Nightmares and Hawaiian Stones


In my last post I shared the legend of Pele’s curse: the belief that taking lava rocks or sand from volcanos in Hawaii (especially Kilauea) brings bad luck because of the goddess Pele’s anger. As I mentioned, this legend is a tourist legend, and not a part of traditional Hawaiian folklore or mythology. As far as I can tell, it’s not particularly believed by non-indigenous residents of Hawaii, either.

But I did find a fairly similar item in a collection of local-but-non-indigenous folk stories. This anecdote is interesting to me, for a few reasons. First, the story.

My mother told me. One day when a man was walking he kick a stone. The stone roll away [from] where it was. That night when the man was sleeping the stone came to him and started to smash him. The wife thought why he was struggling on so she asked him what he did today but the man said nothing. The second night it happen the same way but when the wife asked him the same question he said nothing. The third night the wife couldn’t stand it so she prayed. Then the man knew what he did so he went back to where he kick the stone and put it where it was. This stone was a stone which belong to the old Hawaiian.

Gwladys F. Hughes collected this story from a 14 year old, Kauai-born, ethnically Japanese girl in Waialua, Oahu, in the winter of 1946-1947. The girl was an eighth grader at Waialua High and Intermediate School.

This story caught my attention because it’s somewhat similar to the “take a rock, suffer bad luck” tourist legend that I had been researching: sort of the “locals’ version” of that belief. But then I realized it’s also similar to another piece of folklore that I explored before starting on the Pele legends: the Filipino stories of the batibat, and the phenomenon of bangugot.

As I mentioned in my batibat post, the batibat is a large, hulking creature that lives in bamboo groves and large trees. If you accidentally cut down a tree where a batibat lives to make a support post for your house, the batibat may stay in the post. And if it does, it can come out at night to terrorize the residents of the house. It does this by sitting on a person’s chest as they sleep, smothering them. Bangugot, or nightmare, is the sensation of being pinned down or smothered by a batibat.

One thing that distinguishes bangugot from run-of-the-mill sleep paralysis is its connection to SUNDS: sudden unexplained nocturnal death syndrome, a condition that strikes mostly young, ostensibly healthy, men in their late 20s to mid 30s. These men die in their sleep for no reason, often after suffering bangugot episodes, leading to the conclusion that they died in the middle of another such nightmare. Reports of SUNDS/bangugot-style deaths appear not only among Filipino men, but also among Thai, Hmong, and Japanese men, especially in immigrant or migrant worker populations. And that’s why the story above interests me.

The storyteller above wrote that she’d heard this story from her mother, so it’s reasonable to guess that the man who kicked the stone was also Japanese — possibly a Japanese immigrant, maybe a worker in the sugar plantations. And the stone coming to smash him in his sleep sure sounds like bangugot. This lucky bangugot victim avoided death (at least I think he did; the story doesn’t say). By the logic of the folklore, he managed to placate the spirit that he’d angered.

It’s interesting to me that the rock in this story is specifically sacred to the “old Hawaiians”. Animist beliefs were part of early Japanese religion, and vestiges of those beliefs still exist in modern cultural traditions. Is this story an example of Japanese animist tradition to interpret Hawaiian tradition? Or is it, as I first thought, a locals’ version of Pele’s curse?

Either way, I’m sticking to my theory that this is a bangugot story.


Chavez, Amy. On Rock Worship and the Shinto Gods, The Japan Times, July 9, 2011.

Hughes, Gwaldys F. “Folk Beliefs and Customs in an Hawaiian Community,” The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 62, No. 245 (Jul. – Sep., 1949)

Zumel, Nina. Hunting for the (Male) Batibat. Multo(Ghost), October 31, 2017


Wall of Kawaewae Heiau (Hawaiian temple) — looking up Windward coast, Kaneohe, on Oahu, Hawaii. Joel Bradshaw. Source: Wikimedia

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