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Pu'uhonua

Posted on September 17, 2013

Our first real post!  I want to thank you ahead of time for taking a quick minute to read today’s mumblings!  Please feel free to comment on what you read.  I’m hoping to have a national conversation around the issues I present here.  To make this happen we need your innovative ideas and stories of success and struggle.

In a recent trip to Honolulu (yes my job is awesome!) I learned about the concept of Pu’uhonua.  Along with representatives from the Hawai’i Primary Care Association and the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, I was introduced to Warden Mark Kawika Patterson and his work to bring trauma informed practices into the Women’s Community Correctional Center.

His model for this transformation is based on the traditional Hawaiian concept of the Pu’uhonua which means place of refuge in Hawaiian.   I believe the Pu’uhonua really puts the trauma informed paradigm, and the transformation the paradigm demands, in perspective. I will post several aspects of the Pu’uhonua that I feel relates to our work with traumatized clients and start by talking about the journey one takes to the Pu’uhonua.  

When someone violated a societal taboo or had been defeated in war they faced harsh punishments by their community or the people who defeated them in war.  This punishment was often a death sentence, but they had one hope to restore their position in the community.  They could journey to the Pu’uhonua which was the only place of refuge left to them.  This journey was not easy and they were often hunted by the community who were attempting to carry out the punishment they thought the individual deserved.

As Warden Patterson was describing Pu’uhonua, I couldn’t help but think about our clients’ journeys to our organizations.  Sometimes they also have committed crimes or broken our cultural norms in some way.  It is always painful to see the impact of stigma, racism and discrimination on our clients.  Society judges people not only on who they are but also with constant list of demands: “wake up already and fix your life”; “Get a job!”; “Leave your abusive husband”; “Take your prescriptions”; “Stop asking for handouts and spending the money on booze”.  I’m sure you could add to this list based on your own experience with patients and clients.

Like the person journeying to the Pu’uhonua our clients have many barriers they must overcome before walking through our doors.  Most have experienced years of trauma, pain and live in a constant state of stress.  Many have been let down or even abused by those who they sought help from in the past.  And, at least for many of the gang members I’ve worked with, people might actually be trying to kill them. Having a physical place that serves as a refuge is a powerful concept for someone in crisis and pain.  The Pu’uhonua offered hope, no matter how dark their situation was at the time.  

How does your organization create a Pu’uhonua for your clients and your communities?  How can we create physical locations of hope and healing?  How do our clients know they can come to us for, at least, a temporary sanctuary from their pain and trauma?  If Warden Patterson can transform a prison how can we transform our organizations? 

My next post will be about what happens inside the Pu’uhonua.

Matt

8 responses to “Pu'uhonua”

  1. Orion Weill says:

    Hi Matt, when I got your email I was unsure of what this was. You may want to send an email out reminding people that you met them at the NHCH training and put their name on a list. Great post, I remember you talking about this sanctuary at the training. I’ll be looking out for your next post, and to answer your question, my program even offers home visits that can be made by wellness counselors, and our office has an open door policy, both of which I believe are appreciated by clients.

  2. Orion Weill says:

    Hi Matt, when I got your email I was unsure of what this was. You may want to send an email out reminding people that you met them at the NHCH training and put their name on a list. Great post, I remember you talking about this sanctuary at the training. I’ll be looking out for your next post, and to answer your question, my program even offers home visits that can be made by wellness counselors, and our office has an open door policy, both of which I believe are appreciated by clients.

  3. mollie says:

    The Pu’uhonua reminds me of this short article I read recently: http://thegodmolecule.tumblr.com/post/48146343226/here-is-a-tribe-in-africa-where-the-birth-date-of
    Basically, every child born into this African tribe has his/her own unique song. Here is the part that reminds me of the philosophy of the Pu’uhonua:
    “In the African tribe there is one other occasion upon which the villagers sing to the child. If at any time during his or her life, the person commits a crime or aberrant social act, the individual is called to the center of the village and the people in the community form a circle around them. Then they sing their song to them.

    The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behavior is not punishment; it is love and the remembrance of identity. When you recognize your own song, you have no desire or need to do anything that would hurt another.”
    What a beautiful way to recognize the unique value of each person. We need more of this way of thinking in this country.

  4. mollie says:

    The Pu’uhonua reminds me of this short article I read recently: http://thegodmolecule.tumblr.com/post/48146343226/here-is-a-tribe-in-africa-where-the-birth-date-of
    Basically, every child born into this African tribe has his/her own unique song. Here is the part that reminds me of the philosophy of the Pu’uhonua:
    “In the African tribe there is one other occasion upon which the villagers sing to the child. If at any time during his or her life, the person commits a crime or aberrant social act, the individual is called to the center of the village and the people in the community form a circle around them. Then they sing their song to them.

    The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behavior is not punishment; it is love and the remembrance of identity. When you recognize your own song, you have no desire or need to do anything that would hurt another.”
    What a beautiful way to recognize the unique value of each person. We need more of this way of thinking in this country.

  5. Matt Bennett says:

    Love this Mollie! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and the article.

  6. Matt Bennett says:

    Love this Mollie! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and the article.

  7. Matt Bennett says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Matt Bennett says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

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