Friday Night Frights: A Local Ghoul Glossary

A guide to Hawai‘i’s melting pot of ghosts, ghouls and demons. Here are a few traditional nightmarish entities from our many local cultures.


This story was originally published in October 2008.




Every culture has its unique cast of ghosts, ghouls and demons, so Hawaii’s melting pot of cultures could well be a supernatural smorgasbord. Here are a few traditional nightmarish entities, and some advice on how to protect yourself from them—if you can!



Qing Ming (“clear and bright”) occurs on April 5 of the solar calendar and is a memorial day for the deceased. However, be warned: this is also a day when those who have drowned and whose bodies were not recovered are able to drown living people and use them to take their places underwater, freeing themselves to move on spiritually. Don’t go swimming on Qing Ming.



Most local folks are acquainted with stories about night marchers, and some have even heard or encountered the procession of marchers themselves (and lived to tell about it).


There are three groups of night marchers: deceased Hawaiian chiefs and warriors, ‘aum-akua (family/personal gods or deified ancestors) and gods. They march after sunset and before sunrise, preferring to march on the nights of K-u (nights 3, 4, 5, 6 of the lunar month), Akua (14th night), Kane (27th night) and Lono (28th night).


To encounter night marchers is a deadly thing—they generally won’t hesitate to kill. If you lack an ‘aum-akua of your own to protect you, your best bet is to flee. If that’s not possible, strip naked and lie on the ground face up with closed eyes if the marchers are chiefs and warriors, or strip down to your loincloth (you own one, right?) and sit still with closed eyes if the marchers are gods.



Yurei are the tormented spirits of people who have died unexpectedly or with a profuse amount of emotion or who have not been given a proper funeral. A yurei is filled with a purpose; this purpose may be revenge or honor and is specific to the person’s life and death.


Traditionally, yurei were indistinguishable from their previous living selves, but have since gained attributes—no legs and extended arms and dangling hands— that signal their ghostliness.



Tokkaebis are goblins. They have a single horn growing from the tops of their heads and an ugly, man-like appearance. They carry magic, spiked clubs that provide them with food, drink, riches and anything else asked of it.


Tokkaebis are mischievous and play tricks on people but are not particularly malevolent; however, don’t cross a tokkaebi—they are easily angered and will not hesitate to return any ill deeds. Tokkaebis love buckwheat jelly and hate horse heads and blood.



This ghoul resembles an attractive man or woman (most frequently a woman) by day, but at night detaches the upper half of its body from the lower and flies in search of victims, whose innards, particularly the heart and liver, it likes to devour. Manananggal also crave fetuses, and will carry off newborn children. The presence of a manananggal is signaled by the screeching of a flock of crows.


In order to destroy a manananggal, ashes or salt and vinegar must be poured into the lower half of its body while the upper half is away, preventing reconnection.



These are child-sized creatures resembling hairless monkeys with greenish-yellow skin, webbed hands and feet, tortoise-shell backs and water-filled, bowl-like indentations on the tops of their heads; if the water is spilled, the kappa loses its strength.


Kappas live in water and are vampirous. They drag their victim—which may be an animal or a person—into the water and either suck the victim’s blood or pull out and devour the victim’s liver via the anus. Another reason not to go swimming. Kappas have also been said to rape women.


Besides the drowning, blood-sucking, liver-pulling and raping, kappas are considered quite polite and excellent keepers of promises. They have struck deals with people to abstain from attacks and to teach their secrets of bone-setting, a skill at which they are experts.


Kappas enjoy cucumber. One way to appease them is to write the names of people who wish to be unharmed on cucumbers and throw them into the water where the kappas live.



As the name suggests, this ghoul takes an interest in corpses. Some corpse-eaters resemble men or women with curved nails, others appear as stinky, white goats with huge ears and no horns.


One form of corpse-eater, the balbal, flies to the house of the deceased, alights on the roof, uses its curved nails to tear away the thatching and stretches down its long tongue to lick up the body inside. Another corpse-eater, the aswang no lakaw, takes a more structured approach: at 6 p.m. it chooses its victim by listening for sounds of mourners, at 8 p.m. it departs for the location and, once obtaining the corpse, it transports the corpse home to feed its family. Yes, family.


In order to dissuade a corpse-eater from devouring a newly deceased person, make sure there are a lot of people at the wake, and keep the lights on.