The Folklore of the Night Marchers


Ghost stories have always fascinated people, some flocking to distant locations just in hopes for a glimpse of an ethereal figure.  From the castles of Scotland to any major city, tours are always available for those who are curious about the other side. But what about the dead who walk?  What about processions of death walked by the souls of the departed? Every culture has some form of this, however today we will be looking at the Night Marchers of Hawaii.

Night Marchers, or Hukai’po, is the name of a group of ghostly beings who march to the beat of pounding drums.  It is believed that the Night Marchers are armed warriors — generally thought to be marching to or from battle — carrying weapons and wearing helmets and cloaks that are ancient in appearance.  Stories and speculations surround why the Night Marchers walk, including that they are looking for new members or for an entrance to the afterlife, and, of course, the most chilling possibility: they are looking for ways to avenge their deaths.  However, one historian — Nanette Napoleon — believes that these soldiers were just doing their job as it was believed that they escorted the ali’i, or rulers.

No matter their reasoning for walking the earth, it is said that the Night Marchers can often be recognized by their torches and chanting, sometimes even the blowing of conch shells as they march.  They tend to only appear at night, though there are stories of them showing themselves during the day. However, one thing that has been spoken about is the fact that after they pass through an area, footprints have been known to be spotted along their path.

Whether or not they appear during the night or day, one thing often remarked about is that their procession must not be interrupted. As well as not interrupting them, it is important to avert your eyes and never look at them directly as — according to legend — someone you know, or even you yourself, will befall a terrible fate soon after.  In fact, people are urged to “play dead” lest they attract the Night Marchers’ attentions.  The reason for this, according to story-teller Lopaka Kapanui, is that if we are to believe that the Night Marchers were escorts for the ali’i, then they would have proceeded someone who was considered to be sacred, almost godly.  Therefore, when they passed you would not be permitted to look at the ali’i they guarded, and if a commoner had glimpsed at or if the shadow of the ali’i they guarded fell on one of these commoners, they were to be put to death, which was why they tended to march at night.

The Night Marchers are still a group of ghastly spirits that can still be seen to this day.  Ghost tours are available in Hawaii to try to glimpse them, despite the terrible things that may happen if you do happen to see them.  Though not everyone has seen them, it is so common to glimpse the Night Marchers that a lot of locals report having seen or heard them at one point or another.  Either way, one thing is for certain: the Night Marchers remain a grim mystery.


For more reading on the Night Marchers (sources):

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