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Hawaii’s Kappa

Hawaii’s Kappa

Freaky Friday

One of my daughters will be going to Hawaii with her family and her husband’s family in early May.  Like most good moms, I’m doing a little research to locate really interesting things for her to do. Probably unlike most moms, my research has more to do with things that go bump in the night than great places to shop or eat. So, Welina, Kukakuka. (Hello, let’s share a story.)

One surprising thing in Hawaii is the ghosts per square mile ratio. For such a small amount of land, there are a large number of paranormal stories. But today, we’re only going to concentrate on one. The ghost of the Wahiawa Botanical Gardens in Honolulu.  A lovely spot with huge trees, lovely flowers, greenery all around – oh, did I mention that part of that greenery is the Green Lady?

The Green Lady might go back as far as ancient Japanese mythology and is known as a Kappa, a legendary water creature, not too far removed from mermaids and sirens. But kappa are more at home in rivers and lakes than in the ocean. As a matter of fact, the presence of kappa are used to warn children of the dangers of coming to close to bodies of water. “Don’t go to close to the river, the kappa will get you.”  The kappa are said to lure people to the water and then pull them in.

The common story told is that the Green Lady was once just a normal mother who enjoyed taking her children to the Wahiawa Botanical Garden in Honolulu.  She and her children would cross the gulch in Wahiawa instead of taking the bridge, as she was afraid the cars would strike her children.  One night, on their way back home the children became separated and the mother could not find them in the gulch, no matter how hard she tried.  After searching and searching she went looking for help, but no one would help her.  She went back into the gulch alone and disappeared, along with her children.

Ever since then, there have been sightings of a ghostly green woman haunting the gulch.  The ghost isn’t just green, it’s covered in vines and grass, and resembles a shambling marsh monster more than a ghost.  The spirit animating the mucky plant life is the ghost of the mother, still looking for her children.  However, in her grief she will steal away with any child who comes into the gulch.

Children in Wahiawa sometimes dare each other to run across the bridge, as the story says that the Green Lady will even come up on the bridge to take children away.  The ghost has even been seen on the outskirts of Wahiawa Elementary School, which is located on the edge of the gulch.

So, you’re probably thinking, botanical garden, ponds and rivers, Japanese cultures…having the legend about a kappa makes total sense, right?

I’m sure that’s what people thought until 1957.  Here’s the report, originally written by Hawaiian historian, Glen Grant, and retold on the blog National Japanese American Historical Society that discusses not only the kappa in the Wahiawa Botanical Gardens, but also other potential kappa incidents.

“In 1957, six children an elementary school in Wahiawa elementary school on Oahu reported seeing a woman with green scaly skin, seaweed hair, webbed feet, clawed hands and a deformed face with no nose. Police questioned the children, who claimed to have spotted it in the gulch behind the school gymnasium, but ultimately dismissed the claims as the product of overactive imaginations. Still, rumored sightings persisted, even in the area surrounding Makaha Elementary School in the 60’s.

According to John Kaikonu’s article in the book “Weird USA,” in 1947 in Ola’a village on the Big Island, a boy, whose last name was Tanaka, was suddenly pulled into a pond by an unseen force while playing with his friends. The children alerted the authorities who sent a dive team after the drowned boy. They were shocked by what they found. The dead boy was sitting on a rock; hands on his sides, eyes and mouth open, swaying gently back and forth with the current in complete defiance of physics.

According to Dr. Grant, from then on, villagers heard the sound of crying coming from the pond. Children were warned to steer clear of the pond and those that didn’t reported feeling something tug at their ankles when they got near.

One man was walking with his son, when the young boy was suddenly dragged into the water, screaming and clawing at the ground. The father quickly summoned a rescue team and they found the child at the bottom of the pond, sitting on a rock just like the Tanaka boy. They were able to pull him up in time and a Shinto priest was subsequently summoned from Hilo to exorcise the pond.

Grant also writes of another haunted pond on Oahu, which a former police sergeant who corroborated his story with a police report told him about. The pond at Waihe’e Falls is a popular diving spot and the sergeant had recovered a dozen bodies out of its murky waters during his time on the force.

Bodies found in Waihe’e Falls, the officer said, don’t float. Generally, gasses accumulate in a corpse’s body cavities, causing them to float within 24 hours. People that drown in the pond, though, are often not recovered for three to four days. So, when the sergeant got a call about a missing body in the pond on a July afternoon in 1952, he was not surprised.

A group of Merchant Marines had been swimming in the pond when one of them, a man named Bill, lost his footing while attempting a dive. The back of Bill’s head struck a rock as he fell into the water and he died — an autopsy later revealed — instantly. His friends jumped in and searched for him for a full 10 minutes but could find no trace. Then, suddenly, Bill’s shoulders popped up out of the water. His head and body drooped as if something was lifting the corpse by the nape of its neck. His friends rushed over, but before they could reach the body, it plunged back into the depths of the water as quickly as it had risen.

The police arrived on the scene with a full recovery team of 12 people. They dredged the bottom of the pond with hooked poles and nets, they sent divers in, but they were unable to find any trace of Bill by sundown.

The sergeant and crew took off for the night, planning to return at sun-up to continue the search. Bill’s friends, though, pledged not to leave until the body was recovered and camped out by the pond that night.

The next morning, before they could reach the pond to resume their search, the sergeant and his crew found the young men running down the trail in a panic. The previous night, about 10 p.m., the men began hearing noises coming from the pond. From within their tent, they heard something emerge from the water and dash into the bushes nearby. The thing moved about the bushes and trees in a distinct pattern. It paused, and all was quiet for a moment, before it leaped over their tent and into the water with a splash. Minutes later, the sound emerged from the water and repeated. Before long, the young men came to the conclusion it was stalking them. Then around 1 a.m., it began making a noise. The men imitated it for the sergeant, an experienced hunter, as best they could. He did not recognize the sound as similar to any animal that lived in the area. Though he did not tell this to the young men, the sound, the sergeant told Grant, sounding like a human being shrieking in pain.

When the rescue crew reached the pond, though, they froze in their tracks. The normally murky water had become crystal clear overnight. Though this should have made the body easy to find, an hour later, they had no success and were beginning to think it had floated downstream. The sergeant, though, hiked to the top of the falls to get a better look, and from that vantage point, he was able to see Bill’s body, laid face down on a flat rock under water. He gave his crew the location by walkie-talkie, but they could not see Bill or the rock, possibly, the sergeant thought, due to a refraction of light. Going on their sergeant’s verbal directives, the crew was able to hook the rock and began pulling Bill’s body up. However, the second his feet left the water, the sergeant felt a shock in his body. His men immediately radioed — they felt it too. The water, at the spot Bill’s body had been pulled up, began bubbling.

From his vantage point on top of the falls, the sergeant could see something moving quickly back and forth through the water. Soon, he said, the whole pond looked like a washing machine, with water frothing in a circle.

The frightened crew bagged the body up and hurried down the mountain, but when they had gotten about 200 feet away, the waters of the pond came after them as a giant tidal wave. The wave hit the crew and carried them all the way down to the beach. The pond had been completely emptied, causing the worst flood in decades.

Looking for answers, the sergeant went to the University of Hawaii, but its scientists didn’t have any. The only explanation he got, years later, was from an old Hawaiian man.

In the old days, the man said, Waimea valley was sacred ground. The pond contains an “akua,” a god, who takes human sacrifices, in a ritual that lasts three days. By removing the body, the man said, they had interrupted the ritual before the waters were cleansed of the sacrifice’s “lepo” or “dirt.” The pond, he said, had no choice but to spit out the dirty water.

Whether caused by spirits or a yet unexplained natural phenomenon, these drownings provide a word of caution for swimmers and tourists coming close to the water.

My advice – if you want to go swimming, wade in the ocean or use the hotel pool.

Happy Friday!

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