Your Must-Know List of Hawaii’s Diverse Local Superstitions

The Islands can be one spooky melting pot.

Visitors may not realize this, but Hawaii residents have a lot of superstitions. And they go far beyond “if you break a mirror you’ll have seven years of bad luck.”

Hawaii’s society is a thriving blend of cultures—food, drink, language, fashion, and with all that also comes superstitions. Some agreed upon, some conflicting—such is the nature of living in a melting pot. Growing up here in Hawaii it can be hard to keep up with all of them; even the most menial and tedious of tasks can be riddled with mystery: When can I cut my nails again? How am I supposed to eat this? Was I supposed to make eye contact with that? Wait, what even was THAT?

There isn’t a single culture that’s immigrated to Hawaii that hasn’t also brought with it the spiritual folklore of their origin. Mix that in with the supernatural history that has already existed here from the ancient Hawaiians and you get an extensive list of “do’s” and “don’t’s.”

We compiled these in maybe the best and perhaps only way possible … asking friends, family and co-workers to relay superstitions to us as they remember them that they still carry with them everywhere, in and out of Hawaii.

How many of these do you believe?

  1. Don’t bring bananas on a boat. (It brings no fish and bad luck.)
  2. Don’t take sand from the beach or lava rocks from a volcano outside of Hawaii. (Bad things will start happening to you until you return it. You’ll be cursed by Pele, the fire goddess. Basically don’t take anything natural with you outside of Hawaii. It’s just taboo.)
  3. If you visit a Hawaii Island volcano, offer ohelo berries to Pele. (Only then may you rightfully proceed into the landscape.)
  4. Don’t whistle at night. (You’ll summon the huakai po (night marchers), the ghosts of ancient Hawaiian warriors.)
  5. If you hear drums beating in the distance, get out of the area. (You could be in the night marchers’ ghostly path.)
  6. Don’t take pork on the Pali. (If you do you’ll anger Pele, who had a bad romance with the pig demi-god Kamapuaa, and your car will break down. Some believe this to only be raw, not cooked, pork.)
  7. If you are traveling around with pork always have ti leaf with you. (Pork attracts angry spirits and the ti leaf will protect you.)
  8. If you pick a fern off the Pali it will rain in five minutes. (It doesn’t matter what the weather is.)
  9. Don’t leave chopsticks standing straight up in a bowl of rice. (Or bad luck will follow because that’s how you offer rice to the dead.)
  10. If you see an old woman on the side of the road, offer her food and drink. (Because that’s Pele, shape-shifted into the form of an elderly person.)
  11. If you see an old woman on Hawaii Island wearing a white kihei (cape), offer her a ride. (Because that’s also Pele, who’ll disappear in your car while driving her, but leave you with good luck.)
  12. Don’t kill a large black moth. (Because it’s a recently deceased loved one paying a visit.)
  13. If you inexplicably smell strong fragrant flowers, don’t be alarmed. (That’s also a departed family member visiting you.)
  14. If something abruptly falls in your home, it means someone just died. (Or that someone will.)
  15. Don’t sleep with your head to a window. (That’s how a demon cuts your head off.)
  16. Don’t sleep with your feet to the door. (Otherwise when your spirit leaves your body when it’s asleep it won’t know how to get back. Or a night marcher will drag you out.)
  17. Don’t step over someone when they’re sleeping. (Unless you want everyone to know you want that person dead.)
  18. Don’t wear shoes in the house, it’s bad luck. (You’ll bring in the devil.)
  19. Don’t point at graveyards or tombstones. (Or a spirit will latch onto you…and never let go.)
  20. Don’t sign a living person’s name in red ink. (Koreans believe it means you’re wishing that person was dead.)
  21. If you see orbs flying around the Waianae side of Oahu you’re looking at souls that have just crossed over. (Kaena Point, the westernmost tip of land on the island is believed to be a “jumping off” point for spirits entering the afterlife.)
  22. If posing for a picture with three people, you don’t want to be the middle person. (Filipinos believe middle position means you’ll be the first to die.)
  23. Don’t bunch objects in four or you’ll attract misfortune. (The Japanese pronunciation for the number four is “shi” which is also the kanji for “death.”)
  24. Always sweep out the back door, not the front. (You want misfortunes of the past to be behind you, not where you enter.)
  25. Don’t cut your nails at night. (It’s bad luck.)
  26. Don’t wear a lei if you’re pregnant. (If you wear a closed flower lei it means the baby will choke on the umbilical code during birth.)
  27. Don’t bring children to Wahiawa gulch. (The heartbroken ghost of a woman known as the Green Lady lost one of her children there and will take yours if you do.)
  28. Don’t pluck red lehua flowers off the ohia tree. (If you do it means you’re separating star-crossed lovers Lehua and Ohia from each other, and it will start to rain.)
  29. Don’t cut plants at night. (It attracts spirits.)
  30. Don’t cut a baby’s hair the first year. (Because you’re inviting spirits to touch the baby’s hair too.)
  31. Don’t drive past a graveyard with your window down or a child’s ghost will jump in and catch a ride. (This is especially forewarned at the graveyard across the street from Kahala Mall on Oahu.)
  32. The more leaves on your “money tree,” the more prosperity headed your way. (The money tree is the hala pepe plant.)

Do you know of any other superstitions that have been passed down to you by your Hawaii friends and family?

Categories: Culture