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Hawaiian Superstitions

no-banans-on-board-1024x902-300x264Every 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?

 

 

 

 

 

About Writing

Inspired by Family

IMG_0551Throughout my life, I have listened avidly to stories of my family. It was no different when I married my husband and heard stories of his family. I turned my own stories into a novel, UNDER THE ALMOND TREES and I’m currently working on ALOHA SPIRIT a story of my husband’s grandmother. The picture at left is his grandmother, mother, and aunts in Honolulu just before World War II. When writing these stories, I can’t be completely accurate since I don’t know all the details of the person’s life. It can’t be a biography. Dialogue has to be invented, as well as what I call the filling in between known events. For this reason, I’ve stopped saying these novels are about my family and begun saying they are inspired by family.

Family stories may be the inspiration, but they cannot carry a novel on their own. Even so, the first source of deeper information is the family. I took the older members of my family aside and urged them to tell me the details–where they went to school, what their mother made for dinner, which was their favorite relative, and who fought with who. My sons were working on a genealogy merit badge in Boy Scouts when they interviewed their great-grandfather. He was born in Honolulu in 1918 and was a civilian ship fitter at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed in 1941. His first-person view of the event was incredible, but his personal reactions were priceless. He told how he wanted to hide during the attack, but his boss made him go out with a crew to remove scaffolding from a ship. He hid behind turrets on the ship as the Japanese planes flew over. I wish I’d had my novelist’s eye that day and asked him about how he got to work, how long a day he worked, what he’d had for breakfast, and what the family said when he got home. Those are the details that make a novel.

Grandpa’s experience is a tiny part of my novel ALOHA SPIRIT. I had to research a lot about territorial Hawaii–the years between the fall of the monarchy and statehood. I didn’t care so much about the politics of the sugar plantation owners. I wanted to know about daily life. When did they get televisions, cars, radios? When were the hotels built on Waikiki? I read historical fiction set in Hawaii to get a feel for the era, and nonfiction for accuracy. There are many details I couldn’t find or that I had to change to fit my story. I can do that, since it’s a novel and not a biography.

The hardest part is showing the finished work to living members of the family. I think they understand that I intend it to be a tribute to our ancestors, but I’m sure they have a different view of the characters and events than I do. When I exaggerate a negative trait, I’m trying for greater conflict to improve the novel’s pacing, not to ruin a person’s reputation. So when you read my novels, keep in mind that they are novels. A lot of it is made up! Enjoy them as fiction. If you absolutely must know if something really happened, send me an email. My hope is that readers will be as inspired by the characters in my novels as I was by the women who inspired them.

Excerpts

Writing Craze

book_and_featherAs some of you know, I have begun taking online classes in pursuit of my MFA in Creative Writing. This endeavor has pushed me to write a LOT this summer. The summer is half gone, but I have written a chapter of Aloha Spirit, started a new flying horse book, written a short story and created four separate scenes. That doesn’t count the articles, chapters, and workshop postings I’ve had to read and thoughtfully comment on. It’s exhilarating. Required classes when I used to go to college always consisted of some really dull, or dully presented, subjects. Now, however, I am immersed in something I absolutely love to do–write! So today I thought I’d post a bit from Aloha Spirit:

On May 12, 1939, we board the Matsonia, one of Matson Lines’ finest ships. Every color is vivid, from the green rim of Punch Bowl on the hill above the city to the sapphire ocean below. On the pier, brass instruments flash in the sun as the Marine band in their white uniforms plays Aloha ‘Oe, Queen Liliʻuokalani’s beautiful song of farewell. Hawai’ian girls hula nearby, their hair twisted with white pikake that gives sweetness to the air. Family and friends wave smiling goodbyes, their clothing adding dots of color to the scene.

Behind the joyous leavetaking, green palm trees sway behind the Royal Hawai’ian Hotel, also known as the Pink Lady. Waikiki’s pale cream sand stretches toward Diamond Head, majestic as always above Honolulu. On the white ship, I am so covered in fragrant leis, orange and purple and yellow and pink, I can hardly breathe. It seems like every flower in Hawai’i has given its life to send Manley and I off in style to the World’s Fair in San Francisco.

I turn to wave toward Pearl Harbor, out of sight beyond Hickam Field, in farewell to Earl, who couldn’t get away from his new job. I imagine seeing past Hickam Field, its gray runways, planes, barracks, quonset huts, and jeeps, to Pearl Harbor with its American navy ships. Over there everything is drab and businesslike.  

The smokestacks with the big blue M belch dark clouds. The ship churns water as it pulls away from the dock. Honolulu fades until I can’t make out the Pink Lady. All eyes fasten on Diamond Head, the last view of home. In keeping with tradition, we throw leis overboard as we pass the extinct volcano as a promise that we will return to the islands. We watch until Diamond Head fades to purple distance and blends into the ocean.

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On Inspiration

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Waimea, 2015

 

Inspiration is a very personal thing. For me, it means whatever fuels my desire to click away from Facebook games and open my current Work in Progress. No one procrastinates better than a writer. Even though I love to write, my brain is tired from Real Life and it takes a great effort of willpower, or Inspiration, to begin writing for the day. Once I start, I get in the zone and can write uninterrupted for hours.

For my last two books, inspiration has come from the heart. UNDER THE ALMOND TREES follows three women in my family that I have always admired. Their stories rattled around in my head for years before I began the novel. My current piece is titled ALOHA SPIRIT. It is about the life of my husband’s grandmother. I love stories of real women contributed to the events of their times in very real albeit small and unknown ways. Setting  family stories down amid the historical fact makes me feel like I have a personal connection to well-known events.

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Carmen James in front of a plantation cottage, Honolulu, 1920’s

Recently, my husband and I stayed at Waimea Plantation Cottages on Kauai. His grandmother was born on Kauai, scant miles from where we were. Nothing is left of the sugar plantation where her father worked as a dairy man but grassy fields. The plantation cottage we stayed in was built in 1905. It retains the rustic feel of its plantation days. Sitting in the kitchen, I could easily imagine a young girl’s life.

Carmen James lived with her parents and brother on Kauai until her mother passed away in childbirth. Shortly after that, the family moved to Oahu, where Carmen’s father left her in the care of a Hawaiian family. He took his son and went to the mainland to find work. Carmen lived on a sugar plantation near Diamond Head. She spent her entire childhood in a plantation cottage similar to the one where I wrote three chapters of her story.

Even though I am back in California, I can still feel the ambiance of that cottage set between the ocean and the mountains. I am nearly halfway done with the first draft of ALOHA SPIRIT. May the memories continue to inspire me!