Tag Archives: hawaiian

Hawaiian and East-Asian New Year Traditions

Main Piece:

Subject: So… the first thing I can think of is- I think it’s broadly East-Asian Japanese at least in Hawaii- but on New Year’s Eve up until New Year’s, aside from cleaning the house and leaving the door open to welcome the New Year, you also light fireworks to scare away any bad spirits. So all throughout Hawaii on New Year’s Eve and through New Year’s after at midnight… there’s fireworks going off and it’s like amazing and super fun.

Interviewer: What’s your personal experience with that tradition? Where’d you experience it or learn about it?

Subject: Um… I grew up with it visiting relatives in Hawaii in Oahu. And it’s not specific to any one island. It’s- as far as I know- practiced all throughout Oahu and on the other islands as well.

Interviewer: Does it mean anything personally to you?

Subject: *laughter* Um, yeah it’s kind of… in general the celebration of the New Year… it’s not just the lighting of the fireworks. You gather with all your family, you eat, and there’s Kalua Pig, which is a traditional Hawaiian dish and it’s cooked in an underground oven called an Imu and smoked with tea leaves. Every part of celebrating, whether it’s preparation throughout the celebration or even after when you clean up and you have the Buddha shrines set up for family members- and that’s more Japanese- but they all contribute to something important to the day itself. Everyone has a role. It’s little kids playing with sparklers. It’s old people watching them. It’s all inclusive.

Context: The subject is a Sophomore studying Law, History, and Culture at USC. She is of Japanese and Ashkenazi descent, and a third generation resident of Hawaii.  She is a very close friend of mine, and is currently quarantined at her home in Irvine due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The following conversation happened over a facetime call when I asked her to tell me some traditional folklore connected to her heritage. 

Interpretation: I loved hearing about this New Year’s celebration specific to Hawaiian and East-Asian culture and its existing outside the commerciality of American New Year’s celebrations. The subject seemed to note many traditions which originated across different East Asian cultures. Upon further research, I found there are a number of other dishes specific to different cultures and ethnic groups served during the Hawaiian New Year Celebration, such as eating Sashimi for good luck, or Korean Dduk-Gook, or rice cake soup. Hawaii is one of the most culturally diverse states in America, so there seems to be a lot of mixing of dishes and traditions. I also specifically found the scaring away of evil spirits with fireworks to be very fascinating, because while setting off fireworks is globally practiced, the origin of the practice comes from seventh century China. I thought it significant that Hawaii still recognizes and acknowledges the belief behind the practice. 

Shaka Hand Signs

Main Piece

Shortly after the informant’s winter recess ended and her spring semester began, she made several remarks on how Hawaiian habits with regard to traffic and pedestrian behavior were different and even more relaxed than Californian relations on the road.

Informant: “In Hawaii, most people do not wave at the cars like I remember you doing after they let you cross.”

Collector: “Why is that?”

Informant: “It would seem very unusual to them. Most people do the Shaka sign to thank the drive and to send them on a good path.”

Collector: “Does that come from surf culture?”

Informant: “No, it’s from Hawaiian culture. It’s supposed to let others know Aloha Spirit, and lets people know a sense of gratitude.”

Analysis

Hand signals hold a unique identity in any region where they are popular. It is interesting to see how in some cultures that hand signals can have opposite meanings, which can sometimes be offensive. The Shaka seems to defy that commonality, though, and seems to be a peaceful and relaxed expression wherever a person is. The motion seems to have a much more important impact in Hawaii, though, and seems to express a lot in everyday use.

The Peach Boy in Hawaii

Main Piece

Informant: “A story that I heard a lot growing up was about this boy who was born from a peach. They called him Momotarō. He was considered a blessing to this older couple, who had not been able to have kids, but had always acted humble and hardworking. They got the child as if they were being rewarded, and it’s explained that the Gods sent him to be their son.”

Collector: “That reminds me of a lot of stories, especially religious ones, too.”

Informant: “Yeah, that premise isn’t the most unique, but the peach makes it memorable. He grows up and then decides to leave and go fight some Oni, which are a type of demon. He has some animals that help him on the way, and I think one of them is a duck….Yeah. There are a dog, a monkey, and a duck. They stop the demons and then get to take their treasure.”

Collector: “Who told you this story?”

Informant: “My mom would tell me it, but I think most people in Hawaii know it. It’s Japanese, but there are books and a lot of stuff for kids based on it.”

Analysis

The story of Momotarō seems very easy to compare to a lot of other stories in Western culture, be it Superman or Moses. The popularity of it seems easy to comprehend, given the good values and morals that it is supposed to set forward for young children. The fact that the informant learned this story growing up in Hawaii exhibits how strongly connected those two geographical places are, and how the culture of Japan affects the state to this very day. It fascinated me that the  work generally is told the same in Hawaii, and that not many oicotypes were known to the informant. It can be assumed that the printed version of this book that popularized in the 1970s for the Bank of Hawaii’s 75th anniversary played a large part in the spread of this story in the same variation. The authored Momotaro: Peach Boy declares itself  an “Island Heritage book” that promotes its impact on Hawaiian culture.

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.

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.

 

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 Proverb

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 and Full Translation Scheme of Folk Speech:

Original Script: I maika’i ke kalo i ka ‘oha 

Transliteration:  I maika’i ke kalo i ka ‘oha 

Translation: The goodness of the taro is judged by the young plant it produces.

Piece Background Information:

 I maika’i ke kalo i ka ‘oha ” basically means that “parents are often judged by the behavior of their children”.

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Context of Performance:

Via email.

Thoughts on Piece: 
The informant is my half-sister and we have over a 20 year age gap. I met her when our father was dying and I immediately noticed her mother-like qualities as she was very caring and would look after me and my sisters in light of the difficult time. She is a mother of seven and has home-schooled all of her children (including some who are older than me) and also loves to cook for, and support her children at their sports meets. That being said, when I asked her if she had any Hawaiian folklore to share, it came to no surprise that she shared this proverb on parenting. Her believing that the actions of her kids reflect on her own parenting, like a responsible parent should, clearly demonstrates to me why she is such a good parent.

Hawaiian Legend Night Marchers

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:

Adults loved telling us Night Marchers stories as kids and scare the bejezzes out of us!!! So scary.

I was told that the Night Marchers are spirit warriors on the way to war. They are souls that do not want to be bothered and we have to respect their anger for they fight to avenge their deaths. Especially when it’s a full moon, night marchers are welcoming new warriors to join them. They often chant and grunt, and bang their weapons. Their torches has a frighteningly deathly fire that is easily seen at night. They rarely march during the day.

Piece Background Information:

Informant already mentioned within her piece that she learned about the legendary Night Marchers through adults when she was a young kid. 

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Context of Performance:

Via email.

Thoughts on Piece: 
Similar to the way in which La Llorana is meant to keep kids from wandering out at night the legend of the Night Marchers might be a way for parents to keep their children from wandering about. The fact that my informant still, to this day, finds them so scary reflects that the legend was effective in doing just that. Upon further research, the legend of the Night Marchers might tie into a history of colonialism.
For more information on Night Marchers, see Beckwith, Martha. Hawaiian mythology. Honolulu: U of Hawaii Press, 1971. Print.

Menehune- Mischievous Hawaiian Spirits

Informant CT is in her third year as a neuroscience major at the University of Southern California. CT is Hawaiian and is from the island of Oahu. Here, she describes a well-known Hawaiian legend about mischievous spirits who play tricks on those who visit the Hawaiian Islands:

CT: “Menehune were natives of the Hawaiian Islands and were really small in stature. They have been known to look like little elves or fairies, but not really fairies, more like trolls and they lived deep in the forest away from civilization. They have been known to trick and mess with the tourists who come to the islands for vacation, like they tend to play practical jokes on the tourists like they would misplace your things while on your stay or they would pull you hair. They would also pinch or poke you. Mostly just silly stuff.”

How or where did you learn this legend from?

CT: “Well, my grandparents would always share this story with me and my sister when we were little. They’ve told us that the Menehune were like the first people to come to Hawaii and live on the islands. My grandparents would always say to us that whenever me and my sister did something bad or went against our parent’s rules, that is was the menehune that made us to it, that they influenced us to do it, like in a playful way.”

So the Menehune were not scary or meant to scare anyone?

CT: “No not at all. They, from what I have been told when I was little is that they are just playful spirits that mess around with young kids. It was never a scary thing or something to be afraid of. Nothing in that nature.”

In what kind of context would you share this Hawaiian legend?

CT: “Um well I guess you would share this legend to those who are going to Hawaii on vacation. Like I’ve made a joke about it before to my friends who were going to Hawaii during the summer. I would tell them to watch out for the Menehune while they are there because it’s been known in my culture that they mess with the tourists and their things so its just something fun to share with other people and kind of make them aware of this legend.”

Does this legend have any significant meaning to you?

CT: “Um, well it does in the sense that it is part of my Hawaiian culture and that it’s been shared and passed down through my family and it’s pretty well known. Like my friends and their families have spoken about it, mostly in a fun and joking way.”

Analysis:

These mischievous spirits have been known to pull pranks on those who visit the Hawaiian Islands for leisurely reasons, especially in more remote areas of the islands. Although there is no official record of a Menehune siting, legend has it that their spirits still live on and play on the minds of those who visit the Hawaiian Islands.