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Seeking Refuge

“Nightmarchers in Honolulu? Nah, too crowded, too noisy,” the old man told me at his fourth grandbaby’s first luau. “On Oahu there are too many living people. You want to know about huakaʻi pō, you stay right here on the Big Island. Drive out Saddle Road, maybe go Hale Pohāku on a misty night. Stop and listen, maybe you hear them. Maybe not. Many times they go silent in the mist. Awe, that’s all I can say.”


The kapuna—elders—are sometimes reluctant to talk about the huakaʻi pō and ʻoiʻo, the nightmarchers and the spirit ranks.  These are the deadly ghosts of tribal warriors who protected the ʻaliʻi, the sacred monarchs and high-ranking tribal chiefs.





On certain nights after sunset, the nightmarchers leave their burial sites on land and in the ocean.


Dressed for battle, carrying torches and clubs, they drift over land as a ghostly escort for their leaders who wish to return to the ancient battle sites. The undead nightmarchers are brutal in their roles as protectors of the aliʻi:  Mortals who dare to look at the monarch’s phantom may be immediately incinerated, their ashes left to drift on the wind.


Fear of the Nightmarchers is rooted in the history of Hawaiʻi.  When alive, those same ancient monarchs held the power to kill a commoner for breaking any of their complicated taboos.


In life, at least, there was a chance at salvation. If the rule-breaker completes the difficult life-or-death journey to a puʻu honua—a place of refuge—all would be forgiven.


In my novel Drawn from Life, there are no nightwatchers (sorry!), but there might be a place of refuge for Emma Gillen, my very troubled protagonist. She’s helped in her quest by a rookie detective from Hawaiʻi, Koa Szczepanski.

He plays a supporting role in this book, but he’s told me he’d like a bigger stage in the next one.

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Reprinted from Sarah's guest post in the blog Sorchia's Universe, April 1, 2024

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