LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Lopaka Kapanui | Program


As local people growing up here in Hawaiʻi,
we’ve been conditioned to believe that it’s a negative thing
because of, you know, the different ethnicities who come here, who’re still here. My job mainly, is not just
to tell ghost stories and to scare people, but also to clear up that misunderstanding
of what this is all about which is really, really communication. He says his spooky stories aren’t made up,
they’re based on history, experience, and a knowledge
and understanding of the unseen. Meet this Hawaiian ghost storyteller next,
on Long Story Short. One-on-one engaging conversations with some
of Hawaiʻi’s most intriguing people. Long Story
Short with Leslie Wilcox. Aloha mai kākou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Robert Lopaka Kapanui is many things including
a writer, an actor, a cultural practitioner, and even a
former professional wrestler, yet he’s best known as a
storyteller whose made a business of taking people on tours of what he calls Oʻahu’s
most haunted places. Like many who grew up in Hawaiʻi, Lopaka
first started hearing ghost stories at a young age and says he even had a few of his
own supernatural experiences. He also experienced
a scary start to his own life, but the reason for that was not supernatural. At three months of age, I was severely malnutritioned
and they said I was about the size of a rolled up
newspapers, and my mother was having an argument with my grandfather and refused to go home. So,
instead she chose that we should live in a station wagon behind a bar in Kalihi. But my health wasn’t
good and my mother didn’t have the means, financially, to take care of me in that capacity,
and so, as hard as it was for her, and she told me this
later on, she had to do something, you know, to help me and
to make sure I had a better life and her only option was to give me up for adoption, and
at an appliance store where my mom worked as a secretary,
she met a nice man who ended up becoming my adopted. My adopted parents had a little boy that they’d
lost a short time before my adoption and so this sort of all
worked out for them. The only condition after the adoption was
that my biological mother couldn’t see me. That’s the agreement she had to make, that
she wouldn’t involve herself in my life and not try to
reconnect at any point, and so she had to agree to that. And so, when did you see her again? I saw her when I was 15 years old and she
called my adopted father and told him that my biological
grandfather passed away and his last request was to have me at his services, and the funny
thing is my biological mother told me later on that she
actually had a dream of what I would look like, what I would be
wearing at the services for my grandfather, and so when I walked into Hawaiʻi Memorial,
there I was in the beige shirt she imagined me in, the white
jeans, the slippers, and my hairstyle, of all things. I guess at three months you wouldn’t have
any uh, remembrance that you were, that you had a
really tough time as a baby, that you obviously were really hungry and you were weak. How do
you look back on your start in life? I mean, kind of a tough go. You know, the funny thing is I don’t really
recall any of that. I do know that I was sick for most of my early
life, to the point that about six or seven years old, I had to go to Children’s Hospital
and I was there for a couple of months to have my kidneys cleaned
out. You know, I’m a Buddhist, so we believe in
karma. And so, I personally think that, you know,
somewhere in my past life, I was someone who caused
somebody a great deal of suffering and so, maybe it was my karma early in my life to
go through this, to eradicate all of that early so I wouldn’t
have to go through that later in life. Tell me about your adoptive family, your new
family, what are they like? You know, it’s a crazy life. I am adopted by a traditional Portuguese family. I’m a Hawaiian kid and I grew
up thinking I’m Japanese. Well you were living with a Portuguese family, so did they
have a sense of the ghosts? You know the funny thing is, they would stay
up all night with all the other neighbors and talk about
ghosts and things that happened when they were growing up and so none of us were ever
able to, to listen to that we had to go to sleep, and
you know, I used to get spankings for this all the time, I would
sneak underneath the kitchen table, because they had the big crochet cover, and I would
hide and listen to them tell ghost stories. And so, they were very, very aware of what
was going on and for the larger part of my younger years…and you know, in retrospect,
I understand now why, but my adoptive father would
always remind me that I was adopted and I wasn’t his son, you know, and we’d go out
and meet people and he would introduce my brothers and say,
oh this is, you know, my adopted son, not my real son. Father and son baseball game, my two older
adoptive brothers don’t wanna play, I’m like, dad, we can go
do it. No, cannot, you’re my adoptive son, the article
says father and son, not you. And so, one of the
things that happened is while I was in the hospital, my adoptive father was at work and
he went to use the bathroom and he said someone’s pounding on
the door, pounding on the door, turning the doorknob, and
he says outside, after he yells to cut it out, he hears a voice saying, dad, dad, open
the door, let me in, it’s me, dad, let me in. Claims it’s my voice, but knows it can’t be
me because I’m in the hospital. And he
says, whoever that is, just go away, go away, leave me alone. And then he hears the voice say, I know
why you don’t want to open the door, dad. Cause I’m not your real son. And it left. Come to find out they
had to call a Portuguese fatsera to come look at the house and she told my adoptive parents,
she says there’s three Hawaiian people buried underneath
this house and pointed to my adoptive father and said,
they’re upset at you because every day they hear you telling the boy he’s not your real
son, so they want to take him. They tired of hearing that. And so, her advice was, change your attitude
now. He’s either your
son or not your son, but you make up your mind. You must’ve been thrilled to hear that. Oh, years later on, you know, when I was a
teenager and just had enough and wanted to leave,
uh…[LAUGHS]. From Waianae, I believe you lived in…you
moved around quite a bit, as a kid? We did, from Waianae we moved to Waimalu,
and that was interesting, because we, we lived in a
haunted house and it was owned by a local Japanese family, so it had the shoji doors
and everything. And nothing quite happened that was scary
until one night, we’re sitting in the living room and the door to
the hallway is here and we had this stand-up oil lamp, the only way you could make it work
was through oil…sometimes the oil is dripping down the
thing, and we see this little Japanese boy come out the door
from the hallway, and he walks up to the oil lamp and he starts to lick it. He’s licking the oil and he looks
at us and he turns around and he leaves. Everybody’s freaked out. We call a priest, he won’t come. We
call a kahuna, who won’t come and so we call an odaisan, a Japanese, you know, person with,
with gifts, who comes to the house and we explain what
happened and that person says, oh, yes, in Japan they
have a ghost like that, it’s usually a little boy and the ghost likes to lick the oil of
the lamp. Can you get rid
of it? Ah, yes, I will ask it to go somewhere else. And he said, same time, please throw away
the lamp. [LAUGHS] [LAUGHS] Wow, so was that your first experience
with the idea of ghosts? That was the first uh, visual experience. Up until then, I always heard voices, would
have aromas around me, but never quite had the visual experience
up until that time…and soon after that I became sick, about
six or seven years old, had to go to the hospital, like I said, and while I was in the hospital,
and this is a short story, my adopted grandmother, my adopted
father’s mom, would come every day and sit with me
and I had a roommate next door, who I would play with, his name was Scotty, and after
I get out of the hospital, I found out that my adopted grandmother,
grandma Lucy, had passed away while I was in the
hospital, but they didn’t want to tell me because we’re really close, and I described
what she was wearing and my adopted father went into the living
room and brought out the picture, the black and white portrait
and it’s the exact muʻumuʻu that I saw her wearing. It turns out that that was the portrait that
was displayed at her services. My roommate Scotty, was a very famous kid,
back then he was in a commercial where he was singing a Hawaiian song and he
was very upbeat, I had no idea he was sick until one
evening, the curtains closed and I can see the doctors, hear the family, they’re working
on him, there’s crying, they leave. You can see his silhouette sit up in the bed
and I see him jump off his bed, his little shadow comes up to the partition and he says-friend,
friend, let’s play, c’mon friend, let’s go play. And I
start to get off the bed and then I hear my uh, adopted grandmother say behind me, don’t
get off that bed. I said, why? It’s my friend Scotty, he wants to play. You get off that bed, your feet touch the
floor, you go with him, you never come back. And that’s at the old children’s hospital. Lopaka Kapanui pursued several interests after
finishing school including Hawaiian cultural practices, professional wrestling, and working
in Waikiki. But it wasn’t until someone told him
about a chicken skin ghost tour led by University of Hawaiʻi professor named Glen Grant, that
he found everything he’d learned and experienced
up until that point in his life was coming together. The job you have now, the business you have,
this is all, it’s based on things that have happened
to you all along? All of my life and then I run into this guy
in 1994 who’s hosting this downtown ghost tour and I’m working
at the Halekulani at that time, and a gentleman by the name of Takeni Oshiro, who’s in charge
of the front desk, is raving about this tour, and so I
go the following Wednesday and the place is, it’s packed, a crowd
of people…and when I hear this gentleman talk and he starts to go on about these stories,
I’m astounded, I’m flabbergasted because the majority of
what he’s talking about are things I already knew growing up
and learned from my mom but the difference was there was documentation and there was
history and there was things to back up these claims so
that no one could say, well that’s just made up Hawaiian
legends, you know, old wives’ tales. What kind of documentation? He would show photographs of places that were
haunted and then produce the map as to what the place
was before. For instance, like a…the area around Aloha
Tower, there’s some sacrificial temples, there were areas where the spirits would gather
late at night, you know, to, to basically frolic, and there was a
map he showed regarding that and then it happens to be um, where the First Hawaiian Bank building
is now. And as the tour went on, more people started
to come and so, sometimes that tour would end like 2
o’clock in the morning. Um, the following Wednesday was when I was
at hula with Keoni, because he’s also my kumu hula, and he told us, so listen,
by the way, um, this friend of mine, uh, is doing this ghost
tour out to Waianae so I’m gonna do the, you know, Hawaiian part and he’s going to do the
other part, and he said, so you guys are gonna dance at
the heiau at Pokaʻi Bay. And so, he said, oh, I don’t know if
you’ve heard of this guy, my friend, his name is Glen Grant. And so, we would do that tour all the time. My
cousin and I mainly danced and one weekend, Keoni couldn’t make it and Glen was in a panic-I
don’t know your part of the tour, what am I supposed
to do. And Keoni says, oh, Lopaka knows it, you know,
he can do it. And so that’s basically how it started, after
that he called and asked, you know, more stuff to do,
would you mind? And so it eventually, evolved into being mentored
to basically take over the tour. You
know, the thing about being trained by Glen Grant and learning from him, is documentation,
research, and he actually said to me, I can get away
with mispronouncing Hawaiian names and other things, he
says, because I’m haole, so people expect me to make mistakes, but he says, you as a
Hawaiian? One
mistake you make, your own people will crucify you. So, he said, it’s harder for you than it is
for me, so you have to get your facts straight. But he was a professor so he would have to
get his science right. Absolutely, so, I remember I made a mistake
about a legend about Pele, and uh, Koko Head Crater, and
in front of a room full of people, he got up and told me I was wrong. And he said, what are you doing? You didn’t research that. He goes, don’t do that again. [LAUGHS] Glen Grant described himself as a Jewish guy
from… From Hollywood. Oh Hollywood, that’s right, I can see your
cultural interest but what was his? Glen’s story was when he moved here he was
living in a delipidated old, beat up house, on University
between these high rise condominiums and again, the short story is immediately after they
moved in, things started to happen, uh, roommate is
taking a shower and he sees his girlfriend coming towards the
shower curtain, he opens it, he’s got soap in his eyes and someone slaps him in the face
and he turns around, no one’s in the shower, no one’s in
the bathroom because it’s locked. Things being thrown
around the kitchen and so they finally call a landlord over and explain to her what’s
going on and she says to them, oh, I’m so sorry, I forget to
tell you, before you come to this place, uh, some lady live here,
her husband fool around, she hang herself in the kitchen, she hate men, so sorry. That would’ve been nice to know earlier. Yeah, so, Glen is telling me this in the old
store and he says shortly after that, all those guys that were his
roommates, one by one they were all killed in car accidents and he had a ’55 Chevy Belair
station wagon and when it got creamed by this truck, like
2 o’clock in the morning, he just walked away with a scar. So,
he’s the only one who survived and that peaked his interest in uh, ghosts in Hawaiʻi. Primarily it started to
be Japanese ghosts and then it became Hawaiian, Portuguese, and all the other cultures. And so, he
even admitted himself that he was a big chicken, first one probably to run if anything happened. Before this career there was another one,
could you tell us about that? Oh my god. I can’t believe, ok…um, I had a career as
a…as a professional wrestler for 17 years, when I
was still working for Glen Grant, I was still doing this, it was towards the end of my career,
it wasn’t becoming fun anymore, and um, his secretary,
when I’d tell her listen, I’ve got something this Saturday,
like a match or something, don’t book a tour, she’d book it anyway, and we always figured
it out. But one
weekend, I could not get out of the tour and I could not get out of wrestling the match. So, I had to figure
something out, so I got on the bus and before I got on the bus, I called the booker at the
venue and I said, listen man, I’m stuck, what are we going to
do? The booker says, I don’t know. I said, ok, let’s do this, I’m
gonna bring my tour to the venue and I’m gonna do the match and instead of the main event,
make the match first. And he says, ok. And I said, but, I’m gonna bring my tour with
me. And he’s like, oh man, I
don’t know about that…it worked out. So, I got on the bus and I said, listen everybody,
we’re going to this venue, it’s a professional wrestling match,
when the bus pulls up, you guys get out, go to the front door,
sit in the front row. I’m gonna uh, run into the ring, beat the
guy up, I’m gonna win the match, and then you go back to the bus and we’ll do the tour. And that’s exactly how it happened, I run
in, beat the guy up, 1-2-3, get the belt, run out, people go on
the bus, finally get out to the bus and get in and I’m looking at
everybody and I get on the mic and I said, so, is anybody gonna give me a hard time? No, no…then you
know, big round of applause. Lopaka Kapanui says his knowledge of Hawaiian
history and culture and the supernatural have come about through research and his own experiences
as well as the encounter of others who share their stories with him. Let me ask you, you know, I grew up in the
islands and my family’s been here a long time, generations…I don’t know what I make of
all of this, I don’t know if I innately believe in ghosts. I
totally understand that there are things that happen outside, you know, the bounds of, you
know, regular stuff, and science has…you know,
there’s all kinds of things going on beyond, beyond
perhaps, one’s ability to write it down, and you know, prove it all. So, do you believe in ghosts? Do you believe that there are actually ghosts? And what are they? A ghost is uh, something that’s residual,
that’s a recording that just plays itself back during certain times. And where did it come from? It died and then part of it is left? I mean… I have to honestly say it’s like working for
the State and the joke is you work for the State, you die, no
heaven or hell, you go back to work. So, a ghost is someone who’s been in a place
for a certain amount of time and some part of them is still there,
they’ve made some sort of impression of themselves. Like a
psychic thumbprint. Deliberately? Or this just happens? Yeah, it just happens, you know, not intentional. And so, when you see a ghost, you’re seeing
a recording, you know, an imprint of an event
that’s happened in the past. Uh, when you see an apparition,
an apparition is aware, it’s cognizant. It knows it’s not here anymore, it knows it’s
not human, but it’s here for some reason, some unfinished business. And so, if it senses that you’re psychic,
it wants to communicate with you. And what’s the downside of communication? The downside of communication is sometimes
it leaves marks. Fingertip bruise marks, scratches,
sometimes no matter where you go, you will hear a voice calling your name, you know,
and it won’t stop until you answer the phone call, so to say. It’s trying to get through all this stuff
to get the message across. And so that’s where uh, misunderstanding takes
place and people think it’s evil, it’s demonic, but
really, it’s just communication. So there is, there are no ghosts that will
harass you and drive you to your death? Not that I know of. I’ve never heard of anyone yet, losing their
life because of an encounter with something otherworldly. According to Hollywood and reality shows,
it might happen, but in real life…not so much. And there are ghosts of every ethnicity and
background around the world? Oh, absolutely, especially here in Hawaiʻi. I mean, you may not believe it, but the most
famous ghost story here in Hawaiʻi is a Japanese ghost
story. Which one is that? The woman with no face. Tell us the story. So, the short story is 19, uh, 1956, the Waialae
Drive Inn. Yes, that’s the one. Ok, that’s the obake in the restroom, right? In the women’s restroom. Uh, the double feature was Love Sways in the
Amazon and Monolith Monsters, according to the article from Bob Krauss,
who was a great guy, and it’s the intermission, the woman goes
to the bathroom, doing her business she says she sees a woman in a white summer yukata
come up to the sink, wash her hands, and the woman says
when she looks in the mirror, the lady takes her hair back
like this, has no face. That is really spooky. Yes, and so, to fast forward that event, uh,
today that ghost is still haunting that area. There’s no drive inn anymore. There’s no drive inn, but there’s a Times
Supermarket. And she’s been seen in the walk-in freezer,
and the employee bathroom, and there was also
a shopping mall. After the drive inn was demolished in ’94,
she had nowhere to go. So, she went to Times Supermarket, and then
the mall, and so, she’s been seen in the women’s downstairs bathroom at the
mall, uh, at a department store and the 8-plex theatre. So,
she’s still around. Apparently, she’s haunting theatre number
six. Why is it not okay to take pork over the Pali,
according to legend? According to the legend, and this is the short
version, Pele and Kamapuaʻa were once boyfriend and
girlfriend. Ok, she’s the Fire Goddess, he’s the Pig God. Right, right, and so, even though they were
in this relationship, Kamapuaʻa has not changed his ways and
so he’s out cavorting and Pele finds out and one afternoon he’s coming home and he says,
what a wonderous sight, a tidal wave coming from
the mountain, and he realizes it’s a tidal wave of lava, he
says, oh my god, she found out. And so he’s running for his life, papa i ko
puna pana ʻewa and a hill outside of Hilo called Kauku is where the
pig god lies flat and begins to pray and the Hilo rain, the ua kani
lehua begins to fall, they say roots from grey trees rise up and hold back the lava,
the lake of fire, and finally, when it’s all cooled off, they say
Pele appears and says, well, I can’t kill you, so what are we going
to do. He says, let’s make this agreement that from
this moment forward, the Koʻolau side of the island,
the Windward side is mine, lush, green with rain and the Kona side of every island will
be yours-hot, arid, dry. And none shall cross into the other’s territory. And Pele says, a ō ʻia, agreed. And so, if there’s
any truth to this, it is really that you can’t bring pork from the Windward to the Leeward
side. But to be
more specific, you can bring pork through the H-3, the Wilson, the Pali tunnels, but
you can’t bring it up that road at the Pali Lookout, that’s coming
from the Windward, because technically, there’s a road at the
Pali Lookout that crosses that meridian that makes it Leeward. I will send you a picture of someone who
brought pork, over the Pali, coming from that side. It’s someone who unknowingly thought he was
doing a good thing by making an offering, but come
to find out his offering was pork to the pig god, which I later
on told him, you realize you’re making an offering of pork to the pig god, do you understand
that? And he
says, why? Does it make a difference? I said, it’s like offering a mother her own
children. Under his hand,
in this picture, you see a green swirling mist, like this…um, I actually had to go
back 4 o’clock in the morning to do prayers of apology for that
guy and supplication. Because on these adventures, I’m pretty
familiar with ghosts and spirits and other things, but a lot of times, it’s foolish people
that worry me. Are there certain pathways or intergect points
that are known for ghosts? Yeah, they’re called ao kuewa, and the ao
kuewa is an opening between worlds where after you die, your
spirit is escorted to the next world by your family ʻaumakua. What about the jumping off places? There’s several on the islands. One of them is at Mokulēʻia by
Kaʻena Point, and then Maui has one known as the jumping off place for souls? Yes, that’s Kahekili’s Leap, the other one
we’re talking about is, Leina ka ʻUhane at um, right on the cusp
of Mokulēʻia and Kaʻena. Another one is Kalaeloa, Barber’s Point, and
yet, another one is now the cafeteria of Moanalua High School, and so
that’s another leaping place and Moanalua High School used
to be on my list of the three most haunted public schools on the island but it’s fallen
off since King Intermediate has taken its place. Because of what happened there before? Mainly because of the history, for instance
uh, ʻAiea High School, the famous battle of Kaeokulani and
Kalanikūpule months before the battle of Nuʻuanu, it takes place from ʻAiea High
School all the way to where Pali Momi is. The unfortunate thing about that battle is
when Kalanikūpule wins the battle over his uncle, every warrior that’s been slain on
the uncle’s side, they’ve all been left, out in the open, they have
not been given the proper burial of respect. And that’s uh, the sign of disrespect and
so the large majority of that is the grounds of ʻAiea High School,
the part of that freeway that always has accidents, Kaʻahumanu, Kaonohi overpass, which happen
to be night-marcher trails. And so, the trauma that has
caused by an incident makes a psychic thumbprint on the environment and depending on the kind
of people who are around the area determines
as to if that trauma becomes residual or cognizant. And so,
what we’re talking about when we say residual is a-a-an event just repeating itself, it’s
not aware that you’re there. Cognizant means the event is aware that it’s
passed away, it’s aware that it’s not human, and when it becomes aware of us, it wants
to interact and communicate and that’s when hauntings
happen. So many people think this is all balderdash,
it’s just, you know, ridiculous. How do you explain to
them that why you know this is true? What I always tell them is, give me a chance
to change your mind. Spend some time with me, come to
the event, come listen, and give me a chance, give me that opportunity to change your mind. You don’t
have to like it, uh, I would encourage that you at least respect it, but that’s the first
thing I say, let me change your mind, and they usually end up
becoming believers at the end. We close this program with a spooky story
that Lopaka Kapanui told a group at a Japanese cemetery in Moʻiliʻili, Oʻahu during a
full moon on the night of a Friday the 13th. Mahalo to Robert
Lopaka Kapanui of Kaimuki, Oʻahu for sharing your life stories and chicken skin accounts
with us, and thank you for joining us. Aloha nui. There was a teacher and one night she’s home,
sitting at the kitchen table, correcting papers and she’s
sort of watching TV, and all of a sudden, the TV screen goes…white poltergeist [INDISTINCT]
and the wind suddenly dies and the sound is gone. And from behind the house, somewhere near
the mango tree, she hears the tinkling sound of the chimes. Dum, dum, dum, and it’s coming around the
house outside her bedroom, the bathroom, coming around from
the living room, dum, dum, dum, and now coming up the
steps, ding, ding, and she tries to get up to see what the source of the sound is, but
she cannot move. Something is holding her down at the kitchen
table. Not even her head can move, only her eyes
can record the front door. [INDISTINCT] chimes in return, there’s a skeletal
fist with flesh falling off of it, and it walks into her living room, skeletal remains
of a woman in a faded bloodied white kimono, clumps of hair
are falling off of her skull, teeth bare, and she stands just in sight of the front
door in the living room and she says, leave my house now. For audio and written transcripts of all episodes
of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org, to download free podcasts of
Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple
iTunes store or visit PBSHawaii.org. [END]

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