Web Exclusive: More Ghost Stories!
Compiled by Rita Goldman
THE ART OF SURVIVAL
Ben Kikuyama is one of Maui’s most respected artists whose work appears in prominent collections throughout Hawai‘i. Here’s the chilling tale that made him set his sights on art.
“In 1981 when I was 18 years old, I was in a car crash. I’d been drinking and partying with friends all night, and at some point we decided to go up to Haleakalā to see the sunrise. We were in two cars, maybe 10 of us altogether. On the way back, my friend who was driving fell asleep. The car went over a cliff, fell 100 to 150 feet and landed upside-down.
I was asleep in the back seat at the time, and when we crashed I woke up and had no idea what had happened. I was very disoriented, but I remember feeling trapped and claustrophobic. I felt like I had to get out of the car immediately.
One of the side windows was open halfway and I was able squeezed through, just barely and made it out of the car. I saw one of my friend’s legs sticking out of the car and I shook it, but he didn’t respond. I realized I had to get help.
I was able to climb halfway back up the cliff, but then I passed out and slept nearly the whole day. When I finally woke up, it was getting dark and chilly. I thought, I’m either gonna get up there and live or stay here and die. So I started climbing again.
When I got to the top I stood on side of the road. One car came, but it passed me by. So when another car came, I walked into the middle of the road and waved my arms. The guy who stopped was mad … until he saw the blood and I told him about the accident. He took his flashlight, got out of the car and went to look over the cliff.
Soon an ambulance came. They said I had a concussion and some internal bleeding, but no broken bones. They also said, Your two friends died.
After the accident, I was very depressed. I’d lost most of the vision in my left eye but really, I felt very guilty that I’d lived and my friends had died. I was numb. I took to smoking and drinking and doing reckless things — just to be able to feel something.
One day, I ran into teacher from eighth grade and we got to talking about a classmate of mine. She had moved into a new home, but her husband and son were constantly getting sick and doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong. The family went to a psychic on O‘ahu called Reverend Rose, who told them that their house was in the path of the night marchers [the ghosts of ancient warriors, marching by torchlight]. The reverend did a blessing, and the husband and son got better.
Then Rev. Rose said, Years ago your friends had a car accident. Do you remember coming home and seeing a car with the back window busted out? My classmate said that yes, she did. The reason it was busted was that the person who survived was trying to send you a message. The glass was broken from the inside out.
But … I hadn’t broken the window. It had been open halfway and I had climbed out. Once a friend had said to me, Ben, there’s a reason you lived. You have a purpose. That’s why you’re alive.
When I heard that story, I made the commitment to be an artist. I’d been obsessed with art since I was a young boy and I believe the accident awakened that part of me. I began to feel reconnected to the world. And art wasn’t about creating a product, but something deeper — tapping into my creativity, who I am as a human being, and sharing that.”
These two Stories are from Scott Fisher, chief conservation officer for the Hawaiian Island Land Trust.
In Hawaiian thought, the world is divided between the au, where we live, and pō [the realm of the gods]. The geography is identical. In certain moon phases, our world and theirs intersect. Some portals are well-known leina — jumping-off places.
Waihe‘e Coastal Dunes and Wetlands Refuge has that sense of connection. We do moonlight hikes there and tell ghost stories about the night marchers, people who have passed into the other world and return to visit places where they lived.
“You have to be respectful. You’re occupying their homes in a different time frame. We’ll eventually pass on and travel on these paths, too. When you die, your ‘aumakua [family gods; deified ancestors] will help you find the leina. Wandering spirits are those who have lost their relationship with their ‘aumakua and family.
Here are two stories of our intersection.
Knock, Knock, Knocking on Heaven’s Door
Waihe‘e used to have a dairy, and several different dairy workers told me this same story:
In the late 1960s, two Filipino bachelors who worked at the dairy shared a plantation house. Every day they would come to work exhausted.
‘You need to get some rest,’ said Harold Shimoda, the dairy manager. ‘It’s affecting your work.’
‘But every single night there’s knocking on the window,’ said the workers.
‘We’ll get a kahuna [priest, expert in a profession] to bless the house then,’ said Harold.
The kahuna went to the house. He started in the front by the stairs, then made his way around the house in a circle. When he came around to the two bedrooms at the back, he stopped.
‘These two windows are the ones being tapped on, are they not?’ said the kahuna.
The men nodded in the affirmative, their eyes wide with disbelief; they had not told the kahuna which windows were the ones being rattled.
‘There is a burial right below these windows,’ said the kahuna. ‘We’ll do a special blessing. Then it should go away.’
The blessing worked and the men returned to work happy and alert. Both the living and the deceased had finally gotten a good night’s rest.
The Wahine in the Water
Two thriving Hawaiian villages, Kapoho and Kapokea, once populated the Waihe‘e Coastal Dunes and Wetlands Refuge. The wetlands had been drained in the 1950s when Waihe‘e Dairy was still open, so that the cattle would have a place to graze. But one day in winter, they filled up with water again.
A cowboy who was rounding up the cattle saw Kapoho’s fishpond bubbling and churning. While he was looking, a woman emerged from the water. The cowboy panicked, thinking she was drowning, and jumped into the pond … but there was nothing there.
Later, the cowboy told some of the kūpuna [elders] in the area about his experience.
‘Oh, yes,’ they told him. ‘Kihawahine is the mo‘o [dragon goddess; water spirit]. The pond is hers.’
This story corroborates with what Hawaiian scholar Samuel Kamakau once said: Water bubbles and churns when Kihawahine makes her appearance.
Sign up for a full-moon hike with Scott Fisher at the Waiheʻe Coastal Dunes and Wetlands Refuge. Visit hilt.org/talk-story-on-the-land for details of upcoming events.