Some Hawaiian Folklore: Legends and Ghost Stories for a Dark and Stormy Night
It's a cold dark blustery night and I'm all alone in my one room house out on the plain of Mauna Kea.
Sounds like a good time for some ghost stories!
First let me admit that I am a folklorist but that I haven't done any kind of rigorous collecting since I've been here.
And frankly I'm sort of stymied-- I doubt that I could collect anything even if I wanted to. If I dare generalize, one of the more beautiful and subtle charactaristics of Hawaiian culture is its understatedness. Great slack-key masters defer to young doofuses, kupuna in church sit back and let the younger ones talk and talk and talk.
You have to listen very carefully, for a very long time, and even then.
Being taught is a priveledge, not a right.
So that being said, here are a few glints and glimmers of Hawaiian ghosts that I've heard in the last couple of years:
Our young neighbor Pono is hanai-ed into the Hanohano family and lives with Auntie Val and her older son and his wife (Pono's biological sister-- so yes, his sister-in-law is his sister). They have been granted 10 acres of Hawaiian Homes pasture on the windy plain of Mauna Kea a couple of miles from here. As a 12 year old, Pono loved coming over to tell me eerie stories because I react in an undignified way, shrieking and hooting, shouting, "no way!"
He told me about the wind on the plain-- one night he was with his mom, older brother and his pregnant wife-- camping on their 10 acres. It is pitch black out there-- no lights anywhere so the observatories on the mountains can set their eyes on the deep guts of the galaxies.
They have a half-built cabin on the property, and they have their sleeping bags rolled out in there. Well the winds pick up violently, shaking the house, like people bearing down all around them. The noise almost shook the cabin apart, and then when it left, the sister's baby was gone-- taken with the wind.
When I was on Maui for a slack-key workshop (ostensibly research, actually recreation) the group-- students and teachers-- were sitting on the lawn one evening having a Kanikapila-- a jam session-- watching the sunset colors over Molokai. Someone struck up a song about a certain wind-- I think it was the Kona winds (the same ones that blew our chicken coop over the other day). Half-way through the song, a fierce gust picks up from Molokai, whips away all the music stands and chord charts and sarongs. Uncle George Kahumoku Jr., a wise and sensetive (and practical) person, finished the song early and started up a rousing song about the beauty of Molokai.
The winds died down right away.
Uncle George laughed the next day-- you just have to show the proper respect! he said.
I told Pono that we had gone fishing in Waipio Valley and that it was beautiful but eerie down there. He boasted-- We go camping down there all the time! One time they were driving down the harrowingly narrow and steep road into the valley. The car starts jolting down and suddenly the radio turns on-- and it's not modern music, it's ancient Hawaiian music-- chanting and drums.
He said there have been so many crashes on that road-- and some of them were never recovered. And as you drive past the trees you can see the faces of the victims in the knots of the trees.
We are lucky enough to go to church with several of the builders, organizers, and celestial navigators who build and sail traditional Hawaiian double-hulled voyaging canoes all around the world using only the tides and the stars-- the way the ancient polynesians sailed all over the world. Before their most recent major voyage, from Hawaii to Micronesia to Japan, they had a small public ceremony followed by a private one at the navigational heiau (temple) at Kawaihae. About 50 people hiked to a site a respectful distance from the heiau-- family and friends and a few reporters-- and the sailors said a few words about the project, and said their thanks, and then a pule (prayer) was offered in Hawaiian by a kumu (master). As soon as he began speaking, a crystal clear and vibrating rainbow appeared across the sky, directly above the heiau. It shone in the air for the duration of the prayer, and as soon as he stopped speaking, it faded.
I expessed my amazement to Auntie Val, and she said, "oh, that happens all the time." And she told me the Hawaiian term for that kind of natural sign, which I forgot, but which I will ask her again.
A family in our church community lost a young man-- he left behind his wife and small children. The extended family took his ashes out to sea on a catamaran as he had requested. They arrived at the place he wanted, and as soon as they were there, hundreds of dolphins appeared all around them. One of his young children cried-- we can't leave daddy out here, the sharks will get him! But his great-grandmother told him-- no, the dolphins are here to protect him. And that comforted his child, and they scattered his ashes among the dolphins.