Understanding Sharks in Hawaiian Culture

Published on
17. November 2020

Pua ka wiliwili, nanahu ka manō: Understanding Sharks in Hawaiian Culture

Noelani Puniwai


Kanaka Maoli (Indigenous Hawaiians) are blessed with a written literature that documents observations and relationships with their environment in the form of chants, stories, and genealogies passed down orally for centuries. These literatures connect them to their ancestral knowledge and highlight species, places, and processes of importance. Such sayings as Pua ka wiliwili, nanahu ka manō (When the wiliwili blossoms, sharks bite), from the Kumulipo (a Kanaka Maoli creation story), are examples of the place of nature, humans, and a specifijic creature—here the shark, or manō—in ecological phenology. This article focuses on manō because of the importance of manō in Hawaiian culture and the availability of historical references, in contrast to the relatively little available scientifijic knowledge. Manō are understood through Hawaiian Indigenous science in their roles as ‘aumakua (guardians) and as unique individuals. By using manō as a lens through which to recognize the uniqueness of the Hawaiian worldview, the author highlights the classifijication system developed and applies this framework in analyzing management scenarios. She argues that using Hawaiian Indigenous science can help adapt new ways to classify our environmental interactions and relationships that will bring us closer to our living relatives. Management decisions regarding culturally important species need not be based solely on the most current Western scientifijic data but can utilize the much longer data set of knowledge stored in Kanaka Maoli oral literature.

Human Biology 92(1), 11-17, DOI: 10.13110/humanbiology.92.1.03


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