Why the Kanak Don’t Fear Sharks

Published on
28. July 2020

Why the Kanak Don’t Fear Sharks: Myths as a Coherent but Dangerous Mirror of Nature

Eric Clua, Jean Guiart


This study focuses on the important role of sharks in the Melanesian mythology. Based on unpublished stories essentially originating from New Caledonia, we show how strong the links are between myths and the physical environment in which Kanak live. As prevalent mythical animals, sharks can indifferently play the role of avengers and righters of wrongs, or vehicles for the spirits of living or dead people. They can be either allies or enemies in wars, and their role as potential man‐killers is never overlooked. However, when humans are attacked and killed by a shark, it is always for a material reason: the victim broke a rule or a tabu, the shark was an enemy, the sharks withdrew protection, the event allowed a pregnant woman to reach a new territory, etc. Beyond arbitrary metaphysical justifications, such perceptions reflect respect for social and natural order. For Kanak ni‐Vanuatu and other Pacific Islander peoples, sharks are part of a coherent Nature that includes natural and social hazards. In the quest for sustainable development of the planet, more in harmony with Nature, so‐called ‘developed societies’ might draw inspiration from such perceptions. Indigenous understandings could also help change the globally negative perception of sharks, and support shark conservation efforts in Oceania and worldwide.

Oceania, Volume 90, Issue 2, DOI: 10.1002/ocea.5249


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