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Haunted Hawai‘i: My Personal Experience With the Supernatural and the Unexplained

Many say that Hawai‘i is full of ghosts and otherwordly beings–not just from one culture, but all of the cultures that live together in the islands. This is one writer’s experience with the supernatural.


(page 4 of 6)

Photos: Aaron Yoshino 

The Filipinos brought with them the tales of the aswang, a vampirelike monster that’s been spotted in the ‘Ewa Plain and known to terrorize pregnant women. This creature, a shapeshifter, often appears in human form by day and a monster at night. Some say the aswang likes to suck the amniotic fluid from pregnant women through their belly buttons using their long, serpent-like tongues and feast on the fetus. 


And the Hawaiians have their legends of mischievous menehune, powerful pōhaku, and the mana that remain in the iwi (bones) of ancestors.


“Hawai‘i is the only place where you don’t mess around with the bones,” professor Ogawa says. “It’s written into the laws what you can and cannot do. The spirits are still there, and you have to respect those spirits.”


The Na Huaka‘i o Ka Pō, or “Marchers of the Night,” are among the most respected supernatural entities in Hawai‘i, up there with Pele and menehune. Hawaiians believe spirits return to the places that were familiar to them when they were alive. These spirits of ancient Hawaiian warriors set out at sunset during certain lunar phases every month, marching from burial sites along ancient roads to battlefields, heiau or other sacred sites. They announce their arrival with the blowing of conch shells and the beating of drums. Legend warns that anyone looking at or seen by these warrior spirits would die. Kapanui says an uncle was trampled by such night marchers, leaving his face visibly disfigured.


Some people say that they hear the sound of laughter in Mākua Cave, supposedly from ghost of a murdered girl. 


While night marchers are a common sight along the Wai‘anae Coast, other Hawaiian deities abound. Nanaue, the shark god, is said to live in Mākua (or Kaneana) Cave near Ka‘ena Point and wait for lonesome travelers to wander inside. The god, a shapeshifter, appears as a man, offering them food and ‘awa. When these travelers become lethargic, he changes into his shark form and kills them, letting their bodies rot first before he consumes them. Kapanui says when the cave smells of pungent līpoa, Nanaue is near and his kahu are supposed to come and feed him.


And, in the same way that foods and customs were swapped and mingled among the ethnic camps of Hawai‘i plantations, so were their ghosts and monsters and deities. You don’t have to be Japanese to experience kanashibari or Hawaiian to hear the drumming of night marchers.


“The great thing about our ghosts and gods in Hawai‘i,” Kapanui says, “is that they don’t discriminate.”


Ghost Hunting

With more than 2,000 graves packed into a relatively small space, the Mō‘ili‘ili Japanese Cemetery is full of memories of previous generations. 
Photo: Aaron Yoshino 

Since 2009, Spooky Kine Investigations has helped families and companies with paranormal activity, approaching each case with an open mind and a sensitivity to the cultural differences of its clients. While these ghost hunters are armed with scientific equipment like audio recorders, full-spectrum cameras and Mel Meters, which measure both electromagnetic fields and temperature simultaneously, they also bring their own cultural and spiritual beliefs to each case, says Gabriel Del Aragon, the company’s cultural adviser.


“We try to use what we know and whatever information we can get from our equipment to figure out what’s going on that’s strange,” he says.


The calls are as varied as the people making them, with the lines between ethnic folklore blurring. They’ve visited military families with spirits lurking in their homes and gotten calls about a female apparition—some say it’s the spirit of Princess Ka‘iulani—wandering around Honolulu Hale. (Security guards have said they hear women laughing and singing and children playing in the building.)


And once, they took their equipment to Ulupō Heiau, a massive stone temple located on the eastern edge of Kawai Nui Marsh behind the YMCA in Kailua. Legend says this ancient heiau, which may have been used as a luakini (place for human or animal sacrifice) was built by menehune hundreds of years ago before being abandoned in the 1780s after O‘ahu was conquered.


“I remember hearing people talking. It sounded like little kids playing in the bushes,” Del Aragon says, adding the group heard a splash, as if something had jumped into the wet marsh. “When we listened to the audio after, you could definitely hear this slithering breathing. You could hear a voice say, ‘Stay back.’”


This heiau has long been a popular stop on ghost tours, partly because of its accessibility but mostly because of the dozens of stories about fireballs and night marchers encountered here. One story, published in Rick Carroll’s Hawai‘i’s Best Spooky Tales (Bess Press, 1997), centered on a woman who had recently moved to Hawai‘i from the Mainland and went on a ghost tour to the heiau. Skeptical of the sacredness of this site, she proceeded to stand in the middle of the stone platform, even kicking around some rocks. “What’s the big deal?” she asked the rest of the group, her horrified co-workers at an O‘ahu hotel. “It’s a big pile of rocks. Get over it.” 


The next day, according to the story, the woman’s legs were red and swollen so badly she couldn’t walk. Her doctor told her the blood in her legs wasn’t circulating and he wasn’t sure why. But a Hawaiian kahu had a different explanation, telling her the redness and swelling was coming from the spirits that were clinging onto her legs so tightly they were cutting off blood circulation. After returning to the heiau with an offering and apology, her legs returned to normal and she never made the mistake of showing disrespect again.


It’s the same theme you’ll see in stories told by ghost-tour guides or storytellers: “It’s about respect for the dead or the dead won’t respect you,” Ogawa says. “And that’s always been there. It’s just stronger in our local culture. You don’t mess with the spirits.”

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Honolulu Magazine June 2019