USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘hawaii’
Legends

The Green Lady

The informant is marked IN.

IN: There’s this one spirit, called the green lady, who wanders around this botanical garden, that I think has water or like some kind of pond in it. She has green scales and jagged teeth, very Shape of Water, and her hair is made up of seaweed, and so the story goes that she had visited that garden with her children and one of them got lost and drowned in the lake. Because of that, she died with a broken heart and is apparently supposed to roam that area, in search of her child. And anyone visiting this garden is told not to leave their kids alone, because the spirit will like, take them as revenge or a consolation to her own child, you know.

Context: I asked the informant at work if he had any Hawaiian folklore tales he could remember.

Background: The informant is Hawaiian, with Japanese-American family. He heard this story around from locals in the area around this botanical garden.

Analysis: I think that this story is very similar to La Llorona in nature. It also functions as a story to tell children to get them to stay with you while visiting this area, as it will scare them to be alone with a fish-like spirit with jagged teeth.

Foodways
Material
Myths
Narrative

Kalo: A Staple Plant of Hawaii

Abstract: Kalo is a plant that is named after the stillborn of Sky Father (Wakea) and Mother Earth (Papa), two Hawaiian entities. Kalo is a main staple for Hawaiians culturally, but is mostly used for food. When born, Kalo was a stillborn, and his parents buried him in the ground. His mother was so sad that she began to cry and, from her tears hitting the soil, the plant, Kalo, began to grow where her son was buried. Kalo is used in many traditional Hawaiian dishes and serves as a symbol for respecting the earth.

 

Background: DM is a 20 year-old Hawaiian American going to college in California. She grew up her entire life in Hawaii and is very accustomed to the folklore there. She can not trace back the origin of the folklore or when she learned it because it has surrounded her for her entire life. After one piece of Hawaiian folklore came up on a work retreat, I asked her to share the most important ones to her on a later date.

Kalo:

DM: Kalo is the origin of so many Hawaiian things, but mostly for food. There’s lau lau, which is the pig roast that is wrapped in Kalo, and poi which is this purple paste made out of Kalo. Both are like traditionally Hawaiian. So anyways, there are these two entity things, Sky Father and Mother Earth. Wakea and Papa. They have human children somehow I don’t know (laughs), but Kalo was the name of one of their children who died when he was born. Then Papa buried the stillborn and she was so sad about it that she cried, and her tears went into the soil. Then, out came Kalo.

S: Does anything happen if you disrespect the Kalo?

DM: The earth is everything to us. I don’t know. Bad harvest maybe.

 

Interpretation: The connection between Kalo being a product of nature (the sky and the earth) and also a main food staple showcases the connection that the Hawaiian people have with nature. Not only do they rely on nature for their mythological origin stories, but they directly connect it to their survival. The story of Kalo can be used to demonstrate that Mother Earth went through a lot of pain in order to provide food in kalo. Since she went through so much pain to feed the people, Hawaiians should be respectful to her and thank her by taking care of the land. This thought process is demonstrated when DM states “the earth is everything to us.” The origin stories reflect this close relationship to the planet that Hawaiians share. Since the foundations of being Hawaiian are to respect the planet, the main stories on which people grow up on encapsulate this mindset and ingrain it in the minds of the youth.

 

Narrative

Menehune: Hawaiian Mischief Ghosts

Abstract: The Menehune (men-ay-hoo-nay)  are a group of Hawaiian dwarf people that cause mischief in Hawaii, but especially in the woods at night. They were kicked off of their land and are now seeking revenge on those that inhabit it. They are mischievous ghosts that are responsible for causing things like sleep paralysis and are blamed for things that happen at night in Hawaii. They used to be real and were the first people to populate the Hawaiian islands until they were forced into extinction by settlers from Tahiti.

 

Background: DM is a 20 year-old  Hawaiian American going to college in California. She grew up her entire life in Hawaii and is very accustomed to the folklore there. She can not trace back the origin of the folklore or when she learned it because it has surrounded her for her entire life. The Menehune are pretty ingrained with the Hawaiian culture. At a work retreat, we were talking as a large group about sleep paralysis. DM intervened talking about how ghosts are responsible in Hawaii for this feeling. I immediately identified this piece of folklore and asked to speak to her at a later time about it.

 

 

The Menehune:

 

DM: The Menehune are like little dwarves that haunt Hawaii in the woods and at night. They were killed off by settlers, but archaeologists have discovered bones and stuff and they were actually very small.  But anyways, if anything happens at night, it’s them. Basically, a lot of people have sleep paralysis where like they can’t breathe or move. So they say, like mostly people that were camping, say that it’s because the Menehune are sitting on their chest.

S: Do people claim to see it or is it just spiritual? Like what else do they do besides cause sleep paralysis?

DM: It’s really just spiritual, but they were real people at some point. And really, since Hawaii is so rural, they can be blamed for like anything. Sound in the woods? Menehune. Tree falls over? Menehune.

 

Interpretation: There are a couple lessons that can be taken from the Menehune. The first being to respect the land and people of other countries/regions. The Menehune are only haunting Hawaii because they were kicked off of their own indigenous land and killed off. So, when this story is told to younger children (as it is done to build culture into young lives), there is an untold lesson to not be disrespectful or take something from someone that is rightfully theirs, or there might be some consequences. This kind of story is modeled in other cultures as well, such as the haunting of old Native American lands by chiefs and warriors.

The second lesson that can be taken away is to stay away from the woods at night. In attempts to keep their children from doing anything too risky, parents might tell the stories of the Menehune haunting and harming people in the woods so that their kids stay safe.

Legends
Myths
Narrative

Pele: The Hawaiian Volcano Goddess

Abstract: Pele (pell-ay) is the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes. The reason this is both a myth and a legend is because the story takes place in both the real world and outside of it. The origin story of how volcanoes in Hawaii came to be and the fact that Pele is a goddess and acts sort of like Greek Gods reason that she is mythological. However, she is a shapeshifter that normally takes the place of an older woman on Earth, so this would make her a legend.

 Background: DM is a 20 year-old  Hawaiian American going to college in California. She grew up her entire life in Hawaii and is very accustomed to the folklore there. She can not trace back the origin of the folklore or when she learned it because it has surrounded her for her entire life. After one piece of Hawaiian folklore came up on a work retreat, I asked her to share the most important ones to her on a later date. DM compares the Hawaiian gods, like Pele, to Greek mythology. They all have their own responsibility on Earth. She dives into the effects of what Pele can do from a story from her father. 

About Pele:

 DM: She is the goddess of volcanoes and takes many forms, but her most common form is an old Hawaiian lady. For context, the only volcano that has a chance of erupting is Kileaua on the big island. Anyway, my dad’s cousin was getting married there, and they were driving home from some party or something a few days before the wedding. And on the main highway, they see this old Hawaiian lady with long gray hair walking on the side. They thought maybe it was Pele, but they were scared so just kept driving. And then on their wedding day, the volcano erupted.

S: So is she someone to be scared of in person like does she cause immediate danger in human form?

DM: Well, I mean, she is a fiery goddess, but she isn’t dangerous. But like you’re supposed to be nice to her, and when they didn’t pick her up she reacted. There are some legends that when a volcano erupts, the lava will go around houses of people who have been nice to her.

S: But like, how do you tell her apart from any other old Hawaiian woman?

DM: You don’t.

 

Interpretation: Pele seems to have undeniable power and garners a lot of respect from the people of Hawaii. The lesson underlying this goddess is to respect your elders. Especially when told to young kids, Pele seems like a mean old lady that can destroy your house and kill you in a fiery pool of lava if you do not show kindness. Since no one really knows what she actually looks like, the people of Hawaii must learn to be nice to all elderly women or possibly suffer the consequences. This portrays Hawaii to be matrilineal and caring of the females, especially the elders, in the community. If Pele was only a myth, there would be no real lesson to treat elders with respect. Since she take the form of an old lady, and, at this point, becomes a legend, citizens will apply the respectful manner to almost all old women to not take any chances of having a really bad day with some lava.

 

For more on Pele, see Legends and Myths of Hawaii by David Kalākaua, 1888, page 46.

 

Kalakaua, David. Legends and Myths of Hawaii. Book On Demand Ltd, 2013.

 

 

Legends
Myths

Vanishing Hitchhiker Pele

Context: This myth was performed in an apartment to an audience of 3 people.

Background: The informant is from Hawaii, where this myth is popular.

“Pele was the goddess of Lava. One of the things that goes around that’s like a, I don’t know if it’s a myth. She was into some guy, but the guy was getting with her sister so she became some lava monster and chased him away. But they say if you’re driving under the mountain, because there’s a tunnel that goes under the mountain. That if you see an old lady with like white hair there and she’ll try to hitch hike. They’ll say that that’s Pele and sometimes she’ll just appear in your back seat.”

Car rides can be very boring, so it makes sense that the legend of Pele would be adopted into the form of a hitchhiking old lady: It serves as an interesting story which can help to pass the time during monotonous car trips.

Legends

Menehune

Context: This legend was performed in an apartment to an audience of 3 people.

Background: The informant is from Hawaii, where this is a common legend.

“Menehune are mischievous little creatures who will go around and steal objects. If something goes missing in Hawaii, we’ll blame it on the Menehune. “

This legend probably is a convenient excuse for those who easily lose things.

Customs
Folk speech
general
Musical

Coconut Willy Song

The lyrics to “Coconut Willy” according to Marjie Hughes are as follows:

 

“Coconut Willie lives in a tree,

plenty papuli it’s easy to see,

all the malahinies, think he’s a king,

they come to Waikiki to see his opu swing!

One night when the moon was high,

Willie took a trip to Molokai,

he flew so high he touched the sky,

thought he was a Minah bird and tried to fly.

Ho ho ho ho.

When the tourists  come to town,

Willie treats them with a smile not a frown,

he rubs them with oil so they won’t boil,

he doesn’t like to see a piece of shark bait spoil!

Ho, ho, ho!

Coconut Willie lives in a tree,

plenty papuli it’s easy to see,

all the malahinies, think he’s a king,

they come to Waikiki to see his opu swing!”

 

Background Information: Marjie is a 78-year old women living in Los Angeles, California. Her father was in the navy; when she was 7-years old she moved to Honolulu, Hawaii and lived on base where she learned to play the ukulele (year was 1947).

Context: Marjie is my grandmother and has sung this song for me with her ukulele since I can remember. I most recently heard her sing her version of Coconut Willy this spring while vacationing in Hawaii with my family. I have grown up hearing her play this song, and when I asked her when she first began playing “Coconut Willy” she shared that she learned the song living in Honolulu and continued to play it with her sisters at family gatherings.

Analysis: This song has been a personal part of my childhood, as I was raised hearing it sung as both a lullaby and sung when on vacation or somewhere tropical. Because of that, this song carries a very specific connotation for me, so it was interesting to consider the song from another perspective, since I know many people must perform it in different ways. For my Grandma, this song reminds her of living on the navy base as a child and singing songs while playing the ukulele with her two sisters, one of whom is no longer living and the other with severe Dementia. Songs carry extreme emotional content that is very individual person to person.

Legends
Magic

Kiamuki House and the Kasha

The following urban legend was told by a Hawaiian native that she learned from her auntie:

“Theres this creepy looking haunted house on the corner of 8th and Harding that they just tore down last summer but they’re trying to rebuild….they shouldn’t. It’s home to a kasha.  A kasha is a demon that feeds on human corpses and there’s one probably still living on that plot of land.  The kasha first started inhabiting the house after a man killed his wife, son and daughter in his house and buried their bodies on the property.  The bodies of the wife and the son have been found but the daughter’s body is still missing…because she’s now the kasha that haunts the Kiamuki house.  She tried to claim her first victim in 1942.  The police received a desperate phone call from the woman who lived in the house in 1942 claiming that her children were being strangled by a ghost.  The police responded to this call and were terrified at what they saw at the house.  According to police reports, they witnessed the two children being thrown around and strangled by an unseen entity.  After about an hour and a half the policemen were finally able to save the children from the kasha and evacuate the family from the house never to return…but that did not stop different people from moving in. After the family moved out, three women moved into the house and one night the kasha violently grabbed one of the women’s arms.  They quickly called the police and they responded and offered to escort the women to another house for the night.  On their drive, the kasha reappeared and started choking one of the women.  The car pulled over and  the two other women struggled to get the kasha off of their friend.  The policeman also pulled over and tried to help the women but was restrained by what he describes as a ‘large calloused hand.’ Finally he was able to break free and get the kasha off of the woman.  He offered to drive the women to the house but when they got into his car it wouldn’t start so the women returned to their car and all of a sudden both cars worked again.  As they drove down the road the policeman recalls seeing the car door get ripped off of the car and thrown into the road by an unseen entity which then continued to drag one of the women out of the car and strangle her to death while her friends and the policeman watched helplessly”

Analysis: This terrifying ghost story might be more than an urban legend with detailed police reports that are still unexplainable, after all how do you explain someone being choked to death by thin air?  The informant sounded utterly terrified of this house and claimed she will always take a longer driving route if it means avoiding that neighborhood.  The common ghost story motifs are all present in this chilling story because the kasha is a young girl who was tragically murdered who’s purpose is now to inflict harm to others.  However, this goes further than a common ghost story because there are detailed police accounts and multiple accounts of attacks on the property.  This story has been passed down to generations of Hawaiians as a tale of caution to always avoid the Kaimuki House.

 

Folk Beliefs

Whistling at Night in Hawaii

Main Piece: Hawaiian Superstition

 

“It is told that you are not supposed to whistle at night in Hawaii, because it is believed to summon the Menehune who will capture and kill you”

 

Background:

 

My teammate Danny was born and raised in Hawaii, and this is a very common superstition in Hawaii. The Menehune are believed to be dwarf sized people, who live in the hidden valleys and forests in Hawaii, far out of sight of the humans.

Danny told me that he does not remember who specifically told him this superstition, but tells me it is just a generally well known superstition on the islands. He likes this superstition because it is just one of those random things that is known primarily by natives. This is especially interesting because Hawaii is a dominant tourist destination, and this could be one of those facts dropped by tour guides or natives to possibly scare the tourists or add a level of mystery to the island.

 

Context:

 

Like I said earlier, this is most likely a fact told to tourists by tour guides or natives working at a restaurant or something along those lines. It could also be something told by parents to their young kids when they go out to keep them from staying out to late at night, by instilling a little bit of fear in them to keep them out of trouble.

It could also be something found in a tourism book or a history of the islands when speaking of the mythological beings, the Menehune. This also seems to be more of a legend told around a campfire at night or at a luau, because it doesn’t seem like it would be one of those things that you are just walking down the street with your friend and they say “Oh hey by the way, don’t whistle at night or it will summon the Menehune.”

 

My thoughts:

 

I personally think this is sort of a Hawaiian version of the Boogeyman, being one of those things that scares kids into behaving and giving a far out consequence if not followed. Obviously an adult is not going to believe that a dwarf sized human is going to appear solely by the simple act of whistling, but a naïve and imaginative child would most certainly believe it.

I doubt this would come up in any other context aside from the ones told above, but it is an interesting fact that could be thrown around on a vacation with one’s family when visiting the Hawaiian Islands, that could make you seem fairly knowledgeable on the location. I have been to Hawaii many times before hearing this and I had never heard it so I doubt it is used much outside of family superstition.

 

Folk Beliefs

Hawaiian Superstition

Main Piece: Hawaiian Superstition

 

This was told to me by my Hawaiian teammate Danny:

 

“You are not supposed to take sand or rocks from the beaches in Hawaii, as it will upset Pele and she will curse you.”

 

Background:

 

This is more so a superstition that is used for tourists to the islands, as an incentive to not take sand or rocks from the beaches. The goddess Pele, who is believed to curse you for taking them, is known as the goddess of fire, volcanoes, lightning, and is known as the creator of the Hawaiian Islands. It is told that when rocks or sand are taken from the beaches, you are taking away Pele’s home and this is why she curses you. The only way to please Pele is to return whatever was taken, and not take anything else away.

This is another generally known superstition in the Hawaiian Islands, and Danny tells me it is something told to help preserve the environment in Hawaii, and keep nature the way it is and just appreciate it in the moment and not take a souvenir that is a natural part of the earth.

 

Context:

 

This is a superstition told to tourists to prevent them from taking sand and rocks from the beaches to hopefully preserve the ecosystem and not disrupt nature and the islands natural beauty. If every tourist who went to Hawaii took one rock or one bottle of sand, the make-up of the many popular tourist destinations would not be the same, and it could harm the ecosystem of the plants and animals that inhabit them.

There is no other context that this could be told in, other than a parent telling their kid to just leave nature as it is, because if it was made that way, that’s the way it was supposed to stay. Danny was told this by his mother who was a big advocate for respecting nature and keeping everything the way it naturally came to be. It is also a pride thing for Hawaiians, because they want to preserve the beautiful place they live in and keep it from changing unnaturally.

 

My thoughts:

 

I had actually heard this superstition before once when I went to Hawaii. My brother and I had made what we called “beaches in a bottle” one day where we would fill an empty plastic bottle with half sand and half ocean water and a piece of rock or coral, and when we were coming back to the hotel from the beach one of the workers told us that if we took the sand, it would upset the beach gods and we would have bad luck until we returned it back to its rightful place. We immediately returned everything to the ocean and didn’t think to take anything again. This gave me a better appreciation for experiences, and not necessarily needing a souvenir or any sort of memorabilia to remember a place.

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