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William K. Kikuchi

It was a very ancient belief was that one manifestation of the soul was in the form of a fireball. The Pele family of demigods manifested themselves as red- colored fireballs. Sorcerers sending captured spirits on errands to kill, sent fireballs. Among the people of these islands, the native Hawaiian, Japanese and Filipino cultures had fireballs in their folklore. However, it was the shape, size and color that differentiated the fireballs among these cultures.

Nearly everyone who lived in the Lawa'i Stables plantation camp # 1, be they Filipino or Japanese, had in their lifetime seen fireballs bouncing about in their village. Everyone that I met could tell me of someone besides themselves who had seen these fireballs. In this camp, the frequency and the location of the fireball sightings could be traced to manure pits in the area. The villagers did not recognize the pits as the cause of these flaming spectacles. It is likely that the fireballs were ignited methane gas caused by the decomposition of the manure.

The fireballs called hinotama (Japanese) are believed to represent the souls of the dead. Their appearances before people were interpreted as warnings from departed family members that something was amiss. Usually this message had to do with the care of family graves, offerings at the family shrine, or family problems. Although fireball sightings were said to be common, most viewers were frightened by them.

Other kinds of fireball phenomena, either supernatural or natural, were usually interpreted culturally, that is, the viewer would interpret the sighting from the viewpoint of his or her own ethnic background. My uncle, Mr. John Nishi, a supervisor for McBryde Plantation, told me the following story.

One clear night, gangs of workers were preparing the sugar cane fields for planting with trimmed stalks of cane. The fields were located high enough in elevation that the seashore and the horizon could easily be seen in one direction and mountains in the other. Suddenly, a bright flash was observed. The workers looked up in the sky to see a brilliant blue streak, the light of which illuminated the field. Other workers stated that the streak came from the horizon and disappeared over the mountain. The workers believed this to have been a supernatural event: a fireball or a flying saucer.

In all probability this was a bright meteor, although no one else on Kaua'i or in the rest of the Hawaiian Islands reported seeing it. No doubt this incident caused many new stories to be told for years to come on Kaua'i.