Nationality: Caucasian, Filipino, Puerto-Rican
Residence: Hawaii Kai (O'ahu)
Date of Performance/Collection: April 12th, 2013
Primary Language: English
And the way he (my uncle) tells it is,
When he was a little boy, he was hanging out with his cousins (late one night), and was kind of a story night—like, not quite raining, but windy and the clouds were rolling in, sort of thing—and… from a distance, like on a ridge, he just starts seeing these lights popping up. And he’s asking all of his older cousins, why all of these lights are over there—there’s more and more of them coming down the mountain, so he asked “what’s going on?”
So his cousins start freaking out, telling him: “we need to go home NOW. And we need to go home in the OPPOSITE direction of that ridge!”
… Meanwhile, they start to hear the faint sounds of drum beats, like very faint but constant drum beats (pats out a beat)…
So my uncle, freaking out, because they were freaking out, goes along with them but has to ask what was going on back there…
So they explain to him that those were the nightmarchers, which are ancient Hawaiian spirits, and they’re participating in one of their ancient rituals… and you are NOT to break the line of nightmarchers by either walking through it or making a noise to distract form the sound of the drum beats… They march in a line at night, usually down mountains, but they could really be/go anywhere. You can see their torches in the dark, and hear their drum beats… You can’t look at them, don’t make noises, don’t do anything to disrespect them or make fun. If you happen to see it or can’t leave and are stuck in the middle of their path, you’re supposed to just keep your head down to the ground and let it happen until they pass you and you keep minding your own business… oh, and don’t talk about it… because if they look at you, or you do any of these things, you DIE.
Literally, a death stare…
Nightmarchers are an interesting folk belief, that simultaneously introduce an opportunity to reconnect with the dead, and yet tabooize the interaction between the living and the dead. Nightmarchers not only make a distinction between the two groups of living and dead, but also between Hawaiian and foreign, because “Others” would not know to protect themselves and might even make the mistake of deliberately investigating, following, or contacting the nightmarchers, which would then result in death (as opposed to a relatively harmless outcome otherwise). There are ways to protect yourself, but only someone from the islands would know them. Similar to the fairies in Ireland, it also doesn’t matter whether you believe in nightmarchers, you will in certain contexts and most people would say they’re there, regardless.
How did you come across this folklore: “I was told by uncle during childhood.”
Other information: “this uncle is from Molokai…”
* When you’re from Hawai`i, saying someone is from Molokai is like saying someone is the most legitimate kind of “country”/”native”/”authentic” Hawaiian. If someone has a Hawaiian story and you find out he’s from Molokai, you are about a thousand times more likely to believe it.