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HWA Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander Series


Tori Eldridge is the Honolulu-born national bestselling author of DANCE AMONG THE FLAMES and the Lily Wong mystery thriller series—THE NINJA DAUGHTER, THE NINJA’S BLADE, and THE NINJA BETRAYED—two-time Anthony Award finalist, nominated for the Lefty and Macavity Awards, and winner of the 2021 Crimson Scribe for Best Book of the Year. Her shorter works appear in the inaugural reboot of WEIRD TALES and numerous anthologies, including Missing on Kaua‘i in CRIME HITS HOME. Her screenplay THE GIFT was a semi-finalist for the Academy Nicholl Fellowship.

Before writing, Tori performed as an actress, singer, dancer on Broadway, television, and film, and earned a 5th degree black belt in To-Shin Do ninja martial arts. She is of Hawaiian, Chinese, Norwegian descent and was born and raised on O‘ahu where she graduated from Punahou School with classmate Barack Obama. Tori’s deep interest in world culture and religions has prompted her to visit nine countries, including Brazil. Learn about her at https://torieldridge.com.

Introduction to the HWA Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage in Horror Series by
Tori Eldridge

When I was growing up in Hawai‘i, we would scare each other with Hawaiian folklore and legends. The tales of fearsome gods and goddesses taught us what was forbidden and how to behave. The myths kept our history and traditions alive.

As a kanaka maoli (Native Hawaiian), these oral transmissions connected me to my roots. When I was a child, I rarely heard anyone speak our Hawaiian language beyond commands from a hula kumu (teacher) or the lyrics in ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i that we sang. Power flowed through me whenever I beat on an ipu, a percussion implement made from a gourd, and chanted the ancient words of my people. I can still feel the low and high resonance of my pa‘i palm and fingers beating against the gourd—U-Te, U-Te-Te—and the rumbling in my chest as I chanted powerful and evocative words. As a dancer, I felt honored to call out the next verse in ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i. I’m so grateful for the resurgence of our language that is taking place back home and online.

In contemporary times, our stories are relayed through literature as well as oral transmission and dance. Although some of our stories and superstitions immigrated to us with people from East and Southeast Asia, most of them came out of our own culture and history.

We learned to respect Madam Pele and avoid her fiery wrath. Most of the cautionary tales I learned as a kid centered around the volcano goddess’ vengeance, jealousy, and demand for respect. We also knew to run or hide if we heard the Night Marchers approach. It was kapu (forbidden) to gaze upon the phantom warriors as they escorted the spirits of the ali‘i nui (high chiefs) over the land. If we couldn’t run, we had to prostate ourselves in the dirt.

Ancient Hawaiians honored and worshiped many gods and spirits who resided in the mountains, pools, ocean, and land. Spirits inhabited creatures, rocks, and trees. Many of our ancestors transformed into ‘aumakua (personal gods) in animal form like sharks, hawks, eels, or owls. Some of our deified ancestors transformed into clouds, cowries, or plants. No matter the form, ‘aumakua protect our ‘ohana (family) even after their time on this Earth had passed.

We asked the mo‘o (water guardians) for permission before taking a dip in a pond. We wrapped pork in ti leaves when driving over the Pali. And we never took rocks from heiau (places of worship) or let our tourist friends carry sand or lava back home. Transgressions like these showed a lack of respect to our spirits and our gods. Even if you didn’t believe, you were sure to draw bad luck.

Before he passed away, author Glen Grant—a folklorist, mythologist, and Hawaiian historian from California—explored native and imported legends in his popular Obake Files series, Chicken Skin series, and Chicken Skin Tales. Kanaka maoli author Lopaka Kapanui focuses entirely on our own Native Hawaiian legends in his books, Mysteries of Hawai’i: Na Mo’olelo Lapu and Mysteries of Honolulu. Whether we learn our stories from books, family, friends, or through mele and oli (song and chant), they teach us about respecting our people, our traditions, and our land.

It makes me happy to see HWA highlight Pacific Islander authors. Although many of us also have Asian ancestors, it’s nice to exclusively celebrate our Polynesian heritage on its own. I grew up in the 60s and 70s before APPI Heritage month existed. And since my mixed Hawaiian-Chinese-Caucasian heritage was a prevalent combination in Honolulu, I never considered myself a minority—not until I moved to Chicago where I landed a part in a play as a freshman at Northwestern (unheard of) because I was the only female theater student who could reasonably play Vietnamese! Now, I’m more conscious of how relatively few of us there are.

Thanks to my genealogy-minded relatives, I can trace my Hawaiian roots to 1783 from the islands of Hawai‘i to Moloka‘i, Mau‘i, and O‘ahu. It’s amazing to see the marriages and births over the centuries, to imagine the lives my ancestors lived and how they fit into Hawai‘i’s rich history.

But like many kanaka maoli, my blood is mixed. My mother’s father and maternal grandfather immigrated from Canton (Guandong Province). My North Dakota Norwegian father came to Honolulu with my mother, whom he met and married in Tokyo at the end of World War II.

This is the story of my Hawaiian, Chinese, Norwegian lineage. Although I knew many people growing up who were 100% Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, or Caucasian, I didn’t know anyone who was pure Hawaiian. Even back then, 100% kanaka maoli was rare. This is why it is so important to preserve our culture, language, and traditions.

All of the authors featured in HWA’s Pacific Islander Series keep their cultures alive through the creation and retelling of stories, rich with fascinating legends, gods, history, and myths. They honor our Polynesian ancestors and pass their wisdom, lessons, and traditions to a new generation. They also warn our people with cautionary tales.

The legends Madame Pele or the Night Marchers told in Hawai‘i did more than pass down culture and entertain the keike with campfire frights: They taught lessons of respect for our history, our elders, each other, and our land. The stories from Rapa Nui, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, New Zealand, Tahiti, Cook Islands, Tuvalu, and Micronesia do the same. Learn about our authors and the stories and poems we write. Celebrate our accomplishments and buy our books. Like the lava that spouts from our volcanos, our stories, past and present, lay a foundation on which our culture was built and continues to thrive.

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