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Moving from Darkness to Light: Cultural Pathways to Healing and Posttraumatic Growth of Formerly Incarcerated Native Hawaiian Women


Incarcerated Native Hawaiian women have often experienced significant trauma and have extensive unmet mental health needs, yet limited research has been conducted to understand how these women overcome trauma and adversity. This theory-generating paper examines the cultural and familial factors that contributed to the healing and posttraumatic growth of 10 formerly incarcerated Native Hawaiian women in Hawaiʻi. Posttraumatic Growth (PTG), which is the positive psychological change and personal transformation that often occurs as a result of processing through trauma, offers hope that individuals can and often do overcome adversity. For Native Hawaiians, understanding and wisdom are not attained through the cognitive mind alone, as is the premise for all PTG models, but rather through the visceral mind located in the naʻau (seat of Hawaiian intellect, “gut feeling”; “guts”). Findings indicated that pathways to healing and PTG are not linear. It is a process of gradual ascension in conscious awakening as actions are taken, repeated reflections and internal intellectualization occurs, insight is gained, hurt from the past is released, and reconnections are made to self, families of origin, and culture. A three-phase dynamic conceptual model describes the interactive processes that occurred as the women moved between Naʻaupō (“Night” mind), Huliau (Time of Transformation), and Naʻauao (“Daylight” mind). Four core themes highlight the continuous actions taken during the Huliau and into the Naʻauao, which include: (1) Being Spirit-Led vs Ego-Driven; (2) Cleanse, Make Amends, and Let Go; (3) Cultural Reclamation and Family Connections; and (4) Safety, Structure, and Support. This research marks a critical first step toward suggesting an indigenous theory that is culturally-based of how formerly incarcerated Native Hawaiian female trauma survivors heal and grow from trauma across the life span. Implications for resilience and trauma-informed practice with these women will be highlighted.

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Fig. 1


  1. Kānaka Maoli = aboriginal people of Hawai’i; Kānaka (person) + Maoli (real, true, original, pure aboriginal blood) “Although most Hawaiians today are not pure blood Hawaiians, the term Kānaka Maoli will be used interchangeably with the term Native Hawaiians because ‘it evokes linguistic and familial relationship with other people of Oceania.’” (Martin, Paglinawan, & Paglinawan, 2014, p. 56; Silva, 2004, p. 12-13)

  2. Pele is an akua or Hawaiian volcano goddess for non-related humans and ʻaumakua or ancestor goddess for her descendants through a union with a human (Pukui, Haertig, & Lee, 1972a, p. 36). It is within this context that Jamelyn claims to be a member of the Pele clan

  3. The “Bowl of Light” is a moʻolelo (story) from the Kai-akea family of the Moʻo clan whose lineage is traced back to at least 800 B.C. Kailiʻohe, Kaiʻakeaʻs granddaughter, was chosen to learn the genealogy and chants of the family. Kaʻiliohe was born in 1816 and lived until 1931. This moʻolelo (story) is from the book, Tales of the Night Rainbow, as recorded by her moʻopuna kuakahi (great-grandchildren) Pali Jae Lee and Koko Willis.


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Correspondence to Tammy Kahalaopuna Kahoʻolemana Martin.

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Appendix 1 PTG Interview Guide

  1. 1.

    Background: Can you describe what growing up was like for you? What was family life like for you?

  2. 2.

    Traumatic Experiences: In your own words, what were some of the traumas you experienced growing up? I am aware that these memories can be tough to talk about, but I appreciate your willingness to share them with me.

  3. 3.

    Impact of Native Hawaiian Ethnic Identity: In what ways, if any, did your Native Hawaiian ethnic identity impact your ability to heal from trauma? (It could support or hinder ability to heal from trauma.)

  4. 4.

    Impact of social class: In what ways, if any, do you feel your social class have impacted your ability to overcome the trauma you have experienced in life? (It could support or hinder one's ability to heal from trauma.)

  5. 5.

    Impact of Incarceration: What was it like to be incarcerated in Hawai'i's criminal/legal system?

  6. 6.

    Coping Strategies/ Social Supports: How did you cope or deal with your trauma experiences? Did your coping strategies change over time (days, weeks, months, years later)?

  7. 7.

    Posttraumatic growth definition: How do you define Posttraumatic Growth?

  8. 8.

    Posttraumatic Growth: Thinking back to the trauma you have experienced, what are some highlights of the positive personal changes that have come out of your trauma experience(s)?

  9. 9.

    Healing: How do you define healing?: What or who helped you to heal from the trauma in your life? Friends, family, professionals, etc.?

  10. 10.

    Changes in perspectives (appreciation of life, new possibilities): How would you describe the person you are now, compared to who you were before or during the traumatic experiences of your life?

  11. 11.

    Changes in ability to relate to others: How would you describe how your ability to relate to others has changed before, during, and after traumatic times in your life?

  12. 12.

    Changes in personal strength: In what ways have you changed your perspectives about your personal strength before, during, and after traumatic experiences in your life?

  13. 13.

    Changes in spiritual development: In what ways has your spiritual development changed before, during, or after traumatic experiences in your life?

  14. 14.

    Meaning-Making: After people experience trauma, some people say that they were able to find meaning in the experience or that they have made sense out of it. Have you found some sort of meaning from the trauma you experienced? If so, what meaning have you given to the trauma you have experienced?

  15. 15.

    Future Hopes and Dreams: Thinking about your future, what do you envision for yourself? In other words, what would you like to do with your life? What are some of the goals and dreams that you would like to accomplish?


  1. 16.

    Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you would like to talk about or that you think is important for me to know to understand your growth experiences and/or life choices you’ve made since your earlier trauma, including involvement with Hawaiʻi's criminal/legal system?

  2. 17.

    Is there another woman that you think I should interview to learn more about the posttraumatic growth and healing process for Native Hawaiian female trauma survivors who have been incarcerated?

  3. 18.

    Can you share with me what was it like for you to participate in this study?

Appendix 2 Glossary of Hawaiian Terms

Translations noted here are from Pukui and Elbert's (1986), Hawaiian Dictionary; Pukui et al., 1972a/1972b), Nānā I ke kumu: Look to the Source, Vol.1 and Vol. 2; Paglinawan et al. (2020) Nānā i ke kumu: Helu Ekolu (Look to the Source, Vol. III, and further interpretations of terms that emerged from this study. Other sources are specifically noted for individual terms.

ʻāina: land, ʻāi (food) + na (belonging to) = “that which feeds us”

ala: path, rise up; awaken; stay awake; renew, restore, revive, rise up, or arise

ao: light, learned, enlightened, intelligent, wise, wisdom; time, daylight, and to regain consciousness From the Kumulipo (Hawaiian genealogical creation chant) mankind is born in the time of ao, therefore, consciousness is born out of unconsciousness (Beckwith, 1970).

aloha: love, compassion, empathy

au: “I” pronoun; cycle; period of time

‘aumakua: family or personal gods; ancestor god/goddess

Hina: Hawaiian feminine goddess

hala: transgression; wrongful act

hemo: loose; separated; untied; “get out”

hemolele: pure in heart, complete, virtue, goodness, holiness, without restraint

The Hawaiian term hemolele is comprised of two words: hemo (loosen) + lele (to fly). When combined together, hemolele poetically refers to flying freely out of the darkness of despair toward the light of hope.

Hoʻāla Hou to reawaken, rise up; arise

Hoʻāla Hou o Nā Wāhine Maoli Collective Reawakening of Native Hawaiian Women (conceptual framework)

Hoʻāla is an action-oriented term that refers to awaken, stir up, renew, and raise. Hou is the Hawaiian term for “again”. Nā Wāhine translates to “the women.” Nā is the plural form of a Hawaiian term, but it also translates to “belonging to”. Maoli translates to “native, indigenous, genuine, true.” When all terms are combined, Hoʻāla hou O Nā Wāhine Maoli translates to the pathways of collective reawakening of Native Hawaiian women (Martin, 2019).

holomua progress forward

hoʻolauna friendly introductions which build relationship connections

hoʻomana to activate one’s Divine power; to re-empower; to worship; spiritual beliefs

hoʻopono to activate alignment of mind, body, spirit; to activate one’s self-identity

hoʻoponopono family discussion to set to right and restore balance & harmony among family members

hoʻoulu pono to activate inspired growth and alignment; to cause to thrive

huli turn; taro corm

huli hoʻi turn back; backslide

huliau time of transformation (“I turn in a cyclical pattern over time”)

kalo taro plant

kaona deeper, hidden meaning


kānaka mankind

Kānaka Maoli Native Hawaiians; true/native; indigenous people of Hawaiʻi

Ka Wā Kāhiko Ancient Hawaiian Spirituality

kūpono integrity

Kū Hawaiian masculine god

lele to fly

liko lehua leaf bud of the ʻōhiʻa lehua tree

loʻi taro field

lolo brain

makaʻala alert, aware


mālama ‘āina to care for; nurture; nourish

(caring for/protecting the land) This cultural practice is grounded in the Hawaiian belief that mankind shares an interdependent relationship with the land. In particular, kalo (taro) is the elder sibling of Kānaka Maoli and they view themselves as stewards of the land (Handy et al., 1972; Kameʻeleihiwa, 1992). In return, the land nourishes and nurtures them physically and spiritually. As the women “cared for” the land, the land also “cared for” them and helped them to release, reconnect, and restore their sense of connectedness and overall self-identity.

mana Divine, supernatural power from inhereted frmo one’s ancestors and acquired through beliefs and practices; internal energy or life force; present in all life. Mana increases as we use the spritiual power we have been given to serve, benefit, or care for others. When we prevent others from doing all that their ancestors wanted for them, our mana diminishes and/or remains dormant.

meaʻai food; things to eat

naʻau seat of Hawaiian intellect; guts, gut feeling, bowels, heart, of the heart and mind; affections, mood, temper, feelings, visceral mind

The Kānaka Maoli term naʻau is often translated as a “gut feeling” or instinctual knowing that comes from one’s mana or Divine power located in the stomach. It is an internal guidance system that guides a kānaka on how to conduct oneself.

naʻaupō “Night” mind, not fully conscious yet, asleep

naʻauao “Daylight” mind, fully conscious, awake

nā moʻolelo stories, history; succession of talk; (originally all stories were oral not written)

‘ohana blood relationships and extended family; relative and kin group (ʻaumakua and ancestors)

ʻōhiʻa lehua Mother tree of the Hawaiian Rainforest

‘opala rubbish, trash, refuse, waste matter, junk, negative feelings associated with multi-layered trauma

Pele Hawaiian volcano goddess

pilikia trouble (thoughts of fear, worry, doubt, judgement, anger, resentment)

pō “time of” or “state of” or “night and unconsciousness”

pōhaku rock or stone

pōmaikaʻi blessings

pono harmony & balance with oneself, mind, body, spirit alignment; fair, just, hopeful, at peace

pule prayer, ask for a blessing

puʻuhonua place of refuge & sanctuary

wāhine maoli Native Hawaiian women

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Martin, T.K.K., Paglinawan, L.K. & Okamoto, S.K. Moving from Darkness to Light: Cultural Pathways to Healing and Posttraumatic Growth of Formerly Incarcerated Native Hawaiian Women. ADV RES SCI 2, 247–268 (2021).

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  • Posttraumatic growth
  • Native Hawaiians
  • Healing
  • Incarceration