Every culture has superstitious beliefs. As a child, I was encouraged not to step on sidewalk cracks lest I break my mother’s back, to throw spilled salt over my shoulder, and not let black cats cross my path. While researching my book Aloha Spirit, I learned about Hawaiian superstitions because one of my characters is very superstitious. Her precautions against spirits and for luck are a combination of Catholic, Hawaiian, Chinese, and European since that is the culture of Honolulu, where she lives.
Several Hawaiian superstitions revolve around Pele, goddess of volcanoes. Pele often goes about disguised as a beautiful woman, or an older woman with long white hair. You can receive good luck if you greet her with aloha and offer your help. In the past, Pele had a rough relationship breakup with Kamapua’a, a demigod who is half man and half pig. To this day, Pele becomes angry if you take pork across the Pali Highway. Your journey will be interrupted by a woman with a dog. You must feed the pork to the dog in order to continue unless, of course, you happen to have a ti leaf to protect you. Pele’s Curse prohibits anyone from removing rocks, sand, or lava chunks from Hawaii. If you do, you will have bad luck. This superstition is a modern legend rather than an ancient one, but shows the powerful hold Pele still has on her island.
Another group of Hawaiian superstitions center on the night marchers, the huakai po. These spirits of ancient Hawaiian warriors travel from the mountain to the ocean each night, accompanied by drums and marching. If you are outside at night, don’t whistle because this will summon the marchers. If you do hear them, go inside and lie on your stomach in order to avoid eye contact. Ti leaves once again are protection. Plant them around your house to deter night marchers. Finally, don’t sleep with your feet toward the door or the night marchers can drag you out.
Like these legends? I don’t have enough room here for more! Check out the menehune, the Green Lady of Wahiawa, the red lehua blossom, and the naupaka flower.
Like the examples I gave above from my own past, some Hawaiian superstitions may seem silly. Here is a list of my favorites:
To prevent bad luck:
- Don’t leave chopsticks standing straight up in a bowl of rice.
- Don’t bring bananas on a boat.
- Don’t cut your nails at night.
- Don’t wear shoes in the house.
- Don’t wear a lei if you’re pregnant.
Dealing with death:
- If something in your home falls suddenly, someone just died.
- Signing someone’s name in red ink means you want that person dead.
- Stepping over a sleeping person means you want them dead.
- If you point at a graveyard, the spirits will latch on and not let go. If you drive by with open car windows, the spirit of a child will come along for the ride.
- Don’t kill a large black moth because it’s a recently deceased loved one visiting. Same reason if you smell unusually fragrant flowers.
Many of these superstitions will be included in Aloha Spirit. What superstitions do you know of or believe in?