Ghosts Next Door

Ghosts Next Door
by Lopaka Kapanui

Feb 10, 2018

Hawaiian Storytelling

I wanted to broach the subject of "Hawaiian Storytelling" by sharing something that happened this past October on Hawai'i island. We've been lucky to go to the Kilauea Theater these past three years at the volcanoes national park during the Halloween season to share ghost stories. Recently someone left a comment on Facebook which said that I didn't tell any real Hawaiian stories.
This person identified his or herself as a recent transplant to Hawai'i Island and that in the course of his or her stay that he or she was not only studying the Hawaiian language but that he or she is an expert storyteller of Hawaiian stories and legends. Mind you, this is not a blog which is designed to attack this person but is, in fact, a way in which to help all of us understand this person's point of view; at least from my perspective.

I was sickly as a child and I spent a large amount of time in and out of children's hospital and at home. In the course of that time, I watched a lot of television and I had come to love the old samurai movies as well as the old Tarzan movies, they were my favorites to watch. A short time later when I returned to the old children's hospital for my last stay, I met a candy striper who was from Africa and was just hired on. When I found this out, I regaled her with all kinds of questions about Tarzan and the African jungle, to my surprise and my disappointment she told me that where she came from in Africa was a modern city like anywhere else and that Tarzan only existed in the movies. You can imagine how much I was crushed when I heard this. Things became only worse when my next door neighbor's brother returned home from the military with his brand new wife from Japan! I did it again, I bugged her about the samurai and asked her how I could become one? More horrible news! The samurai no longer existed and that one could only see them in movies and theatrical kabuki dramas. The woman told me that Japan was a modern civilization just like Hawai'i and just like America. That was my eight-year-old impressionable self.

This person who made this comment reminds of that time in my childhood. It's easy to come to Hawai'i and instantly become enthralled with every aspect of our culture to the point where one wants to completely drink it up and become immersed in it. Especially where our mo'olelo and ka'ao are concerned, it's difficult not to dive in and get lost, I understand that. I myself am in no way an expert or a master because I am a student who is constantly learning, but I do have knowledge of a fair amount of Hawaiian mo'olelo because it's my job to know these things. However, one must understand that our people, our ancestors, and our gods do not only exist in textbooks and within a series of old newspaper articles regarding Kamehameha or Pele and the like. We are a living culture with a living language and a living practice of various Hawaiian arts. We gain our 'ike and our mana from the foundation of our kupuna be they ancestral spirits or deities, but they, like us, do not only exist in the past. They are now, they are today, and they still walk among us. My specialty is ghost stories and it just so happens that the stories which intrigue me the most are modern day ghost stories which are being experienced by modern-day Hawaiians and local people. Hawaiians today experience encounters with Pele, Mo'o wahine, night marchers, Menehune, and ghosts of Ali'i.

To me, Lopaka Kapanui, that is something powerful. That is mana.

To conclude, I believe that a lot of people who come to Hawai'i for the first time or only know about our culture through various Hollywood films and television shows are prone to make the same mistake as I did during my childhood. This person's comment reminded me that we are not a culture who exists in the past tense because we are Hawaiians who are ever present, ever connected physically and spiritually. For that, I must say mahalo.

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