Sacred Texts  Pacific  Index  Previous  Next 


The spirits of the dead, according to a summary of ancient Hawaiian statements, were divided into three classes, each class bearing the prefix "ao," which meant either the enlightened or instructed class, or simply a crowd or number of spirits grouped together.

The first class the Ao-Kuewa, were the desolate and the homeless spirits who during their residence in the body had no friends and no property.

The second class was called the Ao-Aumakuas. These were the groups of ghost-gods or spirit-ancestors of the Hawaiians. They usually remained near their old home as helpful protectors of the family to which they belonged, and were worshipped by the family.

The third class was the Ao-o-Milu. Milu was the chief god of the Under-world throughout the greater part of Polynesia. Many times the Under-world itself bore the name of Milu. The Ao-o-Milu were the souls of the departed of both the preceding classes who had performed all tasks, passed all barriers, and found their proper place in the land of the king of ghosts.

The old Hawaiians never intelligently classified these departed spirits and sometimes mixed them together in inextricable confusion, but in the legends and remarks of early Hawaiian writers, these three classes are roughly sketched. The desolate ghost had no right to call any place its home, to which it could come, over which it could watch, and around which it could hover. It had to go to the desolate parts of the islands or into a wilderness or forest.

The homeless ghost had no one to provide even the shadow of food for it. It had to go into the dark places and search for butterflies, spiders, and other insects. These were the ordinary food for all ghosts unless there were worshippers to place offerings on secret altars, which were often dedicated to gain a special power of praying other people to death. Such ghosts were well cared for, but, on the other hand, the desolate ones must wander and search until they could go down into the land of Milu.

There were several ways which the gods had prepared for

{p. 246}

ghosts to use in this journey to the Under-world. it is interesting to note that all through Polynesia as well as in the Hawaiian Islands the path for ghosts led westward.

The students of New Zealand folk-lore will say that this signified the desire of those about to die to return to the land of their ancestors beyond the western ocean.

The paths were called Leina-a-ka-uhane (paths-for-leaping-by-the-spirit). They were almost always on bold bluffs looking westward over the ocean. The spirit unless driven back could come to the headland and leap down into the land of the dead, but when this was done that spirit could never return to the body it had left. Frequently connected with these Leina-a-ka-uhane was a breadfruit-tree which would be a gathering-place for ghosts.

At these places there were often friendly ghosts who would help and sometimes return the spirit to the body or send it to join the Ao-Aumakuas (ancestor ghosts). At the place of descent it was said there was an owawa (ditch) through which the ghosts one by one were carried down to Po, and Lei-lono was the gate where the ghosts were killed as they went down. Near this gateway was the Ulu-o-lei-walo, or breadfruit-tree of the spirits. This tree had two branches, one toward the cast and one toward the west, both of which were used by the ghosts. One was for leaping into eternal darkness into Po-pau-ole, the other as a meeting-place with the helpful gods.

This tree always bore the name Ulu-o-lei-walo (the-quietly-calling-breadfruit-tree). On the island of Oahu, one of these was said to have been at Kaena Point; another was in Nuuanu Valley.

The desolate ghost would come to this meeting-place of the dead and try to find a ghost of the second class, the aumakuas, who had been one of his ancestors and who still had some family to watch over. Perhaps this one might entertain or help him.

If the ghost could find no one to take him, then he would try to wander around the tree and leap into the branches. The rotten, dead branches of the tree belonged to the spirits. When they broke and fell, the spirits on them dropped into the land of Milu--the under-world home of ghosts. often the spirit could leap from these dead branches into the Underworld.

Sometimes the desolate spirit would be blown, as by the

{p. 247}

wind, back and forth, here and there, until no possible place of rest could be found on the island where death had come; then the ghost would leap into the sea, hoping to find the way to Milu through some sea-cave. Perhaps the waves would carry the ghost, or it might be able to swim to one of the other islands, where a new search would be made for some ancestor-ghost from which to obtain help. Not finding aid, it would be pushed and driven over rough, rocky places and through the wilderness until it again went into the sea. At last perhaps a way would be found into the home of the dead, and the ghost would have a place in which to live, or it might make the round through the wilderness again and again, until it could leap from a bluff, or fall from a rotten branch of the breadfruit-tree.

A great caterpillar was the watchman on the eastern side of the leaping-off place. Napaha was the western boundary. A mo-o (dragon) was the watchman on that side. If the ghost was afraid of them it went back to secure the help of the ghost-gods in order to get by. The Hawaiians were afraid that these watchmen would kill ghosts if possible.

If a caterpillar obstructed the way it would raise its head over the edge of the bluff, and then the frightened ghost would go far out of its way, and wandering around be destroyed or compelled to leap off some dead branch into eternal darkness. But if that frightened ghost, while wandering, could find a helpful ghost god, it would be kept alive, although still a wanderer over the islands.

At the field of kaupea (coral) near Barbers Point, in the desert of Puuloa, the ghosts would go around among the lehua flowers, catching spiders, butterflies, and insects for food, where the ghost-gods might find them and give them aid in escaping the watchmen.

There are many places for the Leina-a-ka-uhane (leaping-off-places) and the Ulu-o-lei-walo (breadfruit-trees) on all the islands. To these places the wandering desolate ghosts went to find a way to the Under-world.

Another name for the wandering ghosts was lapu, also sometimes called Akua-hele-loa (great travellers). These ghosts were frequently those who enjoyed foolish, silly pranks. They would sweep over the old byways in troops, dancing and playing. They would gather around the old mats where the living had been feasting, and sit and feast on imaginary food.

{p. 248}

The Hawaiians say: "On one side of the island Oahu even to this day the lapu come at night. Their ghost drum and sacred chants can be heard and their misty forms seen as they hover about the ruins of the old heiaus (temples)."

The fine mists or fogs of Manoa Valley were supposed t( conceal a large company of priests and their attendants while roaming among the great stones which still lie where then was a puu-honua (refuge-temple) in the early days. If any one saw these roving ghosts he was called lapu-ia, or one to whom spirits had appeared.

The Hawaiians said: "The lapu ghosts were not supposed to watch over the welfare of the persons they met. They never went into the heavens to become black clouds , bringing rain for the benefit of their households. They did not go out after winds to blow with destructive force against their enemies. This was the earnest work of the ancestor-ghosts, and was not done by the lapu."

Another name for ghosts was wai-lua, which referred especially to the spirit leaving the body and supposed to have been seen by some one. This wai-lua spirit could be driven back into the body by other ghosts, or persuaded to come back through offerings or incantations given by living friends, so that a dead person could become alive again.

It was firmly believed that a person could endure many deaths, and that if any one lost consciousness he was dead, and that when life stopped it was because the spirit left the body. When life was renewed it was because the spirit had returned to its former home.

The kino-wai-lua was a ghost leaving the body of a living person and returning after a time, as when any one fainted.

Besides the ghosts of the dead, the Hawaiians gave spirit power to all natural objects. Large stones were supposed to have dragon power sometimes.

{p. 249}

Next: Aumakuas, or Ancestor-Ghosts