Halloween began on a cool green island on the other side of the world. The ancients called it Samhain, the one night a year when they looked beyond this realm. The first residents of our warm green island could do the same every night of the year.
In Ireland, and later in Scotland, the year began on Nov. 1. On the eve of the new year, The Celts did what they could to confound the spirits of those who had died in the previous year. They feared these spirits were looking for living bodies to inhabit. Survive the night and all was well. In Hawaii, it was the same and not the same.
"The people of old sincerely believed and said the ghost gods of the night (akua hele loa) were spirits of the dead," wrote S.N. Holokahiki, a student at William P. Alexander's Theological School in Wailuku.
The akua hele loa would visit during the hours of darkness called po. It was a time when the veil between this world and the supernatural parted. The spirits were content with their existence but wanted to enjoy earthly pleasures and sometimes do mischief. There are stories of kane o ka po savoring the delights of living women and wahine o ka po seducing living men. The unions could produce offspring with magical powers. Some might resemble puhi, mo'o, mano or manu - an eel, lizard, shark or bird.
For Hawaiians, the hours of darkness were not feared, but they were careful. It was said that if luau were cooked after dark, it might be eaten or defiled by the touch of foul spirits, the lapu o ka po. Nathaniel B. Emerson, the translator of "Hawaiian Antiquities" by David Malo, noted it was the custom to wave a lighted candle or kukui lamp to keep lapo o ka po away from the food.
The ancient Celts donned ghoulish costumes and made fierce and warlike sounds to frighten away the body snatchers. Children were given candy, just in case one of their number might include a spirit in human form. They carved turnips into human heads and lit them from within. One farmer named Jack captured a spirit with just such a device. When the Celts arrived in the Americas, they found pumpkins much easier to carve into jack-o'-lanterns.
The end of October coincides with the appearance of a tiny group of stars. The Greeks called them the Pleiades, a group of seven stars believed to be the seven daughters of the gods Atlas and Pleione. Five of the today's six stars form a tiny "dipper" easily seen. The sixth is hard to see and the seventh star is believed to have been swallowed by time.
In the islands, there were many names for the Pleiades, including Makali'i. Malo called them Huhi Hoku in his descriptions of how the year was divided into two seasons marked by the stars. The night Huhi Hoku rose the moment the sun set marked the beginning of the year's second season. On this particular night, the Earth is directly between the sun and the Pleiades.
When Halloween arrived in the islands hasn't been noted. The Maui News mentioned a 1901 celebration of the occasion. Scots were early immigrants to Maui. Take yourself away from tonight's raucous parties and you might hear the chuckling of old Hawaiians amused at the idea of one night being reserved for spirits.
Be wary of an 'ilio marching down a path. Even today, there are islanders who step aside if they are out during po and see such a dog. It is said dogs often accompany spirits on their earthly travels. There are stories of a woman walking along roads at night, politely accepting a ride and disappearing while the car is underway. And, there are night marchers to be avoided. So say kupuna.
The last lighthouse keeper at Pauwela said he heard and saw warriors marching along the bluff. A haole friend said she had to sell a condo she'd bought. She couldn't sleep. On successive nights, the new home became crowded. She was convinced the spirits of warriors killed in a battle at the site moved through her apartment.
These days, the ephemeral forms of spirits are bleached to invisibility by artificial lights. Footfalls are masked by the sound of machines and electronic voice of the not-there. Halloween has become a time only for merriment and assuming other personalities.
The old has been lost in the churn of the new. Stories of the other world are subject to laughter. The ancients knew. Ignorance and arrogance may shield moderns from the ancients. It doesn't have to be. Just believe.
* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is email@example.com.