Mano, a Kanaka Maoli’s Aumakua
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. Since then, it is said, some Hawaiian people tattoo their ankles to let sharks know that their aumakua is a shark.
For ancient Hawaiians, instead of fearing the shark and holding that fear in them when in the shark’s territory, many instead considered the shark their aumakua – a benevolent guardian spirit or family protector. Even if there was fear, for Hawai’ians it was balanced with a deep respect, sometimes to the point of worship. Every island had a shark god and shark heiaus were built for feeding these creatures (via a few human sacrifices). It wasn’t that every shark was aumakua, but with some there was a direct connection, blood ties; a symbiotic relationship that is representative of the harmony of life.
Those who had the shark as their ‘aumakua wouldn’t hunt them or eat them, either. After all, it was believed that a departed ancestor took the form of a shark after death and appeared in dreams to living relatives. These Hawaiians would feed and pet a special shark whom they believed to be a relative. In turn, the shark would protect the family….
Kahu Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr. will never forget the day he saw a free diver off Moloka’i tossing away every other fish he speared. “All of a sudden, this huge tiger (shark) came up and took the fish,” said Maxwell, a former police officer who is now a cultural practitioner on Maui. “I thought he was going to be attacked. Then I realized: He’s feeding his ‘aumakua. The man said, ‘Wherever I go, this mano (shark) help me. He follow me all over.’” [Honolulu Advertiser]
This mindset seems to offer the Hawaiian a greater perspective when it comes to understanding and respecting their environment.