The Hawaiian Ghost Story

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Read this Article in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi

The ghost stories of Americans and the ghost stories of Hawaiians are different. In the “Story of ʻEleʻio” by W.N. Pualawa in Nupepa Kuokoa (9/5/1863 – 11/21/1863) as well as in Fornander, are two such examples of Hawaiian ghost stories.

The first story concerns Kanikaniʻula, a noble lady from Hawaiʻi Island who lived in Kaupō with her husband, a lesser ranking chief. ʻEleʻio, a runner of Kakaʻalaneo, the high chief of Maui, passed her when he was fetching awa fish from Hāna for the paramount chief who was living at Lele (now Lāhaina).

ʻEleʻio saw a beautiful woman by the name of Kanikaniʻula on his quick pass through the area, however it wasnʻt a real woman but an embodied spirit. Upon ʻEleʻio’s return, he sought this woman but she was already dead and buried beneath a pyramid-like structure. ʻEleʻio worked to bring her back to life and after four days, she returned to how she was before.

This is a common theme in stories concerning embodied spirits.

Look back at Hiʻiaka and how she brought Lohiʻau back to life. Consider, also, Kahalaomāpuana. The parents of Kahalaomāpuna fetched her body that was badly abused by her husband, Kauhi, and brought her back to life just as before.

The second example in “The Story of ʻEleʻio” concerns the child of the aforementioned Kanikaniʻula and Kakaʻalaneo. In return for her revival, Kanikaniʻula promised ʻEleʻio that she would become the wife to the high chief. Their child was Kaululāʻau, the champion of Lānaʻi who vanquished the ghosts of the island.

This is how the story goes. Kaululāʻau was a child filled with mischievousness. Because of his mischievous nature, he climbed the famous breadfruit trees and broke off all the fruit leaving the topmost ones, upon which he pulled out the entire tree leaving the tree to waste. The breadfruit trees were few and the people nearly starved to death. Therefore, the high chief sent his rascal son, Kaululāʻau, to the island of Lānaʻi.

At that period of time, Lānaʻi was inhabited by ghosts.

Any man who landed there was eaten. On his first night, Kaululaʻau prepared to sleep amidst a thicket of succulents but was warned by his guardian spirit to sleep in a cave lest the ghosts eat him. On that night some of the ghosts died trapped in the thicket. In the day, the ghosts asked where he would sleep that night and he answered that he would sleep in a thicket of thorns. The ghosts looked for him as dinner but were finished off in the thicket.

That is how it went and he told them he’ll be sleeping in the high surf. Well, they were all finished off by the trickery of Kaululāʻau except for Pahulu (Nightmare). Pahulu escaped and lived on Kahoʻolawe.

This rascal became cunning in trickery and the first ruler of Lānaʻi. Lānaʻi was thereafter populated by Kakaʻalaneo with Maui citizens.

These are themes in this Hawaiian ghost story. The first is that the victorious one is a person who obeys the guardian ancestral spirit. The second is that if a cunning person full of deceit and trickery is the person who can chase away ghosts and evil spirits, they are the true “ghostbusters.” Sprinkled, the tale runs (a traditional ending).