Tag Archives: Hawaiian folk belief

Flat Chopsticks

Context: MC is a Vietnamese undergraduate student at USC. She’s currently studying cinematic arts and is my friend. One day when we were hanging out I asked her if she had any beliefs she and her family followed. 

YM: So what are some beliefs or superstitious things you and your family follow? 

MC: Well a big one is that when we use chopsticks we always lay them flat when we aren’t using them. if they’re vertical that kind of means you’re offering to feed the spirits

YM: can you give more insight about the chopsticks belief ? Do you happen to know why this belief came about ?

MC: When we worship our ancestors, it’s tradition to bring them food like the dia de los muertos altar 

MC: So we stick chopsticks vertically to signal that it’s for the spirits…and they say not to do that in everyday life to not signal them if we aren’t actually offering it. 

YM: Would something bad happen if you were to leave your chopsticks vertical when you aren’t using them ? 

MC: Hmm I’m not sure, I dont think it’s bad as a spirit will try to haunt you but maybe you’ll invite spirits into your home because you’re offering to feed them, and no one wants spirits in their home !…. it’s just one of those things you aren’t supposed to do

YM: Yeah right ! so you believe this? 

MC: I don’t really believe it but since its tradition I still follow it 

Background info: MC identifies herself as Mein and she grew up following this belief, which was told by her mom and grandma. 

Analysis: It seems this folk belief sets up the way the Lu Mein people think about the world. Having done some research during a funeral one leaves the chopsticks upright because it’s a way to portray the ritual of incense burning which symbolizes feeding the dead or death in general. As well as belief, laying your chopstick flat is also a form of etiquette (custom) when eating. This belief and custom also seems to be liminal since it’s in between this world and the spiritual world. Since it has to do with the dead or death itself, not following this etiquette may bring bad luck. 

Honi Ihu/ Honi Honi (Hawaii Custom)

Context: KS was born and raised in Hawaii. She’s a really close friend of mine and is a senior at USC, studying psychology . I went over to her place one day and I asked her about some customs in her culture. She told me about honi ihu/ honi honi while she cooked dinner. 

YM: So what is a big custom you and your family have ? 

KS: Theres honi ihu/ honi honi which is just a hug and kiss on the cheek..both people at same time…that comes from the old belief of sharing the ha or breath of life

YM: Can you tell me about the breath of life in your culture?

KS: When I was young my auntys side of the family would always say honi honi and then proceed to do the mutual kiss on the cheek..honi means kiss

KS:I learned in school that this comes from the older tradition of touching noses and taking a deep breath when you meet people..this is called sharing the ha/ha which means breath

YM: What does it mean to you?

KS: To me when you greet someone with a honi honi it just expresses a genuine sense of both love and respect.

KS: I use it for family and close friends from there. It is a gesture that was taught to me by my mom, aunty and grandma..Hawaiian side.. that also makes me feel closer to them and other people from Hawaii 

KS:Since this is not how you greet people in American culture…it is a sort of bonding activity?…like I usually want to greet people with a hug because that is just how I was raised…. the whole handshake concept was very strange to me at first

YM: Awww that is so beautiful, thank you for sharing 

Analysis: I thought this was a beautiful custom. From what KS told me this custom was updated throughout the years, going from a touching nose to greet to mutually kissing both cheeks with a hug. The custom is practiced this way because the purpose of the customs is to share the breath of life. This belief and custom is similar to the eskimo kiss called kunik and the Maori greeting called the hongi where people actually touch noses to greet each other. It’s interesting how this culture decided to adapt or change up their greeting throughout the years. Either way kissing both cheeks and hugging is definitely a more intimate way to greet one another compared to American culture where a handshake is sufficient to greet someone. It seems this custom serves to create a bonding experience and well as promote more unification within the culture.  *****

For another version of this custom, please see pg 407 of Marriage Customs of the World: An Encyclopedia of Dating Customs and Wedding Traditions, 2nd Edition [2 volumes]: Volume 1, Edition 2, by George P. Monger

Kalo Farming and Menstruation Superstition

Main Text

Subject: There was a superstition. Um…that, like, while we were helping with the kalo fields. Was that, um, anyone, anyone who is menstruating at the moment, couldn’t help. Um…basically like, plow the fields or whatever. Because like, native Hawaiians, they didn’t have as like, strong, as like…um…like gender binary, misogynistic, like, beliefs. But…more that like…that, and so like everyone was expected to help for, um…agriculture and harvesting and all that. But that like, anyone who is menstruating, like, the smell of blood attracts like, evil spirits. So like—and, when you’re…when you’re farming, like, any energy that you have while farming, um, will…be put into, like, will grow with the food, so if you have like, negative thoughts while you’re farming, um…like you will have, like, negative energy in your food. Um…so like, not that like people who are menstruating have like, negative energy on—already, but that like, they will attract like, negative energy to the field. While it’s being plowed.

Background

The subject, a 21-year-old Chinese-American student at USC, went on a service learning trip to Hawaii, as part of the Alternative Winter Break USC program. The trip lasted five days. The goal of the trip was to learn about native Hawaiian culture and the independence movement and contemporary struggles the state experiences.

Context

The subject first learned about this superstition from a Native Hawaiian student majoring in Native Hawaiian studies at the University of Hawaii. That student shared the superstition while people on the Alternative Winter Break trip were helping Native Hawaiians prepare a plot of land for the planting of kalo, a staple Native Hawaiian food. During the initial sharing of this superstition, people who actually were menstruating were not allowed to help in preparing the field, out of respect for the cultural significance of the superstition.

The subject recalls a similar superstition with regards to cooking, which they learned from a Hawaiian botanical garden tour guide. Traditionally, Hawaiian men would make food, because if women were menstruating and cooking, the evil spirits would enter the food as well.

The subject once shared this superstition about menstruating in the field with a person outside the Native Hawaiian folk group. The person hearing about the superstition called it misogynist, because it purposely excluded women from the fields. The subject thinks it is not right for themself to pass a judgment on the superstition, because they are not Native Hawaiian.

Interviewer’s Analysis

This is an example of Frazer’s concept of homeopathic magic in practice. Homeopathic magic is the idea that like produces like—in this case, that negative energy from menstruation draws evil spirits or other types of negative energy into crops and food. In addition, outside the context of Hawaii, farming superstitions are quite a common phenomenon, due to the uncontrollable environmental risks that are involved in growing crops. Any superstitions that provide any additional sense of personal control over the environment helps to ease anxiety.

As someone who is also not Native Hawaiian, the interviewer agrees with the subject’s opinion that it is improper to judge the morality of this superstition. The interviewer would like to further argue that trying to evaluate whether a folk belief is discriminatory is unproductive. Folk beliefs are not necessarily adopted with social justice theory in mind—nor should they be coerced into forming some sort of coherent ideology. Folklore is unofficial discourse with no predestined direction of development, and to treat it as if it were a systemic institution would be scientifically inaccurate.

Shaka Hand Sign — Hawaiian Legend

Text

The following piece was collected during a conversation with a girl who had recently visited Hawaii. We had been discussing the varying uses of the shaka, commonly referred to as the “hang loose” gesture. The girl will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant” and I, the “Collector”.

Informant: “So, I was talking to my cousins who live there and we were talking about how to properly do the shaka sign. I told them that I felt slightly phony trying to pull it off because I don’t surf, but they told me that it’s not only for surfers. They said it was their way of saying ‘hello’. They told me that apparently, the reason why it was thumb and pinky out, all other fingers closed, was because there was a Hawaiian man once who lost his fingers, they don’t know how, but that he lost his fingers and that was just how he waved.”

Collector: “Was it because of a surfing accident? Is that why it’s a surfer sign here?”

Informant: “They don’t know why, they think it’s because of a shark or surfing accident.”

Context

            The Informant learned this belief when she was visiting her cousins in Hawaii. The Informant believed her cousins and thought the origin of the shaka, according to the cousins, seemed like a reasonable beginning of the very popular hand sign. The Informant believes there must be some truth to this, mainly because it originated somehow, it’s very possible this is the reason why.

Interpretation

On the other hand, I believe that it is very possible that people who use the sign very regularly will not think much of its origin, but when told the story of a surfing or shark accident, will accept it as truth. When I first heard it, I remember nodding to myself and thinking “that makes sense”. I believe that people revel in coming up with explanations for things they normally would not be able to explain. I read other beliefs on this gesture, and some say it is a very popular sign whose meaning has become misconstrued. The idea behind the shaka, in many of these accounts, was simply a gesture that would encompass the meaning of “aloha”.

The Menahune Men

Context:

The subject is a 19 year old student at USC, her ancestors are Hawaiian and has grown up hearing different stories about Hawaiian culture and old folktales. I asked her to coffee to discuss such things.

Piece:

Interviewer: “So what’s the first piece of Hawaiian folklore that jumps to your mind?”

Subject: “The Menehune men. Some people think that it was an actual race of native Hawaiians from way back when, but most popularly they’re known as the Menehune, and they’re supposedly like 2 feet to 4 feet tall. They’re little, like have you ever seen Scooby Doo?

Interviewer: “Yeah, of course.”

Subject: “The one where they go to Hawaii, and the evil, like, tiki face, that’s a little bit of the vibe they were going for. And they’re apparently really good builders. They’re craftsy people, they work at night. And there’s this wall in Hawaii, I forget the name, but for the longest time it was said that the Menehune built that wall.”

 

Analysis:

After doing some research I found that the wall the subject was referring to was the Kikiaola. It’s a ditch that channeled water from Waimea River to the taro patches in lower Waimea Valley. It was engineered in a way that’s not found anywhere else in Hawaii and it continues to puzzle archaeologists. Perhaps their answer lives in the Menahune.

 

The Nightmarchers

Context:

The subject is a 19 year old student at USC, her ancestors are Hawaiian and has grown up hearing and experiencing different stories about Hawaiian culture and old folktales. I asked her to coffee to discuss such things.

Piece:

Subject: “The Nightmarchers, are like ancient Hawaiian warriors who basically walk during certain parts of — in certain parts of like Hawaii, and, like, um, if you see them, they appear as just a bunch torches – glowing torches. And as they come towards you, you’re slowly going to see a strange procession, it’s like a parade, but sad. Procession, get it, like Pet Semetary?”

Interviewer: “Yeah, I do.”

Subject: “And they’re ancient Hawaiian warriors, and if you look at them it’s said that you’re going to die, or someone you love is going to die soon. So you’re not supposed to look at them.”

Analysis:

Upon further research, I’ve found that these Nightmarchers are deadly ghosts of previous Hawaiian warriors. On the nights honoring the Hawaiian gods Kane, Ku, Lono, or on the nights of Kanaloa they are said to come forth from their burial sites, or to rise up from the ocean, and to march in a large group to ancient Hawaiian battles sites or to other sacred places.

If a mortal looks at these warriors without fear or defiance, they will be killed violently, unless a relative is within the Nightmarchers. Legend also states that planting living ti shrubs around one’s home will keep away evil spirits, and will cause the huaka’i pō to avoid the area.

Don’t Bring Pork on the Pali Highway

“In Hawaii, there’s a big stigma about the Pali Highway. You’re not supposed to carry pork on it from the windward side to the leeward side because it has to do it the belief in the Hawaiian gods The windward side, [my sister] said it was the Kamapua’a, which is the pig god, and then the leeward side is the embodiment of his ex-girlfriend, which is Pele, which is the goddess of fire. If you if you bring poured across the Pali Highway from windward to leeward, you’ll get cursed with bad luck. You’re supposed to bring tea leaves to protect yourself, and that’s why you don’t drive with pork.”

Background Information and Context:

“[I learned about the superstition] through one of my teachers, my Modern History of Hawaii teacher, I believe, because he used to tell different stories and things, so use telling the history of the island and about how we have a really like big mixed culture but also, like, indigenous Hawaiian cultures. So, I would modern Hawaiian culture, at least, is like an amalgamation of a bunch of different things that are mixed into [indigenous Hawaiian culture]. So, different superstitions, too. All of the older aunties and uncles, especially native Hawaiian and aunties and uncles, will be steadfast about superstitions, but I have never met anyone who like really really strict about this one. Still, even if they’re not really really strict about it, like they don’t super believe in it, they won’t do it anyway because it’s just one of those superstition things that you just don’t do.”

Collector’s Notes:

What I find most interesting about this superstition is that, although the informant has never met anyone who truly claimed belief in the superstition, she considers it something you “just don’t do.” This shows the power of cultural expectations and explains why superstitions are so resilient to fading. Moreover, I find the informant’s knowledge of and education about Hawaiian history and culture intriguing because she was neither born in Hawaii nor is she of indigenous Hawaiian descent, showing that the adoption of local traditions does not have to occur from a young age.

Night Marchers

“You shouldn’t whistle at night because you’ll get hunted down by the night marchers. I’ve never really gotten a description of what the night marchers are, but if you get hunted down by them, it’s also bad luck, and then, also, if you hear drums it’s night marchers, so go in the other direction. My sister, she’s in marching band, and one time she was whistling, and her friend just yelled at her across the field like, ‘Don’t whistle! You’re going to get hunted down by the night marchers!’ I asked her, ‘What are the night marchers?’ She just (she shrugs and shakes her head) and ‘Just don’t whistle at night.’”

Background Information and Context:

As the informant said above, she learned about this superstition from her sister, who had shared the experience of being warned about this superstition. They encountered this superstition in Hawaii, where they live.

Collector’s Notes:

It is interesting how the informant and her sister were warned not to whistle at night without ever truly understanding the background for the superstition. It makes me wonder if the person warning her sister even knew what the night marchers are, or if she was merely echoing a warning given to her by someone else. Many superstitions exist and are followed ‘just to be safe’ even though the reasons why it causes bad luck are unknown. Moreover, I was surprised that my informant never thought to look up the night marchers on the internet, because a simple Google search showed me that her bad-luck-causing night marchers were actually Hawaiian warriors whose appearance meant death.

For more information about the Night Marchers, see “Friday Frights: The Legend of Hawai‘i’s Night Marchers” in Honolulu Magazine

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.

Hawaiian Folk Belief on Whistling

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:

In Hawaiian we call it (taboo) Kapu, which means sacred, don’t touch or you die, just don’t do it. Hawaiians of ancient Hawaii had many taboo, thank goodness which no longer exist, as most kapu broken would end with death. When I was little, my Tutu, my mother’s mother forbid us to whistle after sunset. Whistling after sunset was kapu because whistling at night would summons evil spirits. To this day 35 years later, I don’t dare whistle after sunset……

Piece Background Information:

Informant already mentioned within their piece that they learned about this taboo through her grandmother.

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Context of Performance:

Via email.

Thoughts on Piece: 
If you google “whistling at night”, there are plenty of accounts, mostly from Japanese, Native American, and Hawaiian cultures, of how whistling at night can invite evil. And in relation to the legend of the Night Marchers, shared with me by the same informant, apparently there are Hawaiian accounts that whistling at night will summon these legendary figures. While there can be no scientific or evidential basis for how whistling at night could summon spirits, perhaps this is also a method for parents to get their children to behave as whistling, or making noise, at night can be disturbing.