According to Hawaiian tradition, sharks are not creatures to be feared rather they are regarded with a deep sense of respect, sometimes to the point of worship. Within the tradition it is widely believed that one’s aumakua or guardian spirit/family protector can be a shark. Some even believe these protectors to be departed ancestors who take on the form of a shark at death. They are rumored to pay visits to their living relatives via the dream world. This does not mean, however, that every shark is an guardian spirt and will be gracious to humans. It is common to identify one’s shark aumukua by very specific marking on their bodies. The believers of ancient Hawaiian tradition perceive that specific shark to be part of the family and have direct blood ties with them.
Every Hawaiian island has a shark god and a heiau or temple in which the ancients used to offer (human) sacrifices to the sharks. It is not surprising that those who had shark aumkauas won’t hunt them or eat them. Rather they would name, pet, and feed their shark relatives in exchange for protection.
This special relationship between human and shark is a common theme in ancient Hawaiian culture. There is a particular legend that tells of a woman who is captured by a shark. She negotiates her freedom by telling the shark he is her aumakua. Before her captor lets her go he tell her that he will be able to identify her based on the the toothmarks he left on her ankles. In accordance with this legend, some Hawaiians tattoo their ankles to make their connection to sharks known.
The importance and respect Hawaiian culture has for nature, and marine life in particular, is beautiful. It conveys the very simply yet essential concept of harmony between human beings and their environment!