Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Before They Were the Enemy

August 13th, 2010 · No Comments


Okay, so maybe our species doesn’t really kill 100 million sharks per year, as is so widely reported. But even if the true figure is closer to 26 million, that’s still a heckuva lot of fish—and far out of proportion to the number of humans who annually perish in shark attacks. Blame Jaws if you must, but it’s obvious we have little respect for the sharp-toothed kings of the sea.

And so it’s instructive to note the relationship that Hawaiians of yore had with sharks, which could be accurately characterized as intimate. A presentation before the Hawaii Historical Society, dated 1892, delves into the curious love that the islands’ residents felt for the seaborne carnivores among them:

The shark was perhaps the most universally worshipped of all the aumakuas, and, strange to say, was regarded as peculiarly the friend and protector of all his faithful worshippers…Each several locality along the coast of the islands had its special patron shark, whose name, history, place of abode, and appearance, were well known to all frequenters of that coast. Each of these sharks, too, had its kahu keeper, who was responsible for its care and worship. The office of kahu was hereditary in a particular family, and was handed down from parent to child for many generations, or until the family became extinct. The relation between a shark-god and its kahu was oftentimes of the most intimate and confidential nature. The shark enjoyed the caresses of its kahu as it came from time to time to receive a pig, a fowl, or some other substantial token of its kahu‘s devotion. And in turn it was always ready to aid and assist the kahu, guarding him from any danger that threatened him. Should the kahu be upset in a canoe and be in serious peril, the faithful shark would appear just in time to take him on his friendly back in safety to the nearest shore. Such an experience, it is said, happened to Kaluahinenui, the kahu of a certain shark, while voyaging in the Alenuihaha channel. The schooner was overtaken in a severe storm and was lost with most on board. In her distress Kaluahinuenui called upon her shark god, Kamohoalii, who quickly came to her rescue, taking her upon his back to the neighboring island of Kahoolawe.

I do wonder whether the makers of Jaws IV: The Revenge were familiar with the Hawaiian notions of shark intuition and locomotion, and used that information to justify their seemingly ridiculous concept.

(Image via Cartoon Scrapbook)

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