Two Questions that I am very often asked, deal with mythology and so I have decided to put the answers here on this page. The first deals with "Shark gods" and the second is about the origin of "Shark Teeth Necklaces".

Read on...

Following a Question about Shark-Gods, I decided to do a little research about the subject.


The Fiji Islands have their own Shark God and during my stay there, I had the chance to learn more about DAKUWAQA - The Fierce Sea God.

Legend has it that Dakuwaqa was an angry, fearless, headstrong and jealous Sea God. He was the guardian of the reef entrance of the islands. Ever so often, he would change himself into a shark and go patrolling the islands harassing, challenging and fighting all the other reef guardians.

One day, the Octopus God of Kadavu, decided to teach Dakuwaqa a lesson. He secured himself to the coral with four of his tentacles. With the other four, the octopus grabbed Dakuwaqa in a strong head grip.

Shark grabbed by octopus

There was no way for the fierce shark to escape and after a long time struggling, he gave up. The Octopus God then told The Shark God that he would release him on two conditions! The first was that Dakuwaqa would stop being angry all the time and the second, to promise to stop harassing all Octopus and other beautiful creatures that live on the reefs.

From that moment on, Dakuwaqa not only started to protect the reefs and the creatures that live there, but also to protect the divers and the shark feeders that respect Fiji's magnificent underwater world. Even today, when local fishermen go out fishing, they ceremoniously pour a bowl of yaqona (the local Kava beverage) into the sea for Dakuwaqa to ensure their safe return.


Kahu (Rev.) Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr.,
("Uncle Charlie", as he is affectionately known) is a very well respected "Kupuna" (Elder) in the Hawaiian Community and all throughout Polynesia. He is also the curator and cultural consultant, for sharks at the Maui Ocean Center and is linked to sharks spiritually. When I asked him about the subject of Shark Gods, this is what he wrote.
Kahu (Rev.) Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr.

To get the right prospective on our culture, one must know the ancient history to really appreciate our association to the land and the animals within. For the Hawaiian people our islands were created by primordial gods and goddess and our chant called the Kumulipo Chant (Creation Chant) tells of how the earth was formed and each living thing was born and the last being the emergence of man. These islands including the channels, Rivers Mountains and districts were named a thousand years before our people came with their wa'a kaulua (double hulled canoes).

Unlike Capt. Cook, they did not stumble on the island so when they came in the 3rd Century, women, children, plants, animals, gods and goddess were brought here with them. Our people conveyed spiritual importance to animal deities that was created to protect them and their life style. The most important is the Shark, which is still held in reverence by our people today. From all the animal deities, the shark is the greatest 'Aumakua (guardian).

Eons before the missionaries introduced their concept of one God to Hawai'i in 1820, Polynesians had an intricate Nature-oriented belief system. A host of deities called 'Aumakua could be called upon for protection, comfort and Spiritual support. The first 'aumakua were thought to be the Offspring of mortals who had mated with the akua (primary Gods). Among the most important of the primary gods were Ku, Kane, Lono and Kanaloa, but it was the 'aumakua that Commoners could call on in an easy, less ritualistic way.

'Aumakua were often ancestors whose bones had been especially stripped of flesh upon death, wrapped in kapa and ceremonially prepared before the bones were placed in the custody of another descendant.

When an individual died, it was thought the spirit of that person jumped from a rocky precipice, a leina or soul's leap, designated on each island, to begin its journey to the ancestral homeland. In a shadowy place called Po, the ancestor spirits lived with the supreme gods and were transfigured into God-spirits, whose mana, or power, was almost as awesome as that of the akua.

Uncle Charlie and his 'Aumakua
Kahu (Rev.) Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr. meets his 'aumakua, the shark, at the Maui Ocean Center aquarium

The spirit of a deceased ancestor first might serve as an 'unihipili, a deity who granted requests for mercy and gave warnings of pending disasters or destruction. The earthly individual who safeguarded the bones of the 'unihipili could summon him for guidance. If the 'unihipili was especially deserving, he became an 'aumakua, an ancestral god honored by his descendants and easily approachable in times of need.

Mary Kawena Pukui, a revered scholar of Hawaiian culture, who died in 1986 at age 91, explained: "As gods and relatives in one, they give us strength when we are weak, warning when danger threatens, guidance in our bewilderment, inspiration in our arts. They are equally our judges, hearing our words and watching our actions, reprimanding us for error and punishing us for blatant offense."

An 'aumakua could manifest itself in varying forms such as a shark, a sea turtle, a hawk, a lizard, a pueo (owl) or any other animal, plant or mineral. Members of the family were said to recognize their 'aumakua, no matter what form it chose, whether it be an insect on land or a crab in the ocean the following day. The ancestral god might appear in a dream to furnish guidance or spiritual strength in difficult times. When a fisherman or craftsman was especially successful, credit was often given to his 'aumakua for intervening with the principal gods to impart the mana, or power, that enabled an earthly being to develop such skill. Many a canoe paddler has told of being lost or in danger between the islands, only to be guided by his 'aumakua in the form of a dolphin or shark to a safe landing.

Pukui explained in her book "Nana I Ke Kumu," that three types of strength were sometimes imparted when an 'aumakua took possession of a human being. Temporary energy, 'uhane kihei pua or "flower mantle energy," would allow a woman sick in bed to get up and do necessary chores, but the moment the 'aumakua would leave, the woman would be weak and sick again. Complete possession by an 'aumakua, called noho, would provide supernatural strength in times of emergency, or in another case, might cause a reversal of one's character. For example, a quiet, retiring person might suddenly be loud and boisterous. The third type of possession was ho'oulu, which could enable a mediocre dancer to achieve a measure of greatness, perhaps during the performance of hula, or in competition during games.

In ancient times, families were careful not to eat certain forms of animal life if their 'aumakua was thought to appear in that form, for if they did, they knew the punishment could be as severe as death. Offerings of taro leaves with sincere prayers could abate the anger of an offended 'aumakua.

Until today, families still claim certain animals or birds as their personal 'aumakua, and the more powerful 'aumakua, such as the goddess Pele, continue to be honored, though in increasingly modern ways. Long ago, Hawaiians showed there respect to Pele by never eating 'ohelo berries until some had been offered to the goddess at the crater's edge. Today, more often than not, offerings to Pele involve a bottle of gin tossed into Halema'uma'u Crater at the outset of an eruption. Few people question the existence of this capricious goddess, preferring instead to quietly respect her domain in the hopes that she will treat those who live on her mountain slopes with respect in return. People still insist she appears on the roads around Volcano sometimes as an old crone with a little white dog, sometimes as a tempestuous young woman with flowing black hair.

In any case, long after the principal gods lost their notoriety once the state religion had been replaced by Christianity, the 'aumakua have continued to be remembered with fondness and reverence by many a Hawaiian family.

I asked "Uncle Charlie" if there are any pictures or images depicting `Aumakua. He sent me this Picture of a Tiger Shark, With the following note.

Tiger Shark

I am sending you a picture of a tiger that we released after housing him at the Maui Ocean Center where I work as a cultural consultant. We catch the sharks and I bless them and when they want to be returned,. we take them back to the sea. Alive and well. Alex, that photo is a representation of our Aumakua. Like you cannot see the lord, neither you can "see" the shark god. Only the ones that they serve can see and take care of the aumakua. If you have not been brought up with our culture from young, its hard to understand, but its serves the purpose.


Uncle Charlie

P.S., I openly talk about the shark because I too am thriving for its preservation. Before I sent you the information and picture, I checked out your website and found that it promotes preservation of the shark. Mahalo

Thank you Uncle Charlie...

COOK ISLANDS -Legend of Ina and the shark

The Cook Islands has its share of legends, myths, and folklore. One famous legend that of Ina and the shark is so popular, it was put on the face of bank notes issued to commemorate the 6th festival of Pacific Arts Rarotonga Cook Islands in October of 1992. There are many versions of this legend.

Cook Island Bank Notes

Ina was the love of Tinirau, the god of the ocean who lived on a floating island. One day Ina jumped into the sea in search of Tinirau, but since the sea was so big, she was continually tossed back to shore by its gigantic waves. She enlisted in some fish to help her swim, but they were too small to carry her, so in her frustration, she beat them with a stick, permanently marking their bodies. This is how the angelfish got their black stripes. Eventually a shark agreed to carry her on his back.

For the journey she took some coconuts with her, for food and drink. After some time, Ina became thirsty, so the shark raised his dorsal fin so that she could crack a coconut and partake of its milk. This she did and it satisfied her thirst. She then relieved herself on the shark, who wasn't too happy about that and warned her not to do this again. This is why islanders complain that the shark meat smells of urine.

Again Ina became thirsty and this time she cracked the coconut on the shark's head. One version of the story says that this is how the hammerhead shark came about. Another story says that this is why there is a bump on a shark's head, which is to this day called Ina's bump.

Reeling from the pain, the shark tossed Ina off his back dived below the waters, leaving her to flounder in the sea (one version says he ate her, but that isn't the nicest end to the story). Finally Tekea the Great, the king of all shards rose from the bottom of the sea and rescued Ina, He then carried her to Tinirau's island where they were finally reunited.


Another common question that I get deals with the origin of the Shark Tooth Necklace. I had a very vague memory of the story so I asked around and got back a message to check out the Keith R Hamlin's website. This is what I found out.

Keith writes:

The Legend of the Sharks Tooth

(Or how to be a little superstitious as a diver)

I remember a friend handing me a small sharks tooth about 25 years ago, and telling me a story about how I should keep it on me at all times when I was diving.....

Well, I think I know where that tooth is, but would not care to wager on it's being there.... That garage of mine can hide a lot of stuff....

But I have kept a tooth on for every dive I have ever made since then. I looked back on a few old pictures and there it was, one or another, and I was getting about a new tooth every year there for a while, but have a nice Mako Shark Tooth now. They have been big and small, some fossils, some new, but always there.

I was foggy on the whole tale of the tooth, even though it had been told to me that day I got my first one, until recently when a friend dug up the tale for me someplace.

The tale starts in the South Pacific. Back in the days of the forming of the seas, and when the rains were pouring from the heavens to create our seas, the God of the Seas, called Ohav-Lai was challenged for supremacy of the seas by the man eating shark.

Well, legends tell how the battle raged on for a day in the depths of the Pacific.

Eventually Ohav-Lai came forth from the seas, with a large tooth from the shark around his neck.

So now, as the legends say, and the South Pacific natives believe, the tooth of the man-eating shark brings long and prosperous life, free from harm, particularly that from the sea. I am told that the divers in the seas there will not enter the water without a tooth.

Anyway, that is the legend, and I just pass it along, so next time I am asked why I always have mine on, especially for a dive, I can probably remember the story a bit better......

So that is were the origin seems to be. I personally do not agree with the idea of having a "Fresh" new white shark tooth around my neck. The reason is that the more people that buy or get fresh shark teeth, the more the sharks are hunted and killed for them. It is better to have an old fossilized tooth than a new one.

My thanks to Keith for allowing me to use his text here. His page can be found on the following link: WEBDIVE.COM

Sharkman Graphics Logo
Web design & graphics by Sharkman Graphics.
Copyright ©Sharkman's Graphics™