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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, October 21, 2005

O'ahu's spiritwalker

 •  Share your tricks and treats
Got a spooky story or haunted spot to share? Want to pass on a recipe
or pumpkin-carving trick? Post it on our Halloween bulletin board.

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

Lopaka Kapanui shows Kawaiaha'o Church elementary school students some of the graves on the church grounds and provides historical information about the deceased.

JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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LOPAKA KAPANUI

Age: 43

Profession: Owner of GSI Hawai'i, storyteller and author

Residence: Mo'ili'ili

Education: Waipahu High School; majoring in Hawaiian studies, with an emphasis on storytelling, at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa

Family: Married with a 9-year-old daughter

Mentor: Glen Grant, the late storyteller and educator

Hobbies: Dancing and studying hula, doing research on ghost stories (historical, cultural and paranormal)

Favorite book: "The Myths and Legends of Hawai'i" by David Kalakaua. "To read his style of writing in that book shows Hawaiian and non-Hawaiians how beautiful and eloquent he truly was," Kapanui said. "Like Glen, Kalakaua was a man before his time."

Interesting fact: The tattoo on his left shoulder came to him in a dream.

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LISTEN TO LOPAKA

Book launch for "Haunted Hawaiian Nights"

Thursday

6:30 p.m.

Native Books/Na Mea Hawai'i, Ward Warehouse

Free

596-8885

Borders, Pearlridge Center

October 29

Noon

Free

487-1818

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When Lopaka Kapanui was a kid, he had a recurring dream.

He was speaking to crowds of people who were following him around.

They would listen intently to his tales, captivated so much they would follow him through the streets, hanging onto his every word.

Little did he know this dream would be prophetic.

Kapanui, 43, is one of Hawai'i's foremost storytellers, eagerly sharing tales of between-world spirits and Hawaiian mythology to anyone who'll listen.

For more than a decade, he was part of the chicken-skin tours headed by the late storyteller Glen Grant. While he loved leading ghost tours and sharing his stories, Kapanui knew he needed to be on his own.

So he took a chance.

Last month, Kapanui decided to venture out on his own, starting GSI Hawai'i (stands for Ghost Scene Investigations). His latest collection of scary stories, "Haunted Hawaiian Nights" (Mutual Publishing, $9.95), hit shelves last month.

Kapanui is no longer lingering in the shadow of his mentor and friend who, incidentally, still visits him in dreams.

"He did a lot for me as a mentor but even on a personal level," Kapanui said about Grant, who died of cancer in June 2003. "He taught me the importance of maintaining the integrity and respect of all the stories. For both of us, we have a genuine love for not only the Hawaiian culture but the local culture as well."

Telling ghost stories has become an effective and entertaining way to perpetuate and celebrate culture, history, language and, of course, local folklore.

And people in Hawai'i just can't get enough.

"Nowhere in the world is it more spiritual than here in our archipelago," Kapanui said.

With Halloween just 10 days away, we thought we'd check in with this spooky storyteller to give us some chills:

Do you have your own scary stories from small-kid time?

When I lived in Kalihi Valley, I remember seeing a tall shadowy figure walk past our windows. It had to have been at least 9 feet tall. Sometimes when I was home with my mom and hanai sisters, and my dad would be out bowling, we would hear jiggling of the (door handles) and knocking on the door. My mom would say, "Don't open the door!"

Are there a lot of spirits lurking around Kalihi Valley?

It could be a Night Marcher trail. There was an underground lava tube that went from where the Wilson Tunnel is to Kalihi Beach. A shark 'aumakua used to swim up and down. When he would get to the top of the area where Wilson Tunnel is, there would be an opening of some kind; a family who lived there would feed it. Once they dynamited for the tunnel, it all caved in. ... There's all kinds of stories about what happened when the tunnel was built. ... Police would see construction workers hitching rides at the end of the tunnel. They would pick them up, and when they'd get by Kalihi Uka, they'd be gone but there would be a red-dirt stain on the back seat (of the police car). Police officers have the best stories.

You're able to sense these spirits. When did you realize you had this gift?

It's something that's been happening to me since I was a kid. I was hanai'ed by a Portuguese family from Wainaku. My first experience was seeing my (late) hanai grandmother. Every time I'd see her, she was smiling. But every time I'd see her, I'd end up in the hospital. ... I always thought that seeing her would bring bad tidings. I didn't know she was trying to warn me.

You've seemed to have inherited the role of ghost storyteller from the late Glen Grant. Now that you're on your own, what sets you apart from your mentor?

I'm using more language and cultural insights on my tours. ... The difference between Glen and me, he would scare the living crap out of everyone. With me, I want people to walk away with a sense of hope.

Meaning, we don't have to suffer the way these between-world spirits do?

There is a way to help. I always tell people at the end of my tours that they have to love one another and live life with no regrets. We can let those here, the unseen, know that they can move on. Maybe I'm being egotistical, but I want this to be a healing experience.

Give me an example of how you incorporate more culture into your storytelling.

Do you know why Filipinos saturate their food with garlic and vinegar? To keep away the aswang, the Filipino vampire. It takes on a human form (of a beautiful fair-skinned Filipino woman) during the day. But at night, its torso breaks in half and the creature emerges. Normally, it harasses pregnant women and feeds on the fetuses. If you find half of the torso and you saturate it with vinegar and garlic, the aswang cannot return to its body. ... Supposedly there's an aswang who still lives in 'Ewa Plantation Villages.

Have you ever had a visitation during one of your tours?

Once we had to stop a tour because of Night Marchers. We were at Morgan's Corner on Kionaole Road by the Ko'olau Golf Course. We had just got up there. As soon as I started talking, we heard the drums. I'm serious.

Are you afraid of ghosts or death?

No, I'm only afraid of taxes.

Reach Catherine E. Toth at ctoth@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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