The Night Marchers


Cold Spots: Hawaii

This issue of Cold Spots marks the two-year anniversary of this column, and there is no better way to celebrate than with a luau.  Hawaiian food and beaches are known the world over as some of the best and most beautiful in creation, with beautiful women in grass skirts and fire-dancers providing entertainment.  In an island paradise there is no sign of anything that could go wrong, nothing to trouble the mind as all the worries of the mainland slip away to the singing of Hawaiian guitars and the thundering of giant drums.  As the sun sets, however, something strange happens to the islands.  Gone are the smiles and kisses and leis.  The natives retreat into their homes, refusing even to glance out the windows to see who might be coming up the drive.  In the distance, visitors can still hear drums, and the jungles are aglow with what appear to be burning torches.  But, say the natives, it is no celebration.  It is best for non-Hawaiians to remain indoors, lest they never live to see another of the beautiful beach sunrises, for the dead walk at night. 

Throughout mainland U.S. are spots marred by horrific battles and bloody tragedies.  And while it seems hard to believe when looking at the beauty that makes up the Hawaiian islands that anything other than peaceful tranquility could ever have happened here, such is not the case.  While most U.S. states have houses and specific sites where the dead are not at rest, Hawaii is unique in that its hauntings span the entire chain of islands.  While it may be local superstition or even ancient beliefs in the old gods that spark such beliefs, the fact remains that many have seen them and are terrified at the mere mention of their names.

To write about the Night Marchers is to essentially write about the history of Hawaii itself, as there was no one incident that gave birth to the legend.  One cannot simply point to the grisly dealings of a single mad man nor one single battle.  In fact, the origins of the Night Marchers pre-date American history, as their legend is the product of hundreds of years of blood and tradition.

Long before Hawaii became a state, the island chain was governed feudally, with each island having its own chief.  Each village had a lesser chief, who paid tribute to the larger king.  Bloody wars often broke out between kings, resulting in millions of deaths.  Add to this that ancient Hawaiians were prone to practice human sacrifice, and we have an interesting and macabre history indeed. 

As far back as the early 1800’s and before, stories were told about phantom marchers, slain warriors and kings, who traversed the entire island chain, marching toward the battles that took their lives.  Other stories tell of guards who watched the refuge cities for criminals, ready to bring them to swift and final justice.  Whatever the case, the stories told a frighteningly similar tale, of long processions of warriors carrying torches, their faces masks of anger, their feet never touching the ground. 

The Night Marchers

There is no way to name the marchers as there are reputed to be thousands of them in long processions.  However, what is known are the warning signs.  Long processions of torches in the night accompanied by loud drums and pipes will send believers running for cover, as these are not friendly spirits by any means.  These are the Huaka’i Po:  The Night Marchers.

There are two different processions, it seems, according to legend, who march on two separate nights.  The first consists of kings, chieftains, priests, and their attendants.  Each chief is carried in a sling, befitting his station, though the warrior chiefs are prone to walk between two of their warriors.  They are most often reported near old temples, with flutes and drums heralding them, as well as laughter.

The second type of procession is seen just after sunset and lasts until sunrise the next morning.  Comprised of warriors, chiefs, and the gods themselves, this phenomenon is marked by high winds that seem to snap branches off trees, with bright torches to honor the gods.  They are also often associated with sudden lightning storms and rough surf. 

Locals will tell you that if you see the torches, run.  If it is a native son or daughter of Hawaii, they must look to the ground.  Failure on either part will have the same result.  Meeting their eyes will result in their claiming your soul and taking it with them to march for all eternity.  Also, according to legend, the only way to survive an encounter with the Huaka’i Po is for an ancestor of yours to intercede on your behalf, making survival for a mainlander improbable at best. 

Present Day
While one might think that legends of this sort would die out in the modern age, the Huaka’i Po has not, due largely to the fact that hundreds of sightings are reported every year.  Some claim that the construction of highways over ancient battle sites have stirred up the angry souls while others say that they’ve always been active.  Far from superstition, the Huaka’i Po is as much a part of Hawaiian culture as Pele, the goddess of fire.  They are simply a fact of life on the islands, especially to those who have seen them.

Best Times/Places
Why anyone would want to encounter these beings is open to debate, however they keep a regular schedule.  The first procession, that of the kings, appear each Po Kane, the night of the god Kane.  The second, made up of warriors, appears each month on the fourteenth night of the moon, called Po Akuna.  They march across every island in the chain, although most often reports come from the island of Oahu, along the Pali Highway, from which, during a battle, King Kamehameha threw his enemies over a cliff to their deaths.  Other places include the plains of Kamaomao on Maui, Hanapepe in Kauai, and Helo, Waipio, and Palilua on Hawaii.  These place are known as entrance places to the next world, stopping places on the way to the beyond, and even places where souls are known to wander.  The Plains of Kamaomao on Maui are considered holy, as are many other places on the island chain where the souls are said to wander freely until they find a way to reach their final reward.

The Night Marchers

Aloha…See you in two weeks!

- Scott A. Johnson

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Jon Condit