A scent, a sight, a sound – the connections Lopaka Kapanui makes with the supernatural are often subtle. “It could be something that in and of itself is common – like a bird, bells chiming or the fragrance of a flower – but it’s odd for it to appear at a certain time and place,” he said. “Other people might not even notice it, but if you’re receptive, you feel the vibe and you know it’s a message from someone in another world.”
Kapanui is the founder of Oʻahu-based Mysteries of Hawaiʻi, which offers regularly scheduled nighttime ghost tours and, upon request, lectures, daytime historical tours and other presentations.
He grew up learning about Hawaiian history, customs, legends and paranormal activities from his mother and aunt, who shared their moʻolelo in the traditional way – orally. Nothing was written.
“They would continually tell me, ‘E mau ana ka ʻike,’ which means ‘The knowledge must continue,’” Kapanui said. “I knew from a young age that I would be responsible for passing along what I had learned to my own family.”
Little did he know, however, that storytelling would be his calling and that he would influence countless people outside his ʻohana. His journey was shaped to a great extent by the late Glen Grant, a historian, author and college professor who was known for his books and walking tours about local myths, folk tales and ghost stories.
In 1994, on the recommendation of a friend, Kapanui took Grant’s Ghosts of Old Honolulu tour and began reading his books which made him realize that, having grown up in multiethnic Waipahu, he already knew many of those spooky stories – not only Hawaiian lore but anecdotes with Japanese, Filipino, Chinese and Korean roots.
Coincidentally, at the time Kapanui was an alakaʻi for his cousin Keone Nunes’ hālau, which was performing hula kahiko as part of a tour Grant was doing in Waiʻanae. As the co-host, Nunes recounted Hawaiian legends and chicken-skin tales of the leeward area.
“One day, Keone told Glen he had to be on the mainland for several days, and he couldn’t do the tour,” Kapanui recalled. “Glen was panicked: ‘What am I going to do? I don’t know your part.’ Keone said, ‘It’ll be okay; I’m sure Lopaka can handle it.’”
Kapanui turned out to be a promising raconteur, and Grant subsequently offered him occasional work as a guide for some of his tours. “I accepted because I was grounded in the cultural and spiritual aspects, but it took me a while to find my voice as a presenter,” Kapanui said. “Glen said, ‘Don’t try and be me. Make the stories your own. It’s important for a Hawaiian to tell them.’”
As a student at Leeward Community College, Kapanui had been planning to earn a degree in Hawaiian studies and language, but as time passed, he realized being a storyteller was what he was meant to do. In 1999, he asked Grant if he could work with him full time.
Grant agreed, but he passed away in 2003. Two years later, Kapanui launched his own tour company as Ghosts of Old Honolulu in honor of his mentor. That evolved into Mysteries of Hawaiʻi in 2009, but its mission has always been to “share the history of Hawaiʻi and her people one story at a time.”
Over the years, hundreds of strangers have tracked down Kapanui to tell him about their mysterious encounters, and he has also spent long hours researching otherworldly phenomena at Bishop Museum, the Hawaiʻi State Archives, the Hawaiʻi State Library and Kaimukī Public Library, and, via internet resources, the Library of Congress, American Society for Psychical Research, newspapers.com (the largest online newspaper archive) and the Rhine Research Center, which, according to its website, “bridges the gap between science and spirituality.”
Kapanui’s tour groups gather in the evening when it’s dark and quiet, which sharpens their awareness because there are no crowds, traffic and other distractions. “My tours aren’t entertainment; I’d like participants to consider them authentic cultural experiences,” he said. “I begin each tour with a Hawaiian chant, announcing our intentions and asking the ancestors to guide and protect us during our time together. I express our hope that whatever happens that night is positive. I also end each tour with a chant to thank the ancestors and to let them know that we’re leaving.”
According to Kapanui, if something eerie happens during a tour, it’s because of the participants’ energy. If they are open-minded or have a high level of psychic sensitivity, spirits might try and communicate with them. His tours are never the same because his guests and their spiritual acuity are different.
“I might have 20 people on a tour who are all taking pictures of a mystical spot,” he said. “Nineteen of them will wind up with nothing unusual, but one guy’s photos will have strange streaks of light. It’s not because of his camera, it’s because of him.”
Kapanui speaks with respect and humility, and he does not use scare tactics during his tours. “Nobody is going to jump out from behind a tree to startle you, and I don’t pretend to see weird things that aren’t there,” he said. “I’m just a storyteller who is interested in the occult. I can’t force anyone to believe me. For myself, I know it is real.”
Lopaka Kapanui offers three 90-minute walking tours through his company, Mysteries of Hawaiʻi: Urban Legends on Monday, Waikīkī Night Marchers on Wednesday or Friday, and Ghosts of Old Honolulu on Thursday or Saturday. Cost is $40 per person. All tours start at 7 p.m., and reservations are required.
Be aware some tours are not suitable for children under the age of 15. Custom and private tours can be arranged. For more information, call (808) 673-9099 or check out mysteries-of-hawaii.com.
The Tales of the Supernatural
The following are a few of Lopaka Kapanui’s favorite stories, in his own words:
The Night Marchers
“In ancient times, wherever high-ranking ali‘i went, they were protected by warriors. Every month, the ghosts of those warriors still march on specific paths from the mountains to the sea. Known as the night marchers, they appear during the last four Hawaiian moon phases, when the sky is the darkest and on the one night of the month when there is no moon.“There are many paths on every island, and they don’t change, no matter what has been built on them. The procession of night marchers will go through houses, hotels, schools, office buildings, golf courses and shopping malls. There are signs that tell you they are coming and you should get out of their way. You’ll hear drumming and chanting, and you’ll see a line of torchlights. By the time you smell sulfur and hear a conch shell blowing, it’s too late. You’ll have to strip naked and lie face-down without moving until they pass. If you look, they will kill you.
“Years ago, I was taking 40 people on one of Glen Grant’s tours. We stopped at Kionaole Road near Ko‘olau Golf Club in Kāne‘ohe, which is known as a haunted place. It was pitch-black, and we were walking around with flashlights. Suddenly, we all heard drumming and chanting. I immediately told the group to get back on the bus because night marchers were coming, and we had to leave. We got out of there fast. The bus driver was so scared, he almost left without us.”
“By 1795, Kamehameha had conquered Hawai‘i, Maui, Moloka‘i and Lāna‘i in his quest to unite the islands under his rule. His army landed at Wai‘alae and Waikīkī in May that year to fight the warriors of O‘ahu’s king, Kalanikūpule, and gain control of that island. Kalanikūpule’s men were pushed from the southeast coast north to Nu‘uanu, where they were cornered at what is now the Pali Lookout. Before them were Kamehameha’s formidable forces; behind them were sheer cliffs that dropped more than a thousand feet.
“About 400 of Kalanikūpule’s soldiers either jumped or were driven over the Pali to their deaths. Kalanikūpule escaped, but he was eventually captured in the mountains and sacrificed to Kamehameha’s war god, Kūka‘ilimoku.
“Today, some people swear they’ve heard the commotion of combat – muskets, cannons, spears clashing, moans and shouts – at the Pali Lookout. Could it be a ghostly re-enactment of the bloody battle that happened there more than two centuries ago? Perhaps…
“It’s well known that you’re not supposed to carry pork over the Pali. Legend says Pele, the fire goddess, and Kamapua‘a, who is half man, half pig, were once lovers. Their relationship ended on not-so-good terms, so they agreed to leave each other alone.
“Pali Highway connects Honolulu with the windward side where Kamapua‘a lives. If you bring pork over the highway from the windward side, it’s like bringing him to a place Pele doesn’t want him to be. Something will happen that’ll prevent you from going on; for example, your car might stall. After you throw the pork away, your car will start, and you’ll be able to continue on to your destination.”
Mānoa Chinese Cemetery
“At Mānoa Chinese Cemetery, a banyan at the top of a hill is supposedly a portal to the underworld. It’s charred inside because an energy from there passes through it and scorches it.
“I’ve seen apparitions wandering by the graves, including an old, stooped woman who always has her hands behind her back. I think she’s curious about who’s visiting because she lingers for a few minutes, listening and observing. When she’s satisfied, she turns and fades away, leaving behind the distinct aroma of violet candy.
“The ghosts of children often play in the trees. They’re mischievous; they enjoy shaking branches like the wind is blowing them. If you’re there on a day when there’s not even a hint of a breeze but the branches are moving, you’ll know the children are teasing you.”