Depending on who you talk to, uttering the phrase “the night marchers” will bring either a shrug…or a shudder.
They are the spirits of ancient Hawaiian Warriors, bound to protect their ali'i in both life, and the afterlife. Hawaiian storyteller Lopaka Kapanui sums up how powerful the legend of the night marchers is.
"In some families, even to speak it, they are afraid that they may perhaps invoke that entity to appear and to do something".
That something is to bring ill tidings, even death. As the legend says, to meet with the night marchers is to meet with doom. The reason is traced back to their job function in real life. As Lopaka explains it, in life, the marchers proceeded a person so sacred that as they passed, you could not look at them. Some were so godly that if their shadow fell upon a commoner, that person would be put to death.
Because of this, many ali'i traveled at night as to not cast a shadow. They also announced their arrival with the blowing of conch shells and the beating of drums.
Lopaka claims those sounds and the sight of torches can be seen before the night marchers arrive. His advice for anyone who hears, sees, or senses the marchers:
"The best thing to do is get the hell out of there, and run".
It is easy to see how the night marchers have evolved into boogeymen in popular culture. Stories of parents threatening young children are common. However, history tells a different story.
"They were just doing their job, I'd like to think". Researcher and historian Nanette Napoleon expounds on the marchers.
"A lot of people don't realize that processions were a very common part of everyday life".
The ali'i would not only check on their lands, but collect tribute during the processions.
"The commoners, when they saw ali'i, they knew these ali'i are the manifestation of our gods, and that we need to honor them, pay tribute to them" said Napoleon.
While her work is based on that which can be proven, Nanette leaves room for that which cannot. She says her mother has seen the night marchers, and believes in their existence. So does Lopaka. His belief is the reason he speaks of them.
"I want to talk about it because I want to dispel any misconceptions or urban legends or myths about the night marchers, but I also want to impart respect”.