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The pungent scent of a strong perfume filled the night air as we stood under the second-story window of a room in Iolani Palace that once was occupied by Princess Kapiolani of the Hawaiian royal family.

Could this aroma really be the dead princess' perfume, or was it merely a melange of fragrances from Hawaii's many flowers?

That all depends on whether you believe in ghosts. Even if you don't, taking "The Ghost's Tour of Old Honolulu" may spook you a little.

The tour, which begins at dusk on the grounds of Iolani Palace and ends in the cemetery of old Kawaiahao Church across the street, is conducted by Glen Grant, a professor of American studies at Tokai International College.

Grant is a superb storyteller who says, "Many of the old beliefs are still respected by both natives and transplanted Hawaiians and should not be taken lightly."

In Hawaii, buildings and other structures are routinely blessed by a Kahuna, an Hawaiian medicine man, and sometimes also are strewn with ti leaves for added protection against spirits, he said.

Ghosts apparently are active on Oahu, for unusual happenings have been documented in such mundane settings as a school, a downtown office building, a college dormitory, a condominium complex, a visitor center and even a popular beachfront hotel.

If you want to experience ghosts firsthand, Grant suggests that you take Nuu Anu Pali Drive on west Oahu past Barber's Point around 2 a.m., walk into the woods and sit under a certain breadfruit tree. This tree is near a passageway to Milu, the other world. The lapu, or restless ghosts, inhabit the tree, and you can see their eyes staring down at you.

Or you can visit the Puu Ma Huk temple overlooking Waimea Bay on the north shore. This was the largest human sacrifice temple on Oahu, and there have been more sightings here than anywhere else on the island.

The Hawaiian ghosts of today, especially the women, are not friendly, according to Grant, who says they have returned primarily to kill men.

"The Hawaiians believed women had no power in this life but would be all-powerful in the next. So they are coming back to get even." These female spirits have no feet, he says, but otherwise look like contemporary Hawaiians.

There are three types of ghosts on the islands, Grant explained -- the lapu, choking ghosts and night marchers.

Choking ghosts sit on people and prevent them from getting up, breathing or screaming. They were especially prevalent in the Hale Nani Hotel on Kauai because it was built over a burial site. The hotel was destroyed by a hurricane in the early 1980s.

Night marchers are dead Hawaiian chiefs who appear on moonless nights. There are several places on Oahu where they march, Grant says, including Waikiki Beach and the Kawaiahao Church graveyard. The police have investigated many reports of drums and chanting on the beach but have never seen anyone there.

Of the lapu, Grant says, "If you know where they live, you will never be bothered by them, because you will not go to where they live."

During the tour, Grant pointed out three entry gates into the grounds of Iolani Palace. One was for the public, he said, another was for servants, and a third was open only to invited guests of the king.

People have reported seeing an ancient Hawaiian chieftain standing near that gate and have felt icy fingers touch their skin when they enter it.

Ghosts are prevalent on the island because many structures are built over ancient burial sites, Grant said. "So every time you cut into the earth, you set yourself up for having problems."

Here are some more of Grant's ghost stories:

A week after a visitor center was constructed on west Oahu, a black owl, an Hawaiian symbol of death, was found embedded in a glass window. The glass was changed, and the owl never returned, but many strange happenings have occured there since.

"Everything around that building is infused with spirits," says Grant. "So take a drive out there some night and check it out."

Princess Kapiolani used to care for a small prince who was the son of the king. She treated him like her own child, but he died when he was 4. Recently police were called to Iolani Palace to investigate the appearance of puddles of water with tiny footprints in them leading to a painting of the prince in Kapiolani's former room. The painting was moved to the state capitol, and there have since been reports of a small child seen wandering the halls there. Police were called to an intermediate school that was built on a site where bodies of human sacrifice victims were thrown. They discovered someone had been walking around the cafeteria with flour on his feet. They also heard chanting and drums, but saw no one.

The Contessa Condominiums in downtown Honolulu also were built on a burial ground. A woman reported riding the elevator there with three people who had no feet.

The most haunted hotel on Waikiki Beach is the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani, according to Grant. It was built on the princess' former home site and is said to be frequented by her spirit.

One of the strangest happenings ever reported in Hawaii occurred at July 28, 1952, at popular Waimia Falls. Four youths were visiting there, when one slipped and fell from the top of the falls to the pond below.

When they could not find his body, the three youths called the police, who told them, "We have never seen a corpse surface here in less than three days."

The next morning a policeman and the youths saw the body of their friend lying on a ledge at the bottom of the pool. Divers brought the body up, but when it was removed from the pool, the water in the pool followed after it.

The policeman and the youths ran from the area but were overtaken by an eight-foot wall of water and had to swim for their lives.

Grant said the pool previously was a site for human sacrifice. The ritual took three days. "They removed the body too soon," he said. "The corpse was still needed by the spirit of the pond."

Grant won't divulge whether he believes in Hawaiian ghosts but said he has enough feelings and sensations to suspect they exist. "We all need to respect spiritual realities," he says.

I don't know if I believe in Hawaiian ghosts, either, but one thing is certain: You won't catch me sitting under a breadfruit tree at 2 a.m.

Ghost tours of Old Honolulu are conducted from 6 to 9:30 p.m. The day varies, depending on the number of people who have signed up. Cost is $5 per person. For reservations, call (808) 924-1911. Bring an open mind.

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