In ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs, a basic triangle symbolizes a shark’s tooth which was an instrument of great power. Shark’s teeth or niho mano were seen as protectors because some sharks or mano are guardian spirits or ancestor gods while others can be kapua which are part god part human.
Those who are fortunate enough to have a shark aumakua depend on the guardian animal for assistance in fishing, protection from dangers posed by other lesser sharks, rescue from drowning and safety from sorcery.
The aumakua might appear in dreams to give guidance or spiritual strength in tough times, warning when danger threatens and inspiration in the arts It is believed that family members will always recognize a family aumakua in any shape. There are many Hawaiian sailors or canoe rowers who credit their aumakua in the shape of a dolphin or shark for guiding them home when lost on the open water. It is said that if you remove barnacles from a shark’s skin or share a catch with them, you will have nothing to fear from your aumakua.
Interestingly, mano also means passionate lover in Hawaiian and the word ho’omano can be used to describe someone who has a voracious and lustful appetite.
Sharks teeth as ancient weapons
Ancient weapons or lei o mano used shark’s teeth as lethal weapons for cutting and slashing. War clubs, spears and daggers had shark’s teeth slotted into them, mainly for close combat. An elliptical weapon with 42 tiger shark’s teeth slotted into carved koa wood handle may have been brought to England by an expedition of Captain Cook’s. It was likely wielded by a chieftain. There is a weapon called a knuckle duster which is a club shaped like a half moon, with a cut out for a grip. Shark teeth are studded into the outer circumference of the half-circle.
Spears made of stone or wood with shark’s teeth could easily shear off a man’s limbs when thrown as a javelin from afar or cut through skin like a hot knife through butter when engaged in close hand-to-hand combat.
Attaching the sharks’ teeth securely to a strong wooden support was crucial to creating a weapon that could withstand rigorous combat. Old Hawaiian artisans refined this skill of weaponry and adopted advanced tactics such as using used the open elliptical shape to keep the weapon light enough to not quickly exhaust the warrior in a long combat.
There were also various techniques of securely attaching the shark’s teeth onto the different weapons of war. The shark’s teeth were either laced, directly pegged into, lashed to a peg or anchored to a plug, the last for small tools or small weapons that used only one shark’s tooth to lacerate vital points on the enemy’s body. These weapons embodied the undaunting fierceness and voraciousness of the mano.
Wearing a shark’s tooth is believed to invoke the protector of the mano aumakua to bring good fortune to the wearer, and protects divers and surfers from accidents and shark attacks.
In traditional Hawaiian, the tapas weavers would weave a watermark into the sleeping kappa as an artist’s signature and would use vertical rows of triangles to represent shark’s teeth. Complex triangular motifs in Hawaiian tribal tattooing and in the feathered coats worn by the chiefs were believed to embody the divine power of the shark and accorded them strength, ferocity and protection.
Legend of guardian sharks
Ka’ahupahu and brother Kahi’uka were caring and benevolent gods who assumed the forms of the mano. They protected the fishermen and marine life and fought off man-eating sharks. Kahi’uka had his mighty tail, which he used to smite unfriendly sharks or thrashed on the water as a warning signal to his fishermen worshipers. The two guardian sharks lived in caves around the lochs of Pu’uloa or Pearl Harbor and the folks would bring them food and scrape barnacles off their skin.
Nowadays, Ka’ahupahau no longer lives in Pu’uloa. However, a previous attempt by the government to build a dry-dock over her old home was unwelcomed and greeted with great fear by the natives. It was barely completed when the whole structure collapsed with a loud clash, and today, a floating dock stands in its place, While scientists attribute the fault to volcanic tremors on the ocean floor, the Hawaiians believe that her brother, Kahi’uka with the powerful tail still guards the blue lagoon in Pearl Harbor.
The Hawaiians both revere and fear the sharks, and a shark aumakua is believed to have guided the first Polynesians to Hawaii, in one version of the story. Whichever type of mano you encounter depends on circumstances, but following the Hawaiian tradition of praying to their aumakua when they enter the water can certainly help.