CHICKEN SKIN STORIES OF OLD HAWAII
Here follow two or so stories associated with the darker mana of Molokai and Maui. On the mainland, these tales would be called ‘spooky’, but on the islands, the term is ‘chicken skin’. Hawaii, as a culture once dominated by the ancient traditional religion and associated ‘kapus’ (we know them more familiarly by the Tahitian term ‘taboo’, more or less meaning ‘forbidden’), is a culture infinitely rich in spirituality. In fact every single object on the islands, both natural and man-made, was believed to contain varying amounts of spiritual power, in the perceptions of the old Hawaiian culture. ‘Mana’ (spirituality) is a uniquely Hawaiian term that has many possible meanings, ranging from its purer and more beneficial aspects (such as the influence of ancestral spirits, or ‘aumakua’) all the way to the powerful spells and evil curses of ‘dark mana’. On Molokai, the priests and Kahunas were purported to possess immensely powerful mana. So feared was their spiritual ability that the island of Molokai was originally known as the ‘island of powerful prayers’ (in Hawaiian, “Molokai Pule O`o”), and it was believed that the priests of Molokai could literally ‘pray’ their enemies to death! In fact, several oral histories have been recorded in which exactly that happened, when the island was invaded by Ali’i (royalty) from other islands in the 1700s. Inhabitants of the other islands usually gave Molokai a wide berth, as a result of this feared reputation the Molokai shaman-priests had, and one consequence was that the island was not subject to the constant and unending inter island wars and battles between contending royalty (Ali’i) as were the others.
The last story appearing here concerns ‘Night Marchers’, generally acknowledged to be the ghosts of ancient kings and gods who march as phantoms across the island on certain nights of the lunar month. If one locates a Hawaiian lunar calendar and takes a look at the dates, the nights usually favored by these departed spirits are usually marked out rather clearly. Night marchers also frequent specific parts of the island and follow known ‘paths’, so if one is eager enough to encounter this dark phenomenon, there is enough information available for anyone to set about that task appropriately (not that one should deliberately actively seek out such powerfully spiritual things, of course!).
A few years ago, a couple of young haoles on Oahu exploited the Hawaiian ‘night marcher’ legends to prepare a series of low-budget ‘movies’ about night marching spirits. They deserve some small credit for being imaginative, but their film-making effort was really quite poor in the final result, the acting quite terrible, and overall the result did a disservice to the small, hard core of truth behind the legendary phenomenon of night marching on the islands. In particular, in the second of these ‘movies’, the role of the heroes in the film was played by a couple of young haoles and the locals (native Hawaiians) playing roles in the film were made out to appear as stereotypically ‘dumb kanakas’, which was both grossly inappropriate and a racially contrived disservice to an extreme extent.
The best stories about night marching may be found in translations of old original oral stories passed down from generation to generation, among the locals. In the past several decades, a few individuals have actively pursued many of these stories and written them down, publishing them in book collections. One such author named Rick Carroll has made a name for himself in Hawaii as a collector of Hawaiian ghost stories (generally called ‘Chicken Skin Stories’ in the islands). Carroll originally worked for the San Francisco Chronicle and later relocated to the islands, where he then started publishing collections of spooky tales and stories—all of which are supposedly true and that actually happened to people in various parts of Hawaii. Due to the fact that Hawaii is a racially mixed locale, with a range of spiritually diverse ethnic influences (that includes Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, and Filipino), the ghostly stories of Hawaii include many elements of these cultures in a unique mix that has come to characterise Hawaiian ghost stories. More can be read about author Rick Carroll and his books at the following URL, for anyone interested: http://www.besspress.com/ (Once there, Search for 'Rick Carroll')
At any rate, Hawaii is today still filled with much traditional Hawaiian mana, thickly overlaid by a layer of imported mythology and spirituality, despite the best efforts of Christians to eliminate what they regard as ‘all that superstitious nonsense’. Of course, the definition of ‘superstitious nonsense’ is a matter of outlook and interpretation, isn’t it? For example, I myself regard most ancient Christian beliefs (among them the belief that the historical figure known as ‘Jesus’ was actually the ‘son of God’) as a lot of superstitious nonsense, so whatever ‘truth’ there is (and there always some, no matter how fantastic the stories may seem) with regard to this matter is entirely relative and depends upon the viewer’s perceptions, doesn’t it? That having been said, here are a few tidbits to tease you into taking a closer look at Hawaii’s vast wealth of legends and ghostly stories.
A MOLOKAI HAUNTING: JUST SOME IDIOT HAOLE POUNDING ON A PAHU...
Iao Needle on Maui is an evocative feature of the Iao Valley State Park on Maui. It is often obscured by clouds and fog, standing behind the bifurcation of the Iao Stream as it flows through the cleft of the Pu'u Kakui crater. In former centuries, Iao Needle formed a natural alter for worship of Ku (one of the chief deities of old Hawaii, among other things the fierce God of War) and other traditional Hawaiian gods. Today, aside from being a singularly striking natural monolith of basaltic lava, it serves to remind many visiting malihinis (tourists) of a large erect penis (the Hawaiian term for penis is ‘Ule’). In a recent painting of it by a Molokiian artist, it does seem to point skyward like some like some sort of an advertisement for natural Hawaiian Viagra or Cialis. Shamefully, despite having had a number of daily conversations with the artist in reference, I neglected to record his surname; modest soul that he is, he signs his work simply as 'Wally'. It is acrylic on canvas and I bought it at the weekly produce market and crafts fair that you find on Kaunakai's Ala Molama Street every Saturday AM. Wally is a retired older haole who came to the island some years ago with his wife. He paints landscapes on Molokai and Maui, but also teaches art at the local community night school. Many of Wally's paintings appear a bit rustic, but a few of them are actually quite good, this image of the Iao Needle being one of them. He also had a beautiful image of Fuji-san (Mt. Fujiyama) in Japan, but he was holding it for someone else who had spoken for it already, so I passed on it. Wally had a terrible bout with skin cancer of the face, due to overexposure throughout his life, so he wears a Panama style hat religiously. With a very fair skin (typical of many haoles, such as myself) and obsessed with the usual haole desire to be brown like the kanaka locals, Wally practically assured himself of some later cancerous melanomas. He is lucky to still have a face, so severe was the damage he allowed the sun to inflict on him, by not wearing a hat earlier in life.
Molokai has a number of artists of varying skill. A few of them are virtual masters of their mediums, while many--predictably--are somewhat less talented (this doesn't mean their prices are much less, however). There are generally three places where you can view a good sampling of their works on the island. One is in Stanley's Gallery and Cafe on Ala Molama Street (Stanley himself is probably the best artist on the island). The second is at the Coffees of Hawaii gallery in Kualapu'u and the third is at the Kamakana Fine Arts Gallery in Kaunkakai (although that gallery has since been sold and has a new name--the Molokai Fine Arts Gallery--as well as a new owner--Julia Keliikuli Peters). Among the most prolific of the local photographers is a chap known simply as 'Phil', who sells reprint enlargements of his many beautiful Molokai photographic images on the corner, during the weekly Kaunakakai produce and crafts fair. Next to Phil's slot are the racks of nice old "pre-used" (love that quaint term, don't you?) aloha shirts sold by Theodocia Wainwright, a rather exotic looking Filipina woman who lives on the Mana'e (East End) with her contractor husband (like most guys who meet her without knowing she's happily married, I fell in love with her at first sight!). Nearby, local Paul Elias, who is 100% Hawaiian, displays his hand carved Pahu and fish hooks; Paul’s works are truly beautiful and authentically crafted after the traditional custom and he maintains the true aloha spirit courtesies of inviting you to his home to talk and eat (E komo mai, e noho mai, e `ai a e, wala`au!).
Then there is Carlo, a German expatriate who has spent the last 10 years as a sort of South Pacific vagabond, after leaving his intaglio art work in Europe and taking to a 36 foot sloop for his travels. Carlo usually ends up tied to the wharf at Kaunakakai and can be spotted frequently during any given day tooling around K'kai on his delapidated old single-speed, fat-tired bicycle. With a characteristic white goatee and seemingly always wearing a weathered old white ball cap, there's never any doubt that it is indeed Carlo when you spot him. Unusually, Carlo doesn't particularly care for beer--a strange predilection I found out one day, when I left two six-packs of Papeete (Tahitian) Beer for him on the poop-deck of his old sloop. A German who doesn't like beer is almost as paradoxical (in my opinion) as a beautiful woman who loves other women. But, each to his/her own drummer's beat, of course.
Carlo cleverly takes local items and makes them into objets d'art, such as the very appealing small Aku (Tiki) he creates from the island's local deer antlers. One of these I purchased from him a while back and I still admire it, carrying it along with my personal shark aku (mano akua) that friend Fast Eddie gave me. Carlo also paints in a unique style that derives directly from his previous occupation as an intaglio pattern artist for a fabric-printing business (in Europe). He lives aboard his sloop, which I like to call 'The Leaking Lena' (although it is actually named the ‘Vanda’ and list about 15 degrees to port, giving it a permanent lean to that side) as a reminder of the 'Beany & Cecil' TV cartoon program of the 1950s and 60s.
The art colony on Molokai is small, compared to that found on the other Hawaiian islands (thankfully, since if it were too popular, the island would be over-run by tourists and artists; following this would surely come swarms of real estate investors, so how much better to keep Molokai's art colony a sort of well-kept secret!).
Since Molokai is the birthplace of Hula (every island claims this, but Molokai seems to be the genuine ‘Hula piko’ birthplace of this most Hawaiian dance), there are a few master carvers on the island who still carve the old Heiau Pahu and Hula Pahu (drums), hewn from coconut palm trunks. Local Bill Kepuni is one of them and his son-in-law Victor Lopez is another. The Hawaiian 'Pahu' were originally used at the stone Heiau (temples, or sacred worship sites) to call the islanders to pray, before the old Hawaiian religion was abolished by the Christians. They (the Pahu) had religious significance that went far beyond this single use, however, and at a few of the Heiau used for human sacrifice on Molokai they predominated over the setting with foreboding news of pending sacrificial rites. When the Hula came into being, somewhat smaller Pahu were used to punctuate the characteristic chanting that always accompanies traditional chanting (’mele’) Hula. These drums are today known as 'Hula Pahu' and are chiefly differentiated from the religious Pahu by their slightly smaller dimensions. Traditionally, Pahu were made using the belly skin of the shark and ray for drum-head material, but today, given the sacred nature of the shark to Hawaiians and also the increasing scarcity of sharks due to over-fishing and human predation, ordinary steer-hide or goat-hide is used almost exclusively.
I bought a nice example of the Hula Pahu carved by Victor Lopez, although I am told that his drums pale in comparison to others that are of the highest quality. A 15 inch wide Pahu measuring 20 inches in height can cost as much as $1800, depending upon the maker, while larger and more ornate ones (used principally at ceremonies and for formal Hawaiian festivals) may cost as much as $5,000 or more. Mine was priced at $950, but it is still quite a beauty by my limited standards of comparison. I have several others in my collection, but most are somewhat smaller than the one I bought from Victor. Making a Pahu is truly a time-consuming and artful undertaking, since cutting the tree, sectioning it, drying the wood out, and then carving it may take as long as several years, when done properly. The intricate and painstakingly dedicated nature of this traditional craft is often lost on visiting haole malihinis, who are used to manufactured goods that are high-quality, but mass-produced and machine-made, imported from China. As a result, the often high prices asked for authentic, hand-crafted Pahu are often something of a shock to tourists looking for cheap souvenirs of their visit. If anything, this shows how detached most people living in a materialistic culture have become from the realities of artfully hand-crafted goods.
A while back on the island, after the sun had sunk very low in the sky, I remained behind up on the foggy promontory where Pala-au State Park is now located, having walked down the trail a ways to the area where the famed 'Ka Ule o Nanahoa' phallic rock is sited. This huge volcanic rock, shaped in the form of an erect penis ('Ka Ule o Nanahoa' in fact translates to 'Penis of Nanahoa') is shrouded all about by the thick tangles of Ironwood forest it lies within and it doesn't take much imagination to visualise small shadowy shapes darting about from tree to tree in the woods that surrounded the site, as the wind gusts in from the sea cliffs that rise 3000+ feet above the Kalaupapa peninsula. Before long, the clouds and fog began to obscure the exotic view, with the sun now having submerged itself back into the ocean. The resulting mood was positively spooky--about as spooky as someone who is virtually a born-again athiest can experience.
I should say here that this place was originally a place of great power and mana to the ancient Hawaiians, sitting as it is at the top of the sea cliffs overlooking the former leper colony of Father Damian (lying some 3000 feet straight below, beyond the sheer cliff face). 'Ka Ule o Nanahoa' was regarded as a site possessed of tremendous fertility power and it is still felt that a woman who spent the night sitting on or at the base of this stone monolith would become pregnant within a very short period. Enough tales and recorded incidents exist today to give some impressive credence to this belief, although whether the power of the human mind to ‘will’ events into being was behind it or some residual spiritual mana of great strength is a hotly debated subject to this day. Offerings are regularly left at the site by both tourists and locals, often consisting of money, flowers, sacred rocks wrapped in Ti-leaf offerings, and prayers for fertility.
My plan was to remain the night myself (not having any fear of an unwanted pregnancy, of course) to take in the spiritual atmosphere on a first-hand basis. had brought Victor's Pahu along with me and planned to play the drum exploratively as the night gathered about this ancient and very sacred Hawaiian site. Inherent skeptic that I am, I fully expected to experience nothing more than the rustle of wind in the trees and small night sounds that indicate geckos and other small nocturnal critters coming out to hunt. Besides, it was a casual lark and I have absolutely nothing to lose except a few hours of passing time.
Down the hill from the Ule just slightly is another large rock that is shaped amazingly like the vulva of a woman, with a small trickle of ground water passing down and out of it in a strange and spooky manner. I was located between the two sacred stones, on the trail that connects them, and sat down with my Pahu to eat a candy bar and reflect on the gathering silence, broken only by the sighing of wind and the small animal voices mentioned above. There was no one else about for miles, as far as I knew, for the last tourists of the day (a German group visiting from a stay on Maui) had long since packed up and gone back down the hill to K'kai. Tentatively, I pulsed out a few small beats on the drum. In the utterly silent gloom of the trees, the beats sounded magnified and seemed strangely to grow in volume, rather than diminish, in the leafy bowers all about me. Stopping for a few seconds, I listened to the wind in the trees, trying hard to imagine ancient spirits hovering curiously about to see what this drum message was saying. There was, of course, nothing else to hear, but it was fun to give my imagination this safe lead to roam about on...
Until, that is, a few minutes later...after I had self-consciously resumed my rhythmic beating, gaining little confidence in the supposed absurdity of what I was doing. To my immense surprise, the sounds of the forest now seemed to include a faint tapping that I hadn't noticed before. Looking about, I decided that it wasn't as much tapping as it was the muffled beat of another drum. Kay-den, brahs! Latez! It certainly seemed to be a drum, at any rate, and there was no way to tell where it was, how far away it lay, or who was beating on it. As I listened, the sound of the other drum (for it was definitely a drum) increased noticeably. There was no mistaking the deliberate pattern of the beats, nor the power behind them as I listened incredulously to the sounds.
Telling myself "This is getting a LOT more spooky than you bargained for…”, at that point I decided to remain quite still for a moment, while I considered going back up the trail, which by now was cloaked in gloom. Any card-carrying pagan in the audience would certainly have felt the change in the lightly charged, gathering atmosphere, I'm sure, but I suddenly felt an increasingly strong disinclination to experience any more of this or see where it was leading. Hastily grabbing my Pahu, I rather quickly trundled back up the hill in the darkness, glancing at the dim bulk of Nanahoa's huge erection as I passed it. By the time I had crested the hill and had my car in sight, I could still hear a faint and muffled thrum-thrum-thrum coming from somewhere in the darkness behind me.
To this day, I still don't know what to believe. Had I evoked the restless spirits of the ancients, sitting there sacrilegiously pounding out a call to unknown ancient powers in a language I didn't understand? Had some local kanaka trickster nearby, also equipped with a Pahu, had similar thoughts and was trying to scare the daylights out of dis one da kine Haole? I'll never know for certain, but I still think back on that incident today and wonder mightily about what it may really have meant. I certainly may not be a conventionally religiously inclined person by nature, but I also don't preclude any other possibilities, either. Even if this were mostly the product of an overheated imagination and a gloomy, utterly silent forest, it was genuine enough at the time to give me a distinctly real case of chicken-skin!
THE MARCHERS OF THE NIGHT
Every Hawaiian has heard of the "Marchers of the Night", 'Ka huaka'i o ka Po'. More than a few have actually seen and experienced the procession of these ghostly spirits of long-gone ancestors, chiefs, and gods. It is said that such a sight is fatal…unless one has a relative among the dead to intercede for him. If a man is found stricken by the roadside a white doctor will pronounce the cause as heart failure, but a Hawaiian will think at once of the night march.
The time for the march is between half after seven when the sun has actually set and about two in the morning before the dawn breaks. It may occur on one of the four nights of the gods, on the nights of Ku, Akua, Lono, Kane, or on the nights of Kaloa (all ancient Hawaiian gods).
Those who took part in the march were the chiefs and warriors who had died, the aumakua (ancestors), and the gods, each of whom had their own march.
If a chief enjoyed silence in this life, his march would be silent save for the creaking of the food calabashes suspended from the carrying sticks, or of the litter, called manele, if he had not been fond of walking. If a chief had been fond of music, the sound of the drum, nose flute, and other instruments were heard as they marched. Sometimes there were no lights borne, at other times there were torches, but not so bright as for the gods and the demi-gods. A chief whose face had been sacred, called an alo-kapu, so that no man, beast, or bird could pass before him without being killed, must lead the march; even his own warriors might not precede him, for to have anyone see his face was instant death for the offender. If on the contrary his back had been sacred, akua-kapu, he must follow in the rear of the procession. A chief who had been well protected in life, who had no rigid kapu upon his face or back, would march between his warriors.
On the marches of the chief, a few 'aumakua' would march with them in order to protect their living progeny who might chance to meet them on the path. Sometimes the march would occur when a chief lay dying or just dead. It paused before the door of the departed royalty for a brief time and then passed on. The family might not notice it, but a neighbor might see it pass and know that the chief had gone with his ancestors who had come for him.
In the march of the 'aumakua' of each district there was music and chanting. The marchers carried candlenut (Kukui nut) torches which burned brightly even on a rainy night. They might be seen in broad daylight and were followed by whirlwinds such as come one after another in columns.
They cried "Kapu-o-moe!" as a warning to stragglers to keep out of the way or to prostrate themselves with closed eyes until the marchers passed. Like the chiefs, they too sometimes came to a dying descendent and took him away with them.
The march of the gods was much longer, more brilliantly lighted, and more sacred than that of the chiefs or the demi-gods. The torches were brighter and shone red. At the head, at three points within the line, and at the rear were carried larger torches, five being the complete number among Hawaiians, the "Ku a lima". The gods with the torches walked six abreast: three of males and three of females. According to legend, one of the three at the end of the line was 'Hi'iaka-i-ka-poli-o-Pele' youngest sister of the volcano goddess. The first torch could be seen burning up at Kahuku when the last of the five torches was at Honu'apo. The only music to be heard on the marches of the gods was the chanting of their names and mighty deeds. The sign that accompanied them was a heavy downpour of rain, with mist, thunder, and lightning, or heavy seas. Their route the next day would be strewn with broken boughs, or leaves, for their heads were sacred and nothing should be suspended above them.
If a living person met these marchers, he had to get out of the way as quickly as possible, otherwise he might be killed unless he had an ancestor or an 'aumakua' in the procession to plead for his life.
If he met a procession of chiefs and had no time to get out of the way, he might take off his clothes and lie face upward, eyes closed, breathing as little as possible. He would hear them cry "Shame!" as they passed. One would say "He is dead!" Another would cry "No, he is alive, but what a shame for him to lie uncovered!" If he had no time to strip he must sit perfectly still, close his eyes, and take his chance.
He was likely to be killed by the guard at the front or at the rear of the line, unless saved by one of his ancestors or by an 'aumakua'. If he met a procession of gods, he must take off all his clothes but his loincloth (known as the malo and used to cover one's alas) and sit still with his eyes tightly closed, because no man might look upon a god, although he might be permitted to listen to their talk. He would hear the command to strike (by one of the marchers); then, if he were beloved by one of the gods as a favorite child or namesake, he would hear someone (an aumakua) say "No, he is mine!" and he would be spared by the guards.
Many Hawaiians living today have seen or heard the ghostly marchers. Ms. Wiggins, Mrs. Pukui's (highly respected Hawaiian historian Mary Kawena Pukui) mother, never got in their way, but she has watched them pass from the door of her own mother's house and has heard the Ka'u people tell of the precautions that must be taken to escape death if one chances to be in their path (as in the following).
A young man of Kona tells the following experience:
"One night, just after nightfall, about seven or eight in the evening, he was on his way when of a sudden he saw a long line of marchers coming towards him. He climbed over a stone wall and sat very still. As they drew near he saw that they (the night marchers) walked four abreast and were about 7 feet tall, walking slightly above the ground. One of the marchers stepped out of line and ran back and forth on the other side of the wall behind where he was crouched, as if to protect him from the others. As each file passed, he heard the voices call out "Strike!" and his protector answered "No! No! He is mine!" No other sounds were heard except the call to strike and the creak of a 'manele' (litter). He was not afraid and watched the marchers closely. There were both men and women in the procession. After a long line of marchers four abreast had passed there came the 'manele' bearers, two before and two behind. On the litter sat a very big man whom he guessed at once to be a chief. Following the litter were other marchers walking four abreast. After all had passed, his protector joined his fellows..."
In the old days these marchers were common in Ka'u district, but folk today know little about them. They used to march and play games practically on the same ground as in life. Hence each district and each island had its own parade and playground along which the dead would march and at which they would assemble.
Mrs. Emma Akana Olmstead tells me that when she was told about the marchers of the night as a child, she was afraid, but now that she is older and can actually hear them, she is no longer afraid. She hears beautiful loud chanting of voices, the high notes of the flute, and drumming so loud that it seems to be beaten upon the side of the house beside her bed. Their voices (the marchers) are so distinct that if she could write music, she would, be able to set down the notes they sang.
(This last entry is partially taken from translations of oral history stories by Mrs. Mary Kawena Pukui, PhD, 1895-1986, who in the course of a 50 year association with the Bernice P. Bishop Museum in Honolulu, translated thousands of Hawaiian legends, stories, and oral history accounts, as published in KEPELINO'S TRADITIONS OF HAWAII, edited by Martha Beckworth, 1932. During her life, she was regarded as a true living treasure of the islands)