Natural History of Sharks,
Skates, and Rays
Sharks and Hawaiian Culture
MARE 394
Dr. Turner
Summer 2008
Sharks & Hawaiian Culture
Knowledge of shark names used by
ancient Hawaiians
Found extensively in legend, place-names
folklore, customs
Gods & Demi-gods
‘aumakua
Disclaimer
Many “modern” comments on sharks &
Hawaiian culture characterized as
inaccurate, irresponsible, imprecise
Language/relationship not necessarily “one
size fits all”
Disclaimer
Statements like:
“Sharks are sacred”
“Sharks were important food for Hawaiians”
“Hawaiians did not kill sharks”
May be true for some species or some
individual sharks but difficult from existing
records
Disclaimer
Ancient Hawaiian culture was very complex
in consideration of sharks
Recognized that different kinds were to be
treated in species ways unique to:
- species
- individual sharks
Sharks & Hawaiian Culture
Knowledge of shark names used by
ancient Hawaiians is incomplete
Likely specific terms relating to sharks due
to dependence on ocean & extensive
familiarity with ocean life
Sharks & Hawaiian Culture
34 species recognized (modern biologists)
9 kinds of sharks in Hawaiian Dictionary
some probably not known – deep sea
forms; unique (cookiecutter, Megamouth)
Rest probably lost
Hawaiian words for sharks
Great white shark & Tiger shark most
significant
Large dangerous sharks – niuhi
refers to both species
Hawaiian words for sharks
lālākea – reef shark with white fins
Whitetip reef shark (Triaenodon obesus)
laukāhi‘u – “much hit tail”; thresher shark
(Alopias spp.)
Hawaiian words for sharks
lele wa‘a – “friendly shark; leans on canoes”
Whale shark (Rhinocodon typus)
Hawaiian words for sharks
manō kihikihi – “angular shark”
hammerhead shark (Sphyrna spp.)
manō pā‘ele – “black-smudged shark”
blacktip reef (Carcharhinus melanopterus) or
blacktip shark (C. limbatus)
Hawaiian words for sharks
manō ‘ula – “red shark; no known species;
might mean “sacred” or “special”
Basking Shark?
Hawaiian words for rays
hīhīmanō (lupe) – stingrays (Dasyatidae) &
eagle rays (Actobatus narinari)
Sharks & Hawaiian Culture
Viewed in several ways
- Teeth used as cutting edge/knife
before Western contact
- Skins used for membrane of temple &
hula drums
- Considered to be the equal of ali‘i
- Meat rarely eaten by men; forbidden
by women
Teeth
Only some uses for shark teeth are known
Sharpest and thinnest “edge” available
Cut designs into kapa bamboo stampers &
wooden kapa beaters
Decoration; ornamentation
Leiomano
Clubs, daggers, other weapons or tools
made from shark teeth
Koa war club – tiger or great white shark
teeth
Leiomano
Fist weapon – tiger or grey reef shark teeth
Fist club – great white shark
Knives/Daggers – great white shark
Leimano
Great white shark & Tiger shark most
significant
Tiger shark teeth more common in tools &
weapons but are also more common sharks
Large dangerous sharks – nuihi
refers to both species
Tattoo You
An old Hawaiian legend tells
of a woman who freed herself
from a shark by telling it that
he was her ‘aumakua
The shark let her go and said
he would recognize her in the
future by the tooth marks he
left on her ankle
Tattoo
Since then, it is said,
some Hawaiian people
tattoo their ankles to
let sharks know that
their ‘aumakua is a
shark
Tattoo
The shark tooth pattern is
also a popular design in
kapa, or barkcloth
A feather cloak in the Bishop
Museum, belonging to
Kiwalaa`o, a fellow warrior of
King Kamehameha, is
decorated with five
equilateral triangles -- a motif
depicting shark teeth
Tattoo
Traditionally in Hawaii, the
male is tattooed on the inside
of the right leg, done as an
alaniho, or genealogical
tattoo
Tattoo
In Hawaiian tradition, you are
tattooed on the leg like that
for these reasons:
- the leg is the foundation of
who you are as a person,
just as your family is your
foundation
Tattoo
In Hawaiian tradition,
you are tattooed on
the leg like that for
these reasons:
- the body is split in 2
halves, the left side
being female and the
right side being male
Tattoo
In Hawai’i, the men are
tattooed on the left leg to
bring balance to the feminine
side and the women are
tattooed on the right leg to
bring balance to the
masculine side
Ancient Hawaiian mummies
show ancient people tattooed
♂ & ♀ on both legs
Tattoo
Still popular today as
either ‘aumakua or
good luck in the ocean
Fishing nuihi
Sharks were attracted with chum (pig,
rocks, kukui nut shells) in a bag/net
Trained like pet pigs; tickled; patted on head
Once used to
being touched;
rested chin on
head of shark
Fishing nuihi
Trained like pet pigs;
tickled; patted on head
Once used to being
touched; rested chin on
head of shark
Fishing nuihi
Slipped noose around sharks head with
palms facing outward
Tightened noose
at center of body
Nuihi: Tigers & Great Whites
Stories of sharks attacking cattle were
infrequent and often reported as tigers
Most likely Great Whites
Story of Kapa‘aheo, kohala shark god –
probably great white as well
Kapa‘aheo
Young girls would swim in Kohala; would
often disappear
When swimmers disappeared fishermen
noticed that a mysterious stranger named
Kapa‘aheo could be seen on shore
Kapa‘aheo
One day the fishermen swam out to protect
the girls when they saw Kapa‘aheo on shore
Kapa‘aheo
Surrounded girls; speared shark several
times; Finally shark swam away
Later found man dying on shore from
“spear” wounds
Kapa‘aheo
Died and transformed into stone
Nuihi: Tigers & Great Whites
Many sharks use vision to find food
Excellent vision; maybe color
Many Hawaiian legends derived from the
shark
Nuihi: Tigers & Great Whites
Kamehameha’s mother – craving for nuihi
eye; spirit of shark vision
Led to keen vision of Kamehameha’s reign
Hawaiian gods & sharks
Kamohoali‘i – Pele’s older brother; most
celebrated shark god
Kua – king shark of Ka‘ū; ancestor of Ka‘ū
folk
Hawaiian gods & sharks
Ka‘ahupāhua – chiefess of shark god of
Pu‘uloa (Pearl Harbor) vowed to protect all
from sharks - guardian since early 1900’s
Engineers did not ask permission;
Collapsed dock; problems
Hawaiian words relating sharks
ho‘omanō – to behave like a shark, eat
ravenously, pursue women ardently
kahu manō – an attendant or guardian on
an individual shark filled with a special spirit
manō – general name for shark
niuhi – “large grey man-eating shark”
Hawaiian words relating sharks
‘aumakua – family or personal god taking
the form of a living organism; shark common
manō – general name for a shark
kapua – demi-god or supernatural being,
possessing several forms, human & animal
Hawaiian words relating sharks
manō kanaka – a shark born to human
mother sired by shark; human whose spirit
possesses a shark; turns into shark
‘unihipili – spirit of dead person present in
remains; transferred into living form (shark)
‘aumakua
Under certain conditions, with the assistance
of surviving family members, a deceased
relative could be reincarnated into the form of
a shark - ‘aumakua
Beneficial guardian, family protector, fishing
helper, ‘unihipili – spirit that would do bidding
‘aumakua – also owls, mudhens, sea turtles,
eels, caterpillars, sea cucumbers, rocks,
plants
Kahu manō – shark keeper
Either a relative of
deceased or kahuna
Kahu manō – shark keeper
Took ‘awa at dawn & dusk
for three days
Until he saw that the body
assumed form of shark –
recognizable marks
(tattoo, scars)
After 2-3 days more after
strengthening of new shark
– sent for relatives
Kahu manō – shark keeper
Relatives see that deceased had become a
shark
If shark was around later would recognize it
as their family protector in the sea
What sharks were ‘aumakua?
Whitetip reef sharks – frequent same caves,
docile, relatively harmless; predatory power
of big sharks
Blacktip reef, Grey reef, Galapagos,
sandbar, hammerhead – aggregate in large
number for reasons other than feeding
Packing behavior – remain in contact with
other sharks for years
What sharks were ‘aumakua?
Lālani kalalea
- protruding line of dorsal fins of sharks
above the water
Numbered 2-4 in march to 68-171 in June
Oblivious to people, prey, baited hooks
1° pregnant ♀ sharks
Hawaiian proverbs & sayings
He manō holo ‘aina ke ali‘i
The chief is a shark that travels on land
Uliuli kai holo ka manō
Where the sea is dark, sharks swim
He niuhi ai holopapa o ka moku
Niuhi shark that devours all on the island
E ao o pau po‘o, pau hi‘u ia manō
Careful lest you go head & tail into the shark