Story by Alan McNarie
Photo by Jack Wolford
Four years ago
Robin Williams—one of the founders of Ola, the Big Island company that crafts body products from Hawaiian healing plants—teamed up with kumu Dane Silva, a master of lomilomi. Silva helped Williams formulate a massage oil with traditional ingredients such as noni and ‘ölena, but the pair didn’t stop there: They also focused on the lomi stick, an integral part of the lomi massage. Some sticks are large and used to align the spine and joints; some are smaller and used to stimulate specific pressure points.
“We saw the lomi stick as a vessel of healing energy that anyone could learn to use,” recalls Williams. But who would create the sticks? Enter Hilo High School’s Lanakila Learning Center, which helps at-risk youth. Lanakila’s curriculum incorporates the conventional—in the mornings teens study subjects like English and math—and the unconventional: In the afternoons students may learn aquaculture and agriculture at a local ranch or help remove invasive species in the rainforest above Hilo, all part of Lanakila’s goal of hands-on learning. The challenge for students was getting around, for while the school had two minibuses, the Department of Education wasn’t funding the gas. The solution?
“In walked Robin,” recalls Lanakila director Wendy Hamane. “Thanks to her, we had a win-win proposition.” Williams and Silva directed the students to go into the forest and harvest waiawï—highly invasive strawberry guava trees. The students would then shape the wood from the trees into six-inch lomi sticks: bark removed, edges rounded, everything sanded smooth. In exchange, Ola bought the gas the students needed to move about in the world. “Our students learn to take an invasive species and craft it into a beautiful, functional product,” says Hamane, “and Robin keeps our buses running.”
The Lanakila lomi sticks are now at a number of spas across the Islands, including Maui’s Kapalua Spa and the Big Island’s Kohala Spa at the Hilton Waikoloa. “The lomi stick is an iconic cultural tool,” says Williams, “and these sticks are not just good for bodies—they’re good for the land and the students, too.”