USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘hawaii’
Myths
Narrative

How the Islands were fished out of the ocean

Main Piece: Hawaiian Legend

 

“So the legend goes, Maui was out fishing with his brothers in a canoe one day, when he cast out a line. He had something big on the line, and told his brothers to row, and not look back, as it was a bad omen when fishing from a canoe to look behind you while rowing.

The brothers did not look back, and Maui continued reeling in his catch. Once he got it up, it became known that Maui had fished the Hawaiian Islands out of the sea.”

 

Background:

 

Danny told this story as a creation story of the Hawaiian Islands. Maui is a demigod in Hawaiian mythology, being the son of the two major deities in Hawaiian mythology. Danny likes this story because it is a creation story, and although untrue, gives the natives a good mythological explanation of how the Hawaiian Islands came to be that they can pass on as a part of their beliefs.

Danny likes this story because even though it is obviously not true, it is something almost every Hawaiian believes in, and all other people in the world will just disprove with science. He likes that it is a story dating back to the original inhabitants of the island, and gives him a sense of pride in his culture and where he comes from.

 

Context:

 

Danny told me this is a legend that would be told as a bedtime story. He does not remember the exact details but remembers the main story of it, but he does remember it as a prominent story from his childhood. He says his grandmother used to tell it to him and his siblings, and his mother would occasionally tell it as a bedtime story.

There aren’t many other contexts this story would be told in, other than possibly in a children’s book explaining how the islands came to be, or as a tour guides introduction to the history of the islands.

 

My Thoughts:

 

This story reminded me a lot of stories such as the Grand Canyon story where Paul Bunyun dragged his axe behind him as he was walking, and carved out the Grand Canyon, or a Native American story where the Kiowa’s came to earth through a log. Creation stories are generally too far-fetched to be true, but the general consensus of the people who live there is a small sliver of belief in the myth, but more so they serve as something to hold on to as a piece of their cultural heritage.

 

 

 

For another version of this story, see here: Maui (http://kms.kapalama.ksbe.edu/projects/ahupuaa/waianae/wan/wan12maui/index.html)

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

Hawaiian Folk Belief/Legend Menehune

Note: The form of this submission includes the dialogue between the informant and I before the cutoff (as you’ll see if you scroll down), as well as my own thoughts and other notes on the piece after the cutoff. The italics within the dialogue between the informant and I (before the cutoff) is where and what kind of direction I offered the informant whilst collecting. 

Informant’s Background:

My mother’s mother’s mother and even from before her are from Hawaii but some England roots are interjected into the bloodline as well. My mother’s father’s father’s father hails half from Hawaii and the other half from China and Portugal. But what is funny about most Hawaiians, is that they are not only Hawaiian. They are also Caucasian, Portuguese, Chinese, Filipino, Samoan, Japanese, Korean, e.t.c…….Plantation workers were brought in to work the sugar and pineapple fields and they brought their culture with them.

Piece:

From when I was a little girl, we were taught about Menehune. They are little talented craftsmen,  Hawaiian people who help build things to bless others when no one is looking. When the good deed was done and the giver wasn’t pointed out or identified, we would hear our grandparents suggest that the Menehune did it. :)

Piece Background Information:

Informant already mentioned within their piece that she learned of the Menehune through her grandparents when she was a young kid.

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Context of Performance:

Via email.

Thoughts on Piece: 
The Menehune seem to be another variation of other magical creatures in the folklore of other cultures such as Ireland’s leprechauns. There are many different origin stories behind the Menehune, but at the end of the day, the Menehune seem to be used or invoked as a solution to unknown phenomena. This is very interesting and explains why tales of the Menehune are still alive today though they date back so far- parents, grandparents, etc. pass it on to their children.
Myths
Narrative

The fight of the goddesses and creation of Hawaii: Pele and Hi’iaka

The informant, T, is 19 years old. He was born and raised on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. His parents were also born and raised on Oahu. His grandparents on his mom’s side came from Japan and from his dad’s side were raised on Oahu. He is majoring as an Industrial and Systems Engineer. He considers himself American and is full Japanese.

T- “I did a hula performance a couple years ago and it was based on the story of Pele who is the goddess of volcanoes and her sister Hi’iaka, the goddess of the ocean, and they’re fighting because I think Hi’iaka had a boyfriend, and Pele took him away from her and Hi’iaka got pissed at her. So she chased her around and that is how the islands were formed. Pele would make an island because she is the island of volcanoes and her sister would go there and then Pele had to leave and she had to make a new island and yea”

How did you hear this story for the first time?

T-“My hula teacher or hula kumu”

Is that a common story that everyone knows or is it just a hula thing?

T-“Pretty much just hula people or people who are immensely into Hawaiian culture. Not a lot of people know that story”

Analysis- While this myth is known as an explanation to something as big as the creation of the islands, it is odd that only a small group of people really know the tale and actually tell it. This could be due to the fact that the traditional Hawaiian dance is meant to tell stories of the past as well as to be a way for the people to connect and give something to the Hawaiian gods. In the islands, one can see the constant change of the islands as they are formed by volcanoes and how the lava pours into the ocean to create steam and land. This constant and real fight of the land and the ocean is depicted as the two goddesses fighting.

Myths
Narrative

Maui and the creation of the islands

The informant, T, is 19 years old. He was born and raised on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. His parents were also born and raised on Oahu. His grandparents on his mom’s side came from Japan and from his dad’s side were raised on Oahu. He is majoring as an Industrial and Systems Engineer. He considers himself American and is full Japanese.

T- “There was this regular boy named Maui who went out with his teacher and they went out on a boat and his teacher told Maui to throw his fishing line into the water and hold it but not look at it. So he would pull at stuff but he would not look at it. He would pull at heavy things and he would fight it and fight it but he would not look, and then like after a while he gave in and looked back and realized he pulled out the islands”

Where did you hear this story?

T-“I’ve heard it many times. I think the first time was in fourth grade we had Hawaiian history class and I think this is one of the histories they went over”

Where do you think the story came from?

T-“There is a lot of fishing in Hawaii and that’s one of the biggest sources of food that they had before the westerners came.”

Is this story more common than other myths about the creation of the islands?

T- “Yea this one is more common. I think so”

Analysis- As mentioned by the informant, Hawaii consists of a lot of fishing, which provides food to the people. During the earlier times, when the stories were beginning to be told, fish would have been a main supply of food. The figure of the child Maui is originally known to be a trickster demigod figure in Hawaiian mythology. The form of the teacher in Hawaii is very common, especially as hula teachers. This is mirrored in the myth combined with the idea of fishing to explain a natural event, the creation of the islands.

For more information see:

Westervelt, W.D. (1910). Legends of Maui, A Demi-God of Polynesia. Retrieved from http://www.sacred-texts.com/pac/maui/maui04.htm

Legends
Narrative

The ghost of a godess

The informant, T, is 19 years old. He was born and raised on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. His parents were also born and raised on Oahu. His grandparents on his mom’s side came from Japan and from his dad’s side were raised on Oahu. He is majoring as an Industrial and Systems Engineer. He considers himself American and is full Japanese.

T- “Pele is the goddess of volcanoes so like currently the big island, which is the furthest right island in the Hawaii chain, is like active like a volcano erupting and it is said that Pele lives there. In the volcano in the big island. There’s many ghost stories about her like that. Like there is stories about an old lady asking for hitchhiking on like a highway and they ignore her and keep going, but after a few minutes the guy looks in his rearview mirror and he sees Pele sitting in his back seat and he freaked out. Yea there’s like a lot of stuff like that. “

Have you seen this ghost?

T-“No I haven’t but I have some friends that experienced some ghost or something during a 6 grade camp trip”

Do you tell this story?

T-“I only share it when I have in depth conversations about my culture, which isn’t often”

 

Analysis- The fact that the informant does not share the story to others proves that he does not really believe in it. He, however, understands and considers it as part of his culture. The story is also meant to show the power that the Hawaiian gods have, according to the local people. The driver is not able to escape from Pele even if she is alone in the middle of nowhere and appears to be helpless. It is a demonstration that people are nothing when it comes to the gods and that you should make them angry.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Narrative

Cursed Rock

The informant, T, is 19 years old. He was born and raised on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. His parents were also born and raised on Oahu. His grandparents on his mom’s side came from Japan and from his dad’s side were raised on Oahu. He is majoring as an Industrial and Systems Engineer. He considers himself American and is full Japanese.

T-“ Pele is the goddess of volcanoes so like currently the big island, which is the furthest right island in the Hawaii chain, is like active like a volcano erupting and it is said that Pele lives there so you can’t take lava rocks from the big island or its said that Pele will curse you or something”

Is it only from the big island? Can you take it from the other islands?

T-“Well you’re not supposed to take it from the others, but it is well known you’re not supposed to take it from the big island. That one I think everyone knows that”

Did you hear this since you were little?

T-“Yea since I was little”

Do you know if there are any laws behind it?

T-“I don’t think there is any laws but there’s like Hawaiian laws which like you can’t enforce them”

Do share this story?

T-“Yea. This is one of the ones that I mainly tell other people when we’re talking or having in depth conversations about my culture”

Analysis- While there are no official laws, the story of the curse could be a way of the natives to protect their land. By scaring tourists into believing in the curse, they can ensure that the land will not be disturbed and/or damaged. The fact that most, if not all, of the people know it and tell it can be seen as possible proof of this. Since the locals do not have the power to enforce this law, the curse story could have been made up. Overtime, however, it appears that the legend has been canonized and is becoming more known and accepted by the people to be true.

Foodways
Myths
Narrative

Origins of the Hawaiian Kalo Plant

The informant is an 18-year-old college student attending university in Hawaii. She was born and raised in the Bay Area, California, but has a great deal of family living in Hawaii who she visited frequently when growing up.

While I was on a hike with the informant in San Ramon, California over spring break, I asked her if there were any Hawaiian myths or legends regarding the islands themselves, and she explained to me the history of the taro plant.

“Father Sky and Mother Earth were brother and sister, and they had, kind of like an incestuous relationship, and their first child was a stillborn and they buried it in the ground. That’s what taro plant is, in Hawaii it’s called kalo, and they use it to make a dish called poi. It’s really important to Hawaiians because each taro plant is like the first stillborn, and it’s kinda cool because a taro plant is a stem and a big leaf and there’s a little circle part in the middle that is supposed to be the bellybutton”

The taro plant, called kalo in Hawaii, is a staple in Hawaiian cuisine. This mythology incorporating the taro plant with the origin of the Earth itself shows how much importance Hawaiians place on the land. The land is often still viewed as being Mother Earth, and it is of the utmost importance that Hawaiians are respectful to their ancestors. So, it follows that Hawaiians must be extremely respectful to Mother Earth herself, their land, and this myth encourages every resident of the newly declared state to do their part to take care of their home and warns against wastefulness. This explains why so many native Hawaiians find it necessary to be rude to tourists and foreigners who carelessly destroy their sacred home. The informant said that anyone from Hawaii knows of the origin story describing kalo, and so I asked if there are any specific rituals or techniques that are employed when harvesting the plant. She said that she was not entirely sure, but she does know that you are supposed to pick the root a certain way so as to not hurt the stillborn child. Through this belief, the idea that it is important to not harm the land and to respect it is emphasized once more.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Protection

Night Marchers

Night marchers are a legend in Hawaii … um about … so traditionally when Hawaiian royalty had to travel long distances, they would do it at night for their safety and the night marchers were their security that walks with them, and as tradition goes you’re not supposed to look at night marchers, so like, it was also at night so that people weren’t out in the open when they would travel. So people could not see them and if they did, they would die or something, but now… so now there’s a legend that the night marchers still will sometimes be seen in the most sacred areas of the island and they’re really scary. They’re pretty feared by people… you don’t want to get near them. I camped in Olowalu, a spot on Maui, and it’s a super sacred spot… it has a lot of ceremonial sites, and they told us to watch out for the night marchers, so we were really scared that night but we didn’t see anyone.

 

One man was camping one time at another sacred spot on Maui, and he saw a line of torches of lights on the mountain above him, and he thought it was pig hunters maybe, but he realized they were all carrying these torches… but no one carries torches, so he realized they were night marchers. And they didn’t come down to the beach, so he didn’t see them face to face or up close, but he was really spooked. He never went back there or camped there again. Maybe it was the spirits of the night marchers. They, apparently, don’t look like ghosts and they’re supposed to look like real people.

 

Background: I had heard a version of this story earlier when my friend was telling me a little about this, but to hear an in depth version was very interesting for me. I conducted this interview live, so this story was given to me live. What was very interesting for me was to hear how even though these people served as seemingly benevolent people to protect Hawaiian royalty, people were still very afraid of them and could not even look at them or they could expect death. Perhaps this is a continuation of a belief that if people even dared to approach the night marchers and harm the royalty, they would be killed instantly. I thought this was a very interesting piece of Hawaiian folklore that I had not really understood or even heard of before I met my friend and then subsequently had this in depth description of them.

Folk Beliefs
Magic

Lepers of Molokai

Another place was Kalaupapa which is where the lepers… it was a leprosy colony on Molokai. I stayed there for a week and there’s like a certain area we were driving through, and there was a big field next to the road and about 2000 bodies buried in the field. We all just got… the most eerie feeling came over us in the car … so clear there was a presence…I think there is a lot of…they would say that those were souls that were never able to be put to rest because they were forced to go to this peninsula and they were trapped there… they were not there by choice, these people suffering from leprosy didn’t want to be there. They’re definitely still lingering on the peninsula.

 

Background: I conducted this interview live, so this story was given to me in person. My friend remembers this story because it happened to her, and there was such a tangible feeling and it was such a visceral experience that she really remembers it very well and it has stuck with her. I had heard about the lepers of Molokai, but I had not known they were trapped on a certain peninsula and forced to stay there; I had originally thought the leper colony was just trapped all over the entire island. That is also scary to me that there are 2000 bodies just buried in the field without the ability to have been put to rest, so I believe that there are probably very strong presences there who reach out to the living in order to try and escape, which is sad. This story is very scary for me to hear.

Initiations
Legends
Narrative

Moki Hana – the Haunted Dormitory

The informant is an 18-year-old college student attending university in Hawaii. She was born and raised in the Bay Area, California, but has a great deal of family living in Hawaii who she visited frequently when growing up. While I was on a hike with the informant in San Ramon, California over spring break, she was describing her dorm to me and began to tell the story of how it came to be haunted.

“I live in a dorm called Moki Hana on campus. I first heard of the ghost from my RA, he told us about it on the first day we moved in. There’s a closet on my floor on the side of the bathroom with a sink in it that is used as a janitor’s closet. In the 80s a freshman hung himself in that closet, on my floor, and his ghost haunts the tower. The Resident Assistants have to stay in the dorms over the summer and one night one of them felt a really sharp pain on her chest and couldn’t get up, and she refused to sleep in the dorms for a few weeks. You’re not supposed to sleep with your feet to the door because it’s a way for spirits to enter your body. Also nobody will go to the bathroom during witching hour because they don’t want to encounter him. I just try to be respectful when I’m talking about it, especially if I’m in the dorms. Anywhere on campus or in the local vicinity they call the dorm ‘Moki Haunted.’”

In this ghost story, a tragic event that actually took place in the Moki Hana dormitory, the suicide of a freshman student, is transformed into a persistent haunting that affects any student who lives in the dorms. Upon hearing of this, I was reminded of previous conversations that I have had with the informant in which she has emphasized that Hawaii has an extensive history of spirituality, and I believe that this coupled to the sense of isolation and unfamiliarity that many college freshman face when moving to an island away from home serves to amplify the fear instilled within the students who are placed in Moki Hana dorm. The informant’s Resident Adviser may or may not believe in the ghost, but I think that his purpose in informing the freshman who live in the haunted dorm about it is in part to make them aware, but moreso to provide a sense of unity among the residents and as a way of initiating them into the dorm, as for the year they live in Moki Hana the common fear of encountering or upsetting the ghost of the student who committed suicide there will function to bring the residents together.

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