Hawaii isn’t just famous for its beaches and resorts; it’s also known as the birthplace of surfing and home to some of the most beautiful natural landmarks in the world, including the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Haleakala on Maui’s east side. But there are many things that make Hawaii unique besides gorgeous geography and tropical temperatures, such as its Hawaiian legends and superstitions. From volcanic spirits to lava flows and mysterious fires, here are 10 Hawaiian legends and superstitions that you need to know.
1) The Legend of Pele
Pele is the goddess of volcanoes, fire, lightning, and dance in Hawaiian culture. In one legend, Pele was a beautiful woman who fell in love with a mortal man. The problem? He had three other wives. When she found out about this, Pele became furious and turned her former husband into a dog before leaving the earth forever. But what's so interesting is that in Polynesian cultures, it's believed that when an important person or deity dies their spirit leaves the body and turns into an animal. Dogs have long been associated with death because they have historically been used as guard animals for burial sites and also by people taking food offerings to loved ones' gravesites. Maybe this isn't so much a story as it is an explanation for why certain dogs are unlucky!
2) The Legend of Hi'iaka
Hi'iaka is one of the most well-known legends in Hawaii. She is known as a culture hero who saved her brother's life. In the legend, Hi'iaka comes across Pele, the goddess of fire. Pele was so impressed with Hi'iaka that she asked if she could call her sister. Hi'iaka agreed and then set out on a quest for her brother Lohiau's heart, which had been cut out by Maui during a battle with Lohiau.
3) The Legend of Maui
Hawaii is rich with legends and superstitions. Maui, the legendary demigod of Polynesian lore, is one of the best known in Hawaii. In this legend, he was responsible for lassoing the sun from its course across the sky so that it would continue shining day after day. The story goes that Maui fished up some vines from his canoe using his magical fishhook (the aumakua) and pulled them taught until he managed to trap the sun in place. Unfortunately for Maui, though, the children who were watching him got impatient and called out for him to let go of his catch before the day was done.
4) The Legend of Lono
In ancient Hawaii, the god Lono was believed to come from a distant land. He is said to have brought agriculture, growth, and fertility with him. However, Lono is also known as the bringer of storms and war. The island of Maui is said to be where he first arrived in Hawaii. A legend tells that Lono was told by his father (Kane) that if he wanted to remain in Hawaii he would need a temple for his worshipers. Three days after being told this, there was an enormous storm on the island of Maui which caused a great deal of destruction over many miles of coastline. This event led Lono's family members to build him a temple so he could stay with them on their home islands.
5) The Night Marchers
The Night Marchers were ancient Hawaiian warriors who roam various areas on the islands, many of which were once great battlefields. They appear as ghostly apparitions who carry torches and play drums while they chant.
These warriors are believed to be eternally fated to march the islands, seeking their next battle. They are most active at night, but also have been reported to be seen during the day.
If you come across the Night Marchers in a procession, do not interrupt them; never look at them directly or they will kill you. If seen, remain quiet with your eyes averted and bow as low as possible to the ground. Present these warriors the respect that they deserve, and they will continue marching on.
Many locals plant tea leaves around their houses to prevent the Night Marchers from entering the area.
6) The Green Lady of Wahiawa
Did you know Hawaii has its own La Llorona? There once was a woman and her child who would often visit the Wahiawa Botanical Garden. One day, while taking a shortcut through the nearby gulch, the woman became separated from one of her children in the dense growth as the gulch grew darker. Unable to find her child, she died of heartbreak. Now she wanders the area, snatching any children she finds playing in the gulch in an attempt to replace her own. She is also said to have been spotted at a nearby elementary school: a monstrous woman with green-tinted skin, clothing and hair covered in moss and seaweed, and smelling of plant decay.
7) The Legend of Hina
In ancient Hawaiian legends, Hina is known as the graceful and beautiful goddess of the moon. Hina was known for making some of the finest and softest Kapa cloth in Hawaii, and due to its high demand, she grew tired and decided to leave Hawaii.
She traveled high into the sky and went onto a rainbow where she met the sun, but found it too hot to live on. She then went onto another rainbow and traveled to the moon, finding it beautiful and deciding to make it her home.
In ancient Hawaii, there was a strict set of rules called Kapu. The Kapu system was a way of life in Hawaii that controlled what people could eat, where they could go, and how they were supposed to behave in certain situations. Anyone who broke the rules would be punished or killed by the kapu keeper. One rule of Kapu is that you are not allowed to touch someone else's shadow or reflection. This is why it was always customary for Hawaiians to look at their reflections in the water before leaving home or entering a building.
9) Don’t whistle at night
Whistling at night is bad luck. The rationale for this superstition is that the whistler will attract a spirit such as the Night Marchers. Whistling during the day is thought to be a good omen, however.
10) Don’t cut plants at night
Hawaiian culture is heavily intertwined with the natural environment, which is prominent in its superstitions. One such superstition says that if you cut plants at night, you'll attract spirits.
11) Don’t bring bananas on a boat
There are many superstitions in Hawaii, but one of the most common is that if you bring bananas on a boat, it will result in a deadly storm. This superstition likely has its roots in the fact that bananas are an important food crop for Hawaiians, and they didn't want them to spoil on their voyage.
12) Don’t cut your nails at night
One of the most well-known superstitions about nails is that you should never cut your nails at night. This is because the nail clippings can be used as a form of witchcraft. The reasoning behind this belief comes from the fact that nails are so small, they are easy to hide. People who practice sorcery will use human hair, fingernails, or other body parts for their spells. It also brings about bad luck.
Hawaii is a visual paradise full of legends and tales that make the culture unlike any other. Stories of haunted houses, curses, and other frightening tales can be found all over the islands. If you ever find yourself in Hawaii, be sure to abide by any kapu and become familiar with these legends and tales in respect of the Hawaiian people, and even to enhance your visiting experience!