Ghosts Next Door

Ghosts Next Door
by Lopaka Kapanui

Oct 16, 2017

Real Hawaiian Stories: Rigoletto


I have an appreciation for those who come to Hawai'i from other places and take a genuine interest in our host culture by learning our language and history. There are others who arrive in our fine archipelago and take bits and pieces of whatever fits their liking or interpretation of what they believe is Hawaiian culture. Yet, there are others from out of state who study our Hawaiian legends, myths, and folklore and proclaim themselves to be self-appointed expert Hawaiian storytellers.
That is fine as well because it fits that person's perception of what Hawaiian culture is through our stories but this also presents a conundrum. The conundrum is that by studying only our legends or mo'olelo the person believes that this is where our Gods and chiefly ancestors exist, in the past. This actually limits their understanding of our culture because our Gods, heroes, Ali'i, and protective deities still exist in the present. They are not past tense, they are still with us today and that is because the characters in these legends and stories have descendants in 2017 who can rightfully and truthfully claim them as 'ohana. Not many people are aware that King David Kalakaua's 'The Legends and Myth's of Hawaii' was originally entitled, 'Oral Traditions Of Hawai'i' meaning that the stories therein contained were a collection of truthful traditions passed down from one generation to the next in the form of stories. As you know, our stories are filled with allegory and hidden meanings meant to be found and interpreted by a talented few. Such was the underlying theme of the good king's book, unfortunately, the publisher changed the title to 'Legends and Myths of Hawaii'  because he felt that the new title would help boost the sales of the book written by the late monarch. 
Ghosts and supernatural events even troubled 'Iolani palace itself during King David Kalakaua's enlightened time of progress and invention. It's the same today, people share stories with me in regards to encountering Pele, or Mo'o or even Kamapua'a. Some of these encounters end under extreme circumstances such as suicide or divorce, others are treasured as a rare memory that is saved for someone else to hear, be it within a family or with a special person who could truly understand and appreciate the circumstance.


When I was a kindergarten student I was already reading at a sixth-grade level, one of the rewards for reading a certain number of books was that you were given free library time. I discovered what was called back then "The Hawaiiana" section. I was voracious and could not get enough of the legends of Pi'ikoi and Maui and Kamehameha, and Pele. I was obsessed and could not get my fill. I began sharing what I read with anyone who would listen, my parents, my classmates, my cousins, it was non-stop. Not once did I ever think to call my self an expert, the true experts were the ones who told the stories, even today I never refer to myself as an expert or a master. It's what is said about me, but I never assume those titles to introduce my self or to elevate my reputation.  The stories I share today are stories about Hawaiians and non-Hawaiian people who in these modern times encounter, Pele, Mo'o, Mano, Night marchers, Menehune, and Kahuna who still pray people to death and many other stories. I love these stories because these accounts are concrete proof that our ancestors are not stuck in a book waiting to be read about, rather they are out and about in our modern Hawaiian society still performing their same functions in whatever capacity with everyday persons. Does that mean that these are not real Hawaiian stories because they do not fit into the box of what people assume a Hawaiin legend to be? If that is the case then you have limited your understanding of our culture and you have done yourself a disservice. We are so much more than our past, that is not to say we have not learned from our past and that we do not acknowledge our past, how could we not? Were it not for our learned ancestors I would not be here sharing this blog. The beauty of these stories is that they are entirely relatable to those who hear them, it tells them these otherworldly encounters are not separate from them and their everyday life, but a part of it. It also tells them that our ancient ancestors are here and they want to communicate. You can't get anymore Hawaiian than that.


Long after I am gone, these stories will continue and I perhaps will be one of those stories that someone will share with another person one on one or to a large audience of people. Be that as it may, no one owns history because history is meant for everyone to learn and know of no matter what culture. I don't own the stories which people entrust me with, which is why I am mindful to make sure that those stories are told correctly and with respect. Other stories are shared with me with the understanding that I will not share it with anyone but keep it as a memento or a reminder as to how one should conduct themselves in certain situations. Some stories are not even ghost stories but stories of humor or memories from someone's childhood, some are stories of heartbreak and loss. I cherish each story because it is a visceral piece of a person's life, a psychic thumbprint which they left in a home or marriage that they were forced to abandon, or an internment camp where as a child they watched grown adults commit suicide as a result of feelings of humiliation. Or even feelings of elation after giving birth one minute and then feelings of loss to find that a person's parent passed at the same time. Those stories matter too because they are real people who exist today, who live and work where we do, who go to our church or who frequent our place of business. These stories are about people who live in Hawai'i, the Hawai'i today, I believe it very much does make their stories real and very Hawaiian. We can never forget the past because it is our foundation from where we gather strength, but to judge everything from the perspective of the past will never allow you to have a full view of who we are as a people today. We speak our language, practice our culture, honor our ancestors in various capacities and even show aloha to those who speak ill of us. Most of all, we live in the present but apply the past so that it helps us as Hawaiians to move about in a modern world, but we don't get stuck in the past. So as a non-Hawaiian who after three years in Hawai'i is suddenly an expert Hawaiian storyteller, maybe you shouldn't get stuck in our past either.

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