“Night Marchers”

Informant Data: The informant is a second year medical student at John A. Burns School of Medicine with the University of Hawaii. She is Caucasian, and with a distant Irish and Russian lineage that she feels little connection to. She grew up in Seattle, Washington, and obtained an undergraduate degree in Biomedical Engineering before starting her medical school journey. She is very enthusiastic about medicine and healing people. Living in Hawaii, she has been increasingly exposed to Hawaiian folklore, mostly through the patients she treats at the clinic.

Item: The folk-belief of “Night Marchers”, ghosts of fallen Hawaiian warriors that rise from their burial sights on specific evenings, to march into past battles or to sacred locations. While this would seemingly qualify as a folk-legend, due to its debatable veracity and setting in the real world, the on-going nature of the warriors’ march renders it a folk-belief, as people believe it is a continuing practice (as opposed to a one time occurrence). The following quotations are direct transcriptions of my dialogue with the informant, while the additional information provided is paraphrased.

Contextual Data: My informant first heard of the Night Marchers while in her first year of medical school, volunteering at the clinic. A patient warned her that tonight was one of the nights, according to the lunar calendar, for the warriors to march. My informant explains her grasp on the folk-belief as so: “the Night Marchers are ghosts of ancient Hawaiian warriors who were slain in battle. There are certain nights, I’m not sure which, she just told me they depend on the lunar calendar, where they rise from the dead and march into battle. They carry torches and people say they can hear their drums. Their journey is either to a battle ground or a sacred place, but most important is that you are not to see them, or it will surely be your death.” My informant explains that crossing their path, observing their march, or even the light of their torches in the distant hills is a death prophecy. “She told me that if for some bad reason I hear them nearing, and running away isn’t an option, to lie face down on the ground until they pass is the best alternative. Perhaps this is a sign of respect, or perhaps they won’t see you this way.” My informant tells me she has not met anyone who has encountered the Night Marchers, “maybe because it’s a true death sentence!” she says light-heartedly. While she personally does not believe in their existence, she thinks it’s a very interesting belief and is always curious to hear another Hawaiian native speak about their marches. This belief can fall under the category of sign superstitions, holding a parallel structure to the belief that a black cat crossing your path is bad luck, the sight of the Night Marchers is a sign of your imminent death. Conversely, the belief can fall under the homeopathic category, which employs the concept of “like produces like.” Seeing the dead will produce your own death.

Another version of the Night Marchers folk-belief was published in the Seattle Times newspaper (see citation below). This article serves beautifully as a supplement to my informant’s account, as it does not stand in contrast but rather it enhances her description with additional details and specifics of the marches. For example, the author employs the Hawaiian term for these warriors, “Ka huaja`i o ka Po”. The article harmonizes that it is a death sentence, unless you have a relative marching among the dead who can claim you. Additionally, the article illustrates an application of the belief, when stating: “If a man is found stricken by the roadside a white doctor will pronounce the cause as heart failure, but a Hawaiian will think at once of the fatal night march.”

“The Marchers Of The Night — Beware As Hawaiian Gods And Ghosts Go On Parade.”Seattle Times 08 Sept. 1996: K. 1. Web. Apr. 2013