About a twenty minute hike from the edge of my town (Waimea, on the big island of Hawaii) is the back of Waipio Valley, the first in a chain of seven valleys on the northeast coast of my island. By Hawaiin tradition, Waipio is thought to be the entrance to the underworld, where the dead souls of AliI (Hawaiin Royalty) go after they die. They sat night the Alil come out and walk through the valley (and consequently the hills of my town) accompanied by their court. We call them night marchers. From a distance they look like a chain of flickering lanterns moving across the hillside and through the trees. As they get closer you hear Hawaiin chanting, especially the word awe (pronounced ah-vay) meaning stay away. And if you happen to be in the proximity of a procession, before you cross paths you need to shed all your clothes (because peasants wore no clothing) and lie face down on the ground (a sign of fealty). If you stay standing, or look at the night marchers, you will be forced to join their slow procession forever.
Steve commented that he is a very spiritual person and was not entirely skeptical of this idea. He understands the history and culture of the area and similarly believes that everyone of every faith has a different idea of the afterlife and concepts surrounding it. Death is a curious thing and it is certainly interesting that they would believe in the entrance to the underworld being on earth. In my opinion what contributes to this is the fact that we have so many volcanoes, the original people of the area saw how much power came out of underneath the earth it is no wonder they assumed the gods lay underneath the earth as opposed to the sky in the traditional Christian perspective.
I find this to be a very interesting piece of folklore. The portion that refers to an opening to the underworld speaks to the idea that humans crave knowledge about what lies ahead of us after our time on earth passes. We can not stand dealing with the unknown so we create beliefs such as this to help ease the trouble of that time in our life. This piece also reflects the concept of respect for authority and the difference amongst the social classes in early Hawaiian society. The fact that the peasants would be on the ground with no clothes is an extreme to say the least. In general this superstition is certainly one that would entice visitors to experience the culture and history of the area.