In 2005, the Department of Native Hawaiian Health at the University of Hawai‘i’s John A. Burns School of Medicine led the creation of the first cultural kīpuka on the School’s campus. The kīpuka created was a māla lāʻau lapaʻau, a traditional Native Hawaiian medicinal healing garden.

The intent was to create a cultural grounding site within the new medical school campus. Dr. Benjamin Young, former Director of the Native Hawaiian Center of Excellence, assembled a team of Native Hawaiian faculty, cultural consultants including a Hawaiian ethnobotany expert. The team proposed revising all of the plans for plantings on the campus to include both endemic and indigenous Hawaiian plants. After some negotiation, the School’s administration agreed that nearly all of the plantings of the inner campus would be endemic or indigenous Hawaiian plants. This aligned with a key design feature of the JABSOM architecture motif of four medicinal plants that include ʻAwa (Piper methisticum), Kukui (Aleurites molucana), Pōpolo (Solanum americanum), and ʻOhia Lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha). These native plants were selected by a Native Hawaiian cultural expert because of its pervasive use in medicinal treatments and for symbolic and metaphoric reasons. The māla lāʻau lapaʻau was complete and dedicated with pule (prayer, incantation, or blessing) written in honor of the garden and to acknowledge the wisdom of ancestral health and healing practices.

Download our Guide to Selected Plants of the Mala La‘au Lapa‘au.