What Does The Shark Symbolize in Hawaiian Culture? [Highly Respected]
There are many shark images in Hawaiian culture. They show up in art, on tools, and in stories. Visitors to Honolulu’s Bishop’s Museum can see old tools and weapons made from shark’s teeth, as well as drum heads made from shark skins.
In 1991, after a shark attack off Maui that killed one person, the state of Hawaii gave permission for a shark hunt. This is how cultural teacher Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr. brought attention to the cultural importance of the shark to the rest of the country. He stopped the sharks from being killed off because he knew how important they were to the Hawaiian people. But why are sharks so important to the Hawaiian people?
To understand why sharks are so important in Hawaiian culture, you need to know about ‘aumkua. ‘aumkua are spiritual members of a human family who take the form of an animal or object. In Hawaiian culture, everything, including animals, plants, rocks, rainbows, and clouds, has its own energy or spirit. This makes it possible to talk to one of Kane, Ku, Lono, or Kanaloa, the four great beings.
These things or animals aren’t worshipped directly. Instead, they are seen as ways to connect with the god or goddess, or as doors to the god or goddess. They are treated with a kind of reverence that may be like how Christians treat the cross or the grail. Their presence is sought out during celebrations and times of trouble, and they help heal, give advice, and protect a certain family. Maxwell says, “Commoners [people] could call on the aumakua in an easy, less ritualistic way.”
As shown in the book “Hawaiian Shark Aumakua” by ethnographer Martha Warren Beckwith: “[Sharks] are, in fact, thought to be the spirits of half-human beings who, after being made strong through prayer and sacrifice, take up residence in some shark body and act as supernatural counselors to their kin, who then worship them as household gods.”
Belongs to the Family
Most Hawaiian families have more than one ‘aumkua, and the shark is a common one. Like dolphins and whales, sharks swim in the ocean. People like them because they are smart and caring. In the past, people thought that shark ‘aumkua came from aborted fetuses that were never born and could not live on their own. The fetus would be taken to the sea and fed to the sharks. It would then grow up to be a baby shark named ‘aumakua. This is how the family and the shark became connected.
Families who live near the ocean often have shark ‘aumkua in their homes. The cowry shell, limpet, squid, and eel are also sea ‘aumkua. Each Shark ‘aumakua has a keeper, or kahu, who is a family member who takes care of it. The kahu would feed the shark that belonged to its family by pouring buckets of awa into the water, making feeding ponds around the islands. Even now, sharks still live in some of these places in healthy numbers.
When their family is happy or sad, the shark ‘aumkua may show up to them in a vision or dream, or in the ocean when a family member is there. It’s said to be either male or female, red, shiny, light-colored, or spotted, and either a man or a woman. It can be called upon by family members to act as spiritual guides, keep them from drowning, or help the household get food. There are many stories about sharks leading lost swimmers back to the shore. If a family member dies, look for patterns in nature, like a shark next to a humpback whale under a rainbow. These are important signs in Hawaiian culture.
Maxwell told The New York Times, “The shark’s job is to get rid of the dead, dying, and sick from the ocean.” “It is the most important predator for keeping the fish population in balance. Hawaiians learn from a very young age that everything in their environment is linked. We want to remind it of its job as a guardian of the ocean and teach people to treat its home with respect.
There are many stories about different sharks. A popular myth about the Great Shark War says that sharks that ate people were driven out of the group. Mary Kawena Pukui, a historian, says that sharks that ate people, like the tiger shark or the great white, were called niuhi. In the past, only chiefs, who were the leaders of the land, were brave and skilled enough to catch a niuhi, and women didn’t usually eat its meat. But it is said that the mother of King Kamehameha I, who united the Hawaiian Islands in 1810, asked for the niuhi’s eyes while she was pregnant to give her child more courage and leadership skills.
Most of the time, ‘aumkua are ancestors. This is because a family member who has died comes back in a different form. When the body is returned to the Earth, it feeds the soil, the plants, and the animals. This is a cycle of life, death, and rebirth. In Hawaiian culture, it is clear how plants, animals, the elements, and people are all connected. “We are all connected” is more than just a sentence; it is a way of being.
Doing a dive with the “Aumkua”
Even today, sharks are still important in our culture. The Shark Dive program at the Maui Ocean Center is part of a new trend in the United States, where people can pay to dive in one of the huge open tanks. Divers can go into the 750,000-gallon Open Ocean exhibit at the Shark Dive. This exhibit has 60 species of fish, such as black tip reef sharks, sandbar sharks, and a tiger shark.
Maui is always sending animals back into the ocean and getting fresh water from Maalaea Bay, which is close by. Divers can get close to sharks and learn to respect this often misunderstood animal through the Maui Ocean Center’s program. The program also includes a 15-minute video introduction by Maxwell that talks about sharks in Hawaiian culture.
Topic: What Does The Shark Symbolize in Hawaiian Culture? [Highly Respected]
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By: Travel Pixy