Hawaii is full of haunted places. Sometimes it seems like you can’t make it to the next block, or street, or house without crossing some kind of hallowed ground—but you’d never know it. And everyone has their own stories of strange encounters with the supernatural that weave together Hawaiian mythology with imported legends and rituals from the many ethnic groups who’ve made Hawaii their home.
For example: I grew up in a constant state of readiness in the event that I crossed paths with night marchers: put your face down on the ground and don’t move. A more mundane example would be how I learned from my Chinese grandmother that whistling at night invited spirits, and slaps from her—the slaps were way more scary.
Here are five of Hawaii’s creepy urban legends, just in time for Halloween, but scary all year round.
Don't take pork over the Pali
One of the more well-known creepy folk tales from Hawaii says you shouldn’t carry pork over the Pali Highway (Route 61) on Oahu. Those who have disregarded this advice have had their cars stall out, refusing to start again until the pork was thrown out. Some say the pork protocol comes from an old love feud between Pele, the goddess of fire, and Kamapuaa, the pig-man god. On the Big Island, a variation of this folk tale says drivers crossing between east and west over Saddle Road should toss the pork.
Watch out for night marchers
Ghosts of old Hawaiian warriors travel along set paths, often in and around places where battles took place, or near heiau (traditional Hawaiian places of worship). People living near their path say they’ve heard drumming and conch shells blowing. Those who’ve seen them say the night marchers have no legs and walk on air in phalanx formation. If you make eye contact with one of them they will take you with them to the spirit world, unless a relative takes your place. If you find yourself in the path of night marchers, you should get out of there. If you can’t, you should belly down on the ground to show respect, and most definitely shouldn’t look up when they try to provoke you.
The ghosts that choke you in your sleep
The Choking Ghost is said to be the most prevalent ghost in the Islands, perhaps because so many cultures have a version of the Choking Ghost. In Hawaii, everyone seems to have a story about waking up in the middle of the night and feeling like something is pressing on their chest and choking them. You try to scream but you can’t. You try to move but that fails, too. And just when you think you’ll suffocate, the ghost leaves.
Pick up Pele on the side of the road
On the Big Island, you’re taught at a young age to pick up any older Hawaiian lady walking on the side of the road (Saddle Road, especially), and that you should take her where she tells you to take her. You do this because that woman may be Pele, and to ignore her will bring bad juju to you. And if it’s not Pele, you just did a really nice thing for an old woman.
Don't take lava rocks
If you’ve been to Hawaii even once you’re familiar with the curses that come when you take the lava rocks from the Islands. Park rangers across Hawaii are all too happy to regale visitors with stories of boxed rocks mailed to them from all over the world, sometimes with a letter from the rock taker detailing his remorse—a cautionary tale with a sprinkling of the supernatural keeps everyone on their best behavior.