Editor's Note: Here is our own personal story of a first-hand encounter with Hawaii's spiritual side. While driving along Highway 19 on the Big Island of Hawaii, we captured what appears to be two ghostlike figures sitting in the lava field. Read about our story here.
Truth is often stranger than fiction. The Hawaiian Islands are riddled with ancient mysteries, local folklore and stories handed down one generation at a time that continue to fascinate and intrigue. Hawaii is a place of strong spirituality, where actions are rich in purpose and meaning and sacred sites and souls command respect. The best part of Hawaii's history may lie in the secrets you won't find in any textbook. Legends passed down by word of mouth are not to be regarded as fiction for they
contain mysterious elements just strange enough to be true. Here are just a few of the secrets and mysteries you may come across while in Hawaii:
Kamehameha I, also called Kamehameha the Great, unified the Hawaiian Islands under one rule. Since the day of his death on May 8, 1819, the mystery of the location of his bones is one of the greatest secrets in all of Hawaii.
Although the ancient Hawaiians had ceremonial burial rituals for all, the funeral rites given to ruling chiefs were especially complex and sacred. A ceremony that prepared the body for afterlife, including removal of the flesh from the bones, was followed by a secret burial of the chiefly bones.
The location of the bones was kept secret by whomever the duty was entrusted to, usually the decedent's closest advisor. In the case of Kamehameha's death, Chief Ulumaheihei (called Hoapili by the King) was given this honor. The bones of Kamehameha were extremely sacrosanct and had to be kept hidden to ensure his spirit's transition into the world of the aumakua, or gods.
Both for physical safekeeping of the sacred bones and to prevent any unwarranted spying, the bones were hidden at night for ultimate secrecy. It was believed that if the burial site location was disclosed, an enemy who came in contact with the bones could absorb the chiefly mana, or power. This ancient custom is called hunakele, which means "to hide in secret".
Although it is yet to be proven, many believe that Kamehameha's remains rest in a burial cave at Kaloko-Honokohau on the Big Island of Hawaii. Other famous rulers, including Maui's King Kahekili, are also believed to be buried here. Some say that King Kalakaua ordered Kamehameha's bones to be relocated to the Royal Mausoleum in Nu'uanu Valley on Oahu, although this is strictly hearsay as well.
If King Kamehameha's bones were ever exhumed, either on accident or intentionally, there is no telling what chain of events this disrespect might set off. The conflicting accounts surrounding the final resting place of Kamehameha the Great's bones are perhaps intentional stories conjured up to ensure that this particular mystery stays just that.
The menehune (ka poe menehune) are the mythical little people of Hawaii. They are sometimes described as dwarfs, who live deep in the forests and valleys of the islands, far from where they could be seen by humans. They are associated with the pre-settling days of Hawaii, roaming the islands 1,500 years or more ago before Polynesian settlers arrived, but they appear in even the most modern of tales.
The menehune were rumored to be extremely adept with their hands, industrious builders and craftsmen who could construct expert temples, roads, canoes, fishponds and houses in no time at all. Although they are said to have roamed all islands, the island of Kauai is the most common scene of stories involving the menehune.
These 2-foot tall island inhabitants are believed by many to be the master architects credited with building the Alekoko Fishpond and dam, Kauai's largest aquaculture reservoir. A story surrounding the construction of this pond says that two royal onlookers, ignoring warnings from the menehune, were turned to stone after spying on the little people during their building activities. Structures like this pond are considered by many to be evidence that Kauai was once (and perhaps still is) a favorite playground of the menehune.
The Red Waters of Wainapanapa
An ancient Hawaiian legend surrounds the Wainapanapa cave on Maui. This tale describes how Princess
Popo'alaea, while hiding in the cave from her cruel and jealous husband Chief Ka'akea, was discovered by the heartless man and mercilessly killed. In memory of the princess' untimely death, the waters that run through the cave take on a reddish hue several times a year in honor of the princess.
Pele's Ohia Lehua
The ohia lehua tree, which grows at an altitude between 1,000 and 9,000 feet, is known for its reddish wood and beautiful flaming red blossoms. However, the ohia lehua is a sacred tree associated with Pele, the volcano goddess, and Hi'iaka, Pele's sister, who was also the guardian of the ohia lehua forests.
Legend has it that Pele ordered the destruction of her sister's sacred ohia lehua groves after discovering that her lover Lohiau had engaged in romantic activities with her sister. Today, the active volcano Kilauea on the Big Island continues to pour out lava and destroy ohia trees.
It is said that if someone plucks the tree's red ohelo berries or ohia blossoms without first performing the necessary ritual and offering, consequences may occur, from rain showers to destructive lava flows. These flowers are currently protected under state law and cannot be picked in state parks.
Old Pali Road
The Old Pali Road on Oahu, replaced by the neighboring and newer Pali Highway, is the location of many of Hawaii's popular stories involving supernatural spirits. Because the road is thickly forested and devoid of streetlights, the Old Pali Highway is the perfect setting for spooky stories. Some people have told tales of seeing a huge ghostly white figure moving across the road in front of their vehicles at night. Countless accidents have occurred on this road, many unexplained.
Also, the nearby Nu'uanu Pali Lookout was the site of one of the most critical battles in King Kamehameha's unification of the Hawaiian Islands. A ghostly white silhouette that appears on certain nights is said to haunt this site, as well as ghostly soldiers leaping off the cliff.
No Pork on the Pali
Ancient legends warn that traveling with pork over the Pali Highway, the road that connects Honolulu and Oahu's windward coast, is highly taboo. Pork allegedly attracts agitated spirits and upsets the relationship between the fire goddess Pele and the pig god Kamapua'a.
Those who ignore the legend and carry any pork product in their car may risk encountering car trouble or an accident. Because pork is a kinolau (form) of the pig god, the car trouble is said to be Pele's way of keeping Kamapua'a from traveling within her domain. Many Oahu residents still follow this guideline today.
If you encounter any truth to this myth, try tossing out the meat and see if your situation improves. For those who can't avoid transporting pork, folklorists recommend tying a fresh green ti leaf, bamboo, or banana leaf around the package for protection.
Located along the Old Pali Road is Morgan's Corner, a curve marked by a giant tree associated with many ghostly encounters. Some folks tell of apparitions of hanging bodies and mysterious sounds on car roofs underneath the tree, especially at night.
The mysteries of the Hawaiian Islands continue to intrigue residents and visitors alike. Many of the best tales can only be found in the folklore passed on by word of mouth. To learn more, strike up a conversation with local residents and ask them to share some of the peculiar tales of old, sure to give you "chicken skin," the local term for goose bumps.