Background information about Night Marchers of Hawai’i
On the sacred nights of Kū, Kāne, Lono and Kanaloa, night marchers (huaka’i pō) guide departed spirits to the other world or sometimes make their way to heiau’s (Hawaiian temples), gathering places or bloody battlegrounds. The supernatural procession fills the air with their heavy rhythmic drumming and the chilling chants in the Hawaiian language. Tales of the night marchers still prevail in the multicultural world of locals in Hawai’i, primarily when we “talk story.” Sightings and encounters with the huaka’i pō is documented across all the Hawaiian islands.
(The Night Marchers, filmed 2001, directed by Brent Cousins, Blake Cousins)
These spirits are said to be ancient Hawaiian warriors embodying the form of a human (typically male), though other sightings of headless night marchers or ‘olohe (man-dog hybrids) have been documented as well. Commonly, the fire of torches bobbing in a line is seen. But while visual evidence does exist, it pales in comparison to the multitude of auditorial evidence (Luomala 1983, 9). These can differ person to person, encounter to encounter. “The spirits’ music is said to be weird, strange, beautiful, old Hawaiian, and very clear. An O’ahu woman recognized chants of the kind unaccompanied by dance (olioli), gourd rattles (‘uli’uli), musical bows (‘ūkēkē), or drums which, if they sound faint, she said, are close by. To others, the sounds, which at first seem like wind or baskets squeaking, become louder as marchers approach and are distinguishable as chants, conch shells, flutes, drums, and other unrecognized ancient instruments” (Luomala 1983, 10). Because they march on bygone paths they are able to pass through physical obstructions.
Growing up with these sorts of tales, we are aware of the awe and reverence for these spirits, albeit terrified. Within these stories, though, we are taught how to respond and react to situations in which one finds themselves on the path of the night marchers. The most basic of instructions is to remove oneself from the direct path, if possible, and to lay face down with eyes shut tightly as this shows reverence to the powerful forces. Other tales will instruct that one must hold their breath if they are found to be directly in the night marchers path if unable to remove oneself quickly and safely. If these instructions are not heeded, one can only assume they will face a violent death. “If an observer is unable to get off the trail in time, everyone knows he is out of luck unless a marcher recognizes him as a relative and protects him” (Luomala 1983, 21).
As shared in the podcast, my father and Peka were protected by Peka’s deceased relative. There are other accounts of instances where the lives of the living were spared as their deceased relatives were either within the procession of night marchers or were able to convince the marchers to continue on their journey. “An O’ahu woman heard some spirits shout, ‘Pepehi’ (Kill). But others, presumably her dead relatives, called, ‘Kali, kali’ (Wait, wait). Another person heard, ‘Oia’ (Go ahead), meaning to kill, but a relative’s spirit called ‘Alia!’ (Stop!); other spirits answered, ‘A’ohe!’ (No!), and still others, ‘Auhea aku nei?’ (Where has he gone?) and ‘A’ohe la’ (Not here) because the dead relative’s spell prevented them from seeing the observer (as cited by Luomala 1983, 10). It is not pleasant nor an experience to seek out as it can end in death. “‘O-ia’ (let him be pierced) is the cry of the leader and if no relative among the dead or none of his ‘aumākua (family god) is present to protect him, a ghostly spearman will strike him dead” (Beckwith 1970, 148).
While this information may not assure you peace and tranquility, locals of Hawai’i understand that the night marchers are not malevolent beings or lapu (evil spirits/ghosts). The huaka’i pō is a band of spirits made up of ‘aumākua, different gods and goddesses and spirits (kino wailua), practicing ancient traditions along the roads of old Hawai’i. Death is met when one does not remove themselves from the path of the procession “or [are] violating other taboos connected with processions of personages” (Luomala 1983, 22).
But they still give me chicken skin.
Luomala, Katharine. “Phantom Night Marchers in the Hawaiian Islands .” Pacific Studies Vll, no. 1 (1983): 1–33. https://doi.org/http://www.explorationhawaii.com/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2012/03/PhantomNightMarchers-Luomala.pdf.
Beckwith, Martha Warren. Hawaiian Mythology. University of Hawaii Press , 1982.
If you are interested in more about Night Marchers or other spooky tales and encounters of Hawai’i, check out these books:
Hawaiian Myths of Earth, Sea, and Sky by Vivian Laubach Thompson
The Legends and Myths of Hawaii by His Hawaiian Majesty David Kalakaua
Hawaii’s Best Spooky Tales: The Original by Rick Carroll (and his other works)
Obake Files: Ghostly Encounters in Supernatural Hawaii (Chicken Skin Series) by Glen Grant (and his other works)
Creepy Stories and Urban Legends from Hawaii https://www.ranker.com/list/creepy-hawaii-stories-legends/lyra-radford
Ghost Stories of Hawaii https://activityauthority.com/ghost-stories-hawaii/
Mysteries of Hawaii: Chicken Skin Hawaiian Legends and Ghost Stories on YouTube by Master Storyteller Lopaka KapanuiThe Night Marchers, 2001 (reboot in 2020) directed by Brent and Blake Cousins of Cousins Brothers Productions (a film composed of local actors/actresses, presented as a mockumentary that sourced information from actual testimonials, filed missing persons, police and fire department reports as well as local legends and stories.)