By Kristin Reichold
Stories of the supernatural and unexplained mysteries have long been a part of the local culture in Hawaii. Books by writers such as Glen Grant (“Obake Files: Ghostly Encounters in Supernatural Hawaii”) and Judi Thompson (“Supernatural Hawaii”) recount stories about paranormal phenomenon that many local residents have heard about as they were growing up in the Islands. Beyond books, residents and visitors alike can hear some of these stories in real time by attending walking or bus tours led by guides eager to share stories about “unseen” Hawaii.
One of these bus tours is called the Oahu Ghost Tour. In an effort to understand more about Hawaii’s legends and stories, I took this tour. I wanted to observe one of the ways that visitors to Hawaii were getting their information about Oahu’s culture and history. More importantly, I wondered if stories were embellished for entertainment purposes or if visitors were actually gaining a new appreciation for historical sites. This article is a first-person description of the tour that I was on.
The tour began when a group of us were picked up by a tour bus the size of a standard passenger van. “Uncle Joe” Espinda Jr., our tour guide, got out of the van and touched a Ti Leaf around every corner of the vehicle. He explained that in Hawai’i the Ti Leaf is often used for cooking, blessing and protection purposes. He then brought the leaf inside of the van and we set out on our journey to explore some of the spiritual sites of Oahu.
Our first stop was the Pali Lookout. We piled out of the van and Uncle Joe stopped us and explained that when he enters a place he first says a chant. It is done to show respect. The group fell silent as he began to chant. Chills ran up my spine and it set the tone for the seriousness of the location. After finishing the chant he motioned for the group to follow him. He brought us to the edge of the Pali Lookout and explained that King Kamehameha won one of the bloodiest battles in Hawaiian history there that united Oahu under his rule. Many lost their lives at the Pali, which means “cliff.” At night he explained, you can sometimes take a photograph of an orb (a spherical body or a globe of light) hovering over the cliff. Some say that the orbs represent the soldiers that fell or jumped to their demise many years ago.
Uncle Joe described orbs as being balls of spirit energy that manifest themselves in different colors. He explained that white orbs tend to be passive spirits; if they are blue, an ancestor or guardian angel is near you. And if it shows as orange, yellow or red, it is considered a hostile spirit. I took a picture of the side of the mountain and when I went to look at my camera later, I noticed I had a red orb floating in the middle of my shot. Whether it was a spirit or not that I had captured on camera, I may never know for sure, but the possibility of catching something on my camera was a thrill in itself.
Arion Forbes, a local man who also participated in the tour says that the Pali is one place that the spiritual activity feels real to him.
“There is something about the stories I have heard over the years about dead soldiers and spirits that linger there that makes me uneasy,” Forbes said.
The tour continued to the Ulupo sacred Heiau. It was a large mound of stones that is said to hold the remains of over 80,000 people. Uncle Joe explained that most of the remains there were innocent human sacrifices. The key, he said, to not feel the negativity of this place is to have a “strong mind, strong heart.” Much death happened at that location and the heiaus throughout Hawai’i are a part of past culture that need to be recognized to ensure they are preserved for many years to come.
We also made our way to the Manoa Falls Trail. We traveled up a winding road until the van’s wheels squeaked to a stop. We got out and made our way over to the Banyan tree. Stories linger of the direct link it has to the Night Marchers. Night Marchers are believed to be armed spirits that walk a very specific path from the West. They are said to have been ancient Hawaiian warriors. Uncle Joe explained that on some nights people claim to hear faint drumming and see a procession of torches that light the path. He warned against looking into their eyes if you happen to see one. It is considered a bad omen that will lead to your death or that of someone close to you. This tree on the Manoa Falls Trail happens to rest in the direct path of the Night Marchers and is what is called a “jumping place” for spirits into another world.
Hawaii resident Tanisha De Marco said, “When you come to a new place ask before you assume the culture. Ask before you walk. Do not take the lava rocks, they are made and created by Pele. If you take it you are taking a part of Hawai’i, you are taking the God Rock.”
De Marco recalls stories her family used to tell about a house they used to live in. She said it is believed that when doors line up directly across from one another that it is a pathway for spirits to walk through. She explained that many of the doors in that house were lined up that way and that where the house was built was directly in the path of the Night Marchers. She remembers her mother and grandmother telling stories of how they would see little glimmers of light walk through and that things would be missing, and occasionally knocking on the walls could be heard. Eventually, she says, the house was demolished and rebuilt in the same location but off of the path.
Our final destination was at the Manoa Chinese Cemetery. Uncle Joe entered this location with offerings of candy to the children spirits. He explained that it is common for people to bring offerings of candy, money and other items when visiting a sacred place on the island. He lit incense and again said a chant to show his respect for the place. He described himself as a child running through the cemetery playing games with his friends and claimed at that time he didn’t understand how important and spiritual that place really was.
As we prepared to leave he reminded us that the cemetery was a positive energy place. As we gave thanks to the spirits and the island we headed home cleansed. As for myself, I left with a new respect and appreciation for the land and its previous inhabitants.
Uncle Joe has been a member of Oahu Ghost Tours for five years. “My reason for doing these tours is to express culture,” Uncle Joe explained. “If the Hawaii nation dies, who is going to talk story? Culture has to live on in Hawaiian people. Most people respect things on this tour.”
The Oahu Ghost Tours experience is just one of many ways visitors to Hawaii can learn about Oahu’s history and culture. Other ways include visiting museums, attending luaus and exploring the Polynesian Cultural Center. But when they are hiking or traveling on off-road trails they may not be aware of the grounds they are disturbing. It can be more difficult to safely respect the island if they are not aware of their surroundings.
“I think the most important and sacred item tourists need to be respectful of is the island itself,” said Chris Nerona, 27, of Hawai’i Kai. “Without appropriate maintenance, via obeying signs and individuals and professionals advising them of potential threats to the island, there won’t be any paradise left,” he explained.
“When it comes to respecting a place, it depends on age,” De Marco said. She said that people with different ages have different values. Although she feels the Ghost Tour leans more toward entertainment for visitors, she claims that even though she lives in Hawai’i she would go on it.
No matter what your personal beliefs are, Hawaii is a culture-packed island that offers more than just beautiful views. “Not taking the time to appreciate the culture and the islands for what they are worth is the most disrespectful thing a person can do,” Forbes explained. “There is so much spirituality and history here that it is important for visitors to understand it.”