulation.
Kanawai ho'oponopono: revised law b) mental cleansing: family conferences in which
relationships are set right (ho'oponopono) through prayer, discussion, confession, repentance and
mutual restitution and forgiveness (kalana).
These are complex words and diluting them down to singular meanings, out of context, creates
misunderstanding and confusion. When we begin translating these things into other very different
languages the confusion becomes exponential.
Ho’oponopono is most commonly used conversationally in terms of cleaning house or tidying up
the yard etc.
In terms of processes being taught to affect subconscious belief and make life better we are most
interested in “Kanawai ho’oponopono”
Kanawai is another complex word. From the dictionary, it means law, code, rule, statute, act,
regulation, ordinance, decree, edict, legal, to obey a law, to be prohibited, to learn from
The parts that most interest me about Kanawai and its relevance to the teaching of
ho’oponopono as a way to improve life are the parts that say “to learn from
experience” and “to obey a law” especially in connection with our beliefs and the
rules we live our lives by. In life we create personal rules from experience, starting in the womb.
This filters the experiences we are able to manifest so, if we want to manifest better experiences, we
must change our internal rules.
In this context we are dealing with our subconscious beliefs, the assumptions we make about ourselves,
life, the world, and the rules we live life by. By looking at the results of these, the things we
experience in life and the way we react to those things, we can get a good idea of what rules and
assumption we might like to change.
In my article “Western Ho’oponopono” I took a look at a now very
common technique, a single mantra that is supposed to magically fix everything, and why it doesn’t
work well for many people. People who are already extremely stressed will struggle with applying
techniques at first and may benefit from some guidance from an experienced coach.
I am not, by any means, an expert on Hawaiian language or the many variations of Hawaiian cultural
practice but I know enough to have a sense that what I am hearing is valid or not and to check. There
are many people out there now, misusing, and in some cases exploiting, some Hawaiian words. I
encourage people to research and check what they are being told as far as possible.
These are notes from the first Hawaiian Shaman workshop I took with Serge Kahili King circa 1990 on
Graeme Kapono Urlich (October 2020)
Kanawai - The Rules of Life:
1. All facts are assumptions formed by opinions that we turn
2. Our rules shape our perceptions and experience.
a) Generalisations & Stereotypes: The forest hides the
b) Specialisations and Tunnel vision: The tree hides the
c) Language & Culture influences the rules.
3. All change techniques are effective to the degree that they change the rules.
a) Practice treating facts as though they are not necessarily
4. Shamanism includes the ability to switch and change the rules.
There a number of great articles on www.huna.org and
The Real Facts by Serge Kahili King
Further links can be found at https://www.hunahawaii.com/links.htm
A list of Alaka'i of Huna International can be found at:
Huna International trained teachers and thereapists:
A wealth of material can be found at the Huna Store.
Aloha New Zealand - School of Huna and Hawaiian Shamanism