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On the nights honoring the Hawaiian gods Kane, Ku, Lono, or on the nights of Kanaloa they are said to come forth from their burial sites, or to rise up from the ocean, and to march in a large group to ancient Hawaiian battles sites or to other sacred places. Legend says the nightmarchers are normal-size warriors, dressed for battle, carrying spears, clubs, and some are beating war drums and blowing tones from conch shells, to announce the advancing of their march. Legend also says they are suspended in the air; their feet do not touch water or ground as they traverse through the night, and they leave no evidence of their visitations.
They march in darkness after sunset, and march as a group continuously until just before sunrise. Anyone living along their path may hear chanting, sounds of blown conch shell tones, and marching noise in the night, and mortals must go inside immediately, lay prone on the floor, and not look to avoid notice, harm or even death. Nightmarchers might appear during the day if coming to escort a dying relative to the spirit world.
Ancient Hawaiian beliefs state that any mortal looking upon or being seen in defiance toward the marchers will die violently. Some people maintain that if the mortal lies motionless, face down on the ground, they are showing proper respect, fear and deference to the nightmarchers, and they will be spared. Additionally, mortals can avoid harm or death from nightmarchers by being fortunate to have an ancient ancestor marcher present to recognize them. As they encounter the mortal, they will call out "Na'u!", which means "mine" in Hawaiian. No one in the warrior procession will harm them.
The ceremony and conduct of the march is customised to the tastes of its honored warrior leader. A Hawaiian King or Chief known to be fond of music would be honored with much drumming and chanting. If the King or Chief enjoyed peace and quiet, the march would be as silent as possible. Further, if the King or Chief did not like to walk around much, he would be carried in a sling by warriors.
In ancient Hawaiian lore, the laws declared body parts of a King or Chief to be sacred, and not to be seen by a mortal. The punishment for looking at these parts is always instant death, usually by bolts of intense light and flaming heat originating from several of the warriors eyes aimed toward the violating mortal. The violating mortal is incinerated instantly and the bodily remains dissipate as vapors into the night air.
If a King’s or Chief’s face was not supposed to be observed, the King or Chief would lead the assembled nightmarchers from the front. If his back was not to be looked upon, he would be in the back of the assembled group. However, for some Chiefs, there was no part of them that was forbidden to look at by mortals. These Chiefs would march among their warriors in the group.
There are often Hawaiian gods present in some marches. The torches are said to burn brighter in these marches. The largest torches are carried one at the front, one in the back, with three within the group. The number five is significant in Hawaiian mythology. In the nightmarch with Hawaiian gods present, there are six gods, three male, three female. The Goddess named Hi`iaka-i-ka-poli-o-Pele, (commonly shortened to Hi'iaka), is often within the nightmarch. The composition of nighmarches are extremely varied.
The first thing noticed as a nightmarch approaches are loud war drums in the distance, then you will smell a foul and musky “death-like” odor, and you will hear the tone of a conch shell being blown, for fair warning to mortals to get out of the way, and you will see torches getting brighter and brighter as the nightmarchers get closer.
Barriers placed in the path of nightmarchers will not deter them. Only the presence of ti plants can divert the marchers, according to legend. No matter what you build in their path they march straight through it.
The nightmarchers are the vanguard for a sacred King, Chief or Chiefess, who unusually have a high station in Hawaiian life." - Po Kane. Haunted Hawaiian Nights, by Lopaka Kapanui
- Lopaka Kapanui (2005). Haunted Hawaiian Nights. Mutual Publishing.
- Martha Beckwith (1970). Hawaiian Mythology. University of Hawaii Press & Forgotten Books. pp. Page 164.
- Mary Kawena Pukui; Samuel H. Elbert (1986). Hawaiian Dictionary. University of Hawaii Press.
- Hawaii's Best Spooky Tales: The Original, Collected by Rick Carroll, copyright 1996 by The Bess Press Inc.