American Folklore: Hawaii

American Folklore: Hawaii

The Hawaiian Islands have been inhabited by humans at least since the 300 AD’s, and possibly before. During that time, there has been plenty of time for ancient and modern folklore associated with Hawaii to be born. Here are some of the highlights of the folklore of Hawaii.

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Hawaii is the most recent state admitted to the union, so it is our newest, having become a state in 1959. It is the only state located outside of North America, the only state composed entirely of islands, and one of only three states to formally be recognized as independent republics with diplomatic relations with other countries (Vermont and Texas being the other two).

Hawaii has been inhabited by humans since at least 300 A.D., and possibly prior. Europeans may have encountered the islands in the 1500s, but the evidence is anecdotal. The first documented European encounter with the inhabitants of the island was in the 1700s, by Captain James Cook. The islands were a series of independent chiefdoms until the early 1800s when a war united all the islands under one leader, and Hawaii became a monarchy.

Eventually, American and European colonists there overthrew the monarchy, and Hawaii became a territory of the United States, and then a state. It has some interesting local folklore, some of it going back a long time. Here are some of the more interesting highlights of it.

The Green Lady

The legend of the Green Lady states that a woman once took her children to visit the gulch at Wahiawa, which is today part of the Wahiawa Botanical Gardens. One of the children got lost in the gulch and was never found. Today, the Green Lady wanders the gulch looking for her lost child and will take any child who she finds unaccompanied in the gulch. There have been sightings of a green woman in the gulch, and the last known sighting was in the 1980s. Teenagers in Hawaii still dare each other to go across the bridge over the gulch alone at night, hoping to avoid an encounter with (and possible abduction by) the Green Lady.

Never Carry Pork Over the Pali Road

This tale belongs to the people on the island of Oahu. The legend states that if anyone carries pork of any kind across the old Pali road (not the modern one) by car, the car will stop and you will not be able to restart it until removing the pork. While this legend has a modern spin on it, its roots are in the ancient mythology of Hawaii.

In the original version of the legend, the volcano goddess Pele was in a contentious relationship with the demigod Kamapua. Kamapua was a half-pig, half-man. Kamapua and Pele agreed to no longer visit each other. If someone takes pork across the Pali road, it is symbolically taking a piece of Kampua closer to Pele, thus breaking their agreement. The legend says Pele would always find a way to stop the pork from coming across the Pali.

The Creepy Paradise Park

Along the Manoa Falls, Hiking Trail is the remnants of the old Paradise Park bird show/exhibit. It was abandoned long ago, and no one knows why. There are clearly visible ruins of a bird nursery near the old parking lot. There is also a covered walkway that goes through old cages and buildings, some with signs still up saying what kind of bird was kept there.

That’s creepy enough, but what makes it really weird is that the park also has a statue of the Virgin Mary, a Portuguese stone oven, and a Japanese pagoda. What is weird about that is the old records of the park include no mention of cultural artifacts like these. It makes the reason the park closed even more of a mystery.

The Night Marchers

This is an old Hawaiian legend, which goes back way before statehood, or even the monarchy. According to the legend, the night marchers are the ghosts of warriors from ancient times. They wander across the islands and if they wander by groups of torches, they can be seen by the living. The most common place to find them is on old battlegrounds.

Don’t look a Night Marcher in the eye if you come across one, because the legend says if you do, you will be conscripted and forced to march with them forever. There is one way out, though. If a relative offers to take your place, you can go free, and if you have an ancestor who already walks among them, you will also be allowed to go free.

Good Night Marcher safety includes laying on your stomach on the ground if you see them, keep your face down to avoid eye contact, be quiet, and move as little as possible (including keeping your breathing light and your toes still) until they pass by. Do not respond to anything they may do to get your attention, as some people say they might nudge you as they walk by to try to get you to look up at them. Only get up once you are one hundred percent sure they are gone beyond your line of sight, and you will be safe.

The Menehune

These are basically the leprechauns of Hawaii. They are little people, like leprechauns are, with grown ones standing only about two feet tall. They live in the lovely tropical forests that are as far away from civilization as possible. The Menehune are master builders, said to be able to build anything they want in a day. In fact, ancient Hawaiian accounts of them describe the islanders of old actually hiring the Menehune to build houses, temples, and more for them. They are shy, they don’t like people to watch them work, and if you come across them while they are working, not only will they stop construction and never begin it again, they will turn the hapless interrupter into stone.

The sound of splashing water near a beach or waterfall at night is usually a Menehune. They love water and diving. They are also known for their love of playing pranks on the other residents of Hawaii. Other than turning people into stone who interrupt them while they are building, the pranks the Menehune play are always mischievous but harmless.