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Hawaiian Witches


Source: Myths & Legends Of Our New Possessions & Protectorate

To the native Hawaiian, who shuns work, dresses only for decorative
purposes, and is willing to subsist on fruits that grow without
teasing, life is not so simple as we should suppose, to look at
him. Nature abhors a vacuum, even in a man's head, and when the man
cares to put nothing in his noddle that will increase his understanding
and resource, his ancestry will have planted something there which
is sure to swell and grow until it may dominate his conduct and his
fate. And if you open the head of an average barbarian you will find
a flourishing crop of superstition fungi inside. So surely as he is
a barbarian he will believe in witches. If he contents himself with
imagining wizards and spooks, he may find recreation enough in the
dark, but when he accuses other people of practising against him,
and gets them hanged or roasted, his imagination has become too
frisky to be at large. Death for the practice of witchcraft is no
longer possible, however, unless it results from private revenge.

To this day fear and ignorance paint gnomes and elves in the palm
groves and among the wild Java uplands of the mid-Pacific, and Honolulu
itself is not free from the lingering and traditionary kahuna. This is
the wizard, or medicine man, or voodoo worker, who does by prayer and
spell what his employers would do with a club if it were not for the
awkward institution of the law. When a Kanaka has endured an injury
he hires a kahuna to pray his enemy to death. This imposes on the
victim the necessity of hiring a kahuna to pray down the other one,
or of running away, if he cannot afford the expense. The wizard calls
on his intended victim and tells him what is about to happen, and
you would naturally suppose that the visitee would take the visitor
by the collar and the "bosom of his pants" and persuade him away from
the premises, even if he did not go out and exercise upon him in the
yard. In fact, record has been made of explosive exits of these wizards
from Americans' houses when they made their usual courtesy call before
praying the resident out of existence, and 'tis said that they bore
marks of Lynn-made shoe-soles on their seats of honor for a week after.

But your Kanaka fears his medicine man and receives the news of doom
politely. The kahuna tells him that his conduct has displeased some god
or goddess and that he must die. Every kahuna claims what statesmen
call a "pull" with his deities that enables him to have his prayers
answered, while opposition kahunas are snubbed. After a couple of
days the kahuna drops around to see how his victim is getting on,
and generally he finds him in low spirits, with a meagre appetite,
because this process is as reliable as its opposite, which is called
faith-cure. If a man can sufficiently persuade himself that nothing
ails him, he is almost sure to recover from an illness that he hasn't
got; and, by the same token, if he makes himself believe that he is
going to have indigestion, or a fall on the ice, or must die, he
unnerves himself and makes it easy for the expected to happen. If
he runs away and hides, the kahuna's prayers do not work as well,
and if he has been to school and reads the papers, they do not work
at all. Indeed, the islanders have given up white people as tough
subjects, so seasoned in whisky and a wrong religion that curses are
wasted on them as water is wasted on ducks and Kentucky colonels. The
goddess Pele has resigned the foreigner in discouragement.

Well, on this second visit the victim remembers all his misfortunes of
the past two days, his stomach ache, his thirst, his stubbed toe, his
failure to collect eight cents that a neighbor owes him, his nightmare
after a supper of poi,--not mince-pie: just poi,--his discovery of a
bottle too late to know what was in it, and his wife's demand for a
new dress. All these miseries he ascribes to the left-handed prayers
of which he is the subject, and he offers to temporize. As in other
parts of the world, silver is a strong dissuader. If he has hired a
kahuna himself to neutralize his enemy's bad prayers with good ones,
the two voodoo workers will retire and consult as to a settlement,
each preserving a dignity and courtesy worthy of his high profession,
for, although the Roman soothsayers could not keep from snickering
when they met one another in the street, these kahunas really believe
in themselves, for they have prayed too many people out of the world
not to do so.

If an apology and a couple of dollars fail to soften the enemy,
or if the kahunas believe they can raise the stake to three dollars
by toiling a while longer, a prayer duel follows and the best man
wins. Kahuna number one delivers a veritable anathema, bestowing on
his subject more aches and illnesses and deformities and difficulties
than Pius IX. conferred on Victor Emmanuel, while number two sweats
with the haste and force of his invocations for the continued or
increased health and fortune of his client. If he can afford them,
the victim may hire two kahunas and have them pray around the house
until the opposition is silenced or the malevolent employer's money
gives out. When one of the two prays for his patron, in such a case
the other may pray against the enemy who began the trouble, so that,
instead of doing a deadly injury, the instigator of the disturbance
may discover, to his alarm, that he is in more danger than his foe,
and some morning he may find himself dead.

King David Kalakaua made a law against praying folks into their graves,
but the kahunas, to a man, cried, "Why, this will kill business! If
you don't abolish that law we will pray you to death in two days." And
King David took the law away, quick. In order to make a prayer for
death effectual the kahuna must possess himself of some object closely
associated with the person he intends to kill. Finger-nails, hair,
and teeth are especially desired, but if they cannot be had, a few
drops of saliva will do. The kings were always so careful of their
precious selves that nail-parings and hair-croppings were burned to
keep them from falling into the hands of ghoulish kahunas, and they
were always attended by a spittoon-bearer, who was a chief of high
rank, and whose duty it was to see that none of the royal spittle
was accessible to wizards or suspicious strangers. The spittoon was
emptied into the sea at a distance from land secretly and in the
middle of the night. What a lecture Charles Dickens would have read
to the Americans out of this circumstance!

The last death attributed to the kahunas was that of Princess Kaiulani
in the spring of 1899. Though this young woman was enlightened, had
travelled and studied in Europe and America, and presumably disbelieved
in the superstitions of her ancestors, it is whispered that the rumor
of kahuna influence against her shortened her days by many. The people
believed so, at any rate, though they were perplexed by the failure of
the little red fish to run into the harbor just before she breathed
her last, as it was believed that they always made their appearance
prior to a death in the royal family. The rumbling and hissing and
the sounding of a heavy major chord in the depths of Kilauea that
followed the funeral of Kaiulani were directly attributed to her death.

Next: The Cannibals

Previous: The Magic Spear

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