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Editor’s Page: Island Magic

Spooky stories can be a force for good.



Call me biased toward my home state, but I believe that spooky stories in Hawai‘i have more depth, texture and character than your average generic apparition-in-the-window or squeaky-door tale that you might find in other places.


We benefit from our cultural diversity. Sure, come October each year, Halloween turns our collective attention to haunted houses, tricks and treats, no matter where you live in the United States. And yes, each community can be proud of its traditions. But, here in Hawai‘i, we stay in touch with our supernatural side throughout the year. And we don’t relate only to the ghostly figures from whatever ethnic groups we happen to hail from, we generally embrace the chance to be intrigued, spooked or even skeptical about nearly any compelling story. Count us as equal opportunity in the supernatural realm. Folks who are skeptical tend to doubt all tales; folks who relate to otherworldly powers remain open to many beliefs.


When stories of the unexplained get flowing around a barbecue, campsite or beer-fueled get-together, you’re likely to hear at least one about night marchers, and then one about Japanese obake clad in white, or even a tale of volcano goddess Pele as a white-haired elder, appearing along the roadside.


For those of us who share Portuguese ancestry, we sometimes hear of feiteceira (roughly translated as witch), though I can’t remember seeing it written out until I was an adult. And your family’s version of feiteceira might differ wildly from mine.


The older generation of my family from Honoka‘a usually invoked them to explain the unexplainable, to make little mysteries more fathomable. But they also seemed similar to menehune, with a kind of playful magic that occurred when people were not paying attention. So I was surprised to hear others blame feiteceira for darker deeds, such as putting curses on people or making them physically ill.


When conceiving this cover story, we imagined it as a recounting of some of the familiar cultural images that show up in Hawai‘i’s ghost stories. And contributing editor Catherine Toth Fox approached the story from a cultural-origin viewpoint. But, after research took her through interviews with folks in the spooky arts, academics and a variety of books, she ended up writing about some personal experiences. Believe them or not, we found the tone in keeping with the subject. 


As part of our research, we scouted options for the all-important cover image. We trekked through Kaniakapūpū, the historic ruins of Kamehameha III’s and Queen Kalama’s summer palace. We visited various cemeteries, noting tombstone inscriptions from just about every ethnic group in the Islands. We went to Mākua Cave and up the old Pali Road. As we explored, we swapped stories of hard-to-explain things that had happened to each of us. The adventure, and the storytelling, illuminated why we return to this topic. Sharing spooky stories brings us together, in a world where it’s far too easy to dwell on our differences. Like a buffet with foods from many cultures, sharing the things that give us chicken skin brings
us together.


Our October issue also includes a feature on the 25 greatest Hawai‘i songs of the new century put together by our executive editor, Michael Keany. It’s fascinating to learn the stories behind the songs. Mike brings his talent as a writer, his diligence at putting together the expert panel and his many years of experience here at HONOLULU Magazine to this piece. This issue marks his promotion from managing editor (a role he filled for four years) to executive editor, a move that reflects his importance on our small but talented team.


Elsewhere in the issue, we have an important story for most of our community: Senior editor Don Wallace writes about the silver tsunami currently facing the Islands, as more folks, particularly more women, in our rapidly aging community grapple with Alzheimer’s and other types of  dementia. It’s a sobering topic, but Don found some heartwarming and informative accounts from a few local families making  the most of their battle with the disease.


Here’s to finding our way together.




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Honolulu Magazine May 2019
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