from the book, "Petrified Lightning"
“Fear is a motive for establishing
a god and man has
worshiped at one time or another most of the living things he fears.”
“Where Sharks Are Gods”
play an important part in the lives of many of the island peoples of the
Pacific. Shark gods are still worshiped in some island communities, although
once—common human sacrifices are no longer offered to these fearsome gods. This
reverence toward the shark confirms the truism that fear is a motive for
establishing a god. At one time or another, humans have worshiped most of the
things that they fear.
many primitive religions shark worship grew into a complex belief, apparently
attempting to reconcile the shark's roles as a cunning devil and vengeful god.
The occasional human snatched from the sea could scarcely satisfy this awesome
deity, so the shark gods demanded the ultimate homage: human sacrifice. In some
Pacific islands the high priest, at a fateful time, went among crowds of people
carrying a noose similar to a shark snare. He would arbitrarily hurl the noose
into the crowd, and the man, woman, or child upon whom it landed was
ritualistically cut into pieces and flung into the sea for the ravenous shark
of sharks are an important thread in the rich tapestry of Hawaiian legends.
From the time that myths shrouded the islands, storytellers would begin, “I
will tell you of Kamo—hoa—lii, the king of all the
sharks.” Many stories that were told by fathers' fathers, including tales of Kamo—hoa—lii, are still told in various parts of the
reverence for the shark contrasted sharply with the attitude of early whalers
and other seafarers of the western world. When a shark was caught and hoisted
on board, the sailors seemed to imitate a shark's feeding frenzy as they ritually
mutilated it in an orgy of blood and fury. That the shark embodied all that was
evil seemed to justify the purposeless and shameful slaughter.
the early 1900s, when the U.S. Navy started to build a major sea base at Pearl Harbor, the dredging operations unwittingly destroyed the
remnants of an ancient shark pen. It was immediately identified by all the
native laborers present. Here, ages before, Hawaiian kings had hurled living
humans to the royal sharks, and contests were staged between ravenously hungry
sharks and native gladiators.
around the world, Roman gladiators were entering an arena to battle lions to
the death for the entertainment of the imperial rulers and aristocrats. Here
Hawaiian warriors (coerced “volunteers”) entered the shark pen and engaged in
death duels with sharks. The only weapon used by the Polynesian warrior was a
shark—toothed dagger, a wooden rod less than a foot in length and shaped like a
stout broomstick, that he gripped firmly in his hand.
Protruding from the stick were several shark teeth for cutting and a point for
stabbing. The warrior had a single life—or—death chance. As the shark charged
him, at the last instant he had to dive under the shark and rip open its belly
with his crude knife.
legends tell of warriors who were successful in killing the shark, but this
must have been very rare. Royal edicts stipulated that the warrior need only
draw blood and then he could leave the pen. He would, of course, have to escape
a slightly wounded shark, so the duel between man and shark could seldom have
ended any way other than for the man to become the shark's dinner.
shark pen was built with a large circle of basaltic rocks enclosing about a
four—acre area at the edge of a harbor. The circle had an opening on the
seaward side so that water would flow in. Fish and human bait were thrown into
the pen to lure sharks through the open passage. During a contest the pen
opening was sealed so neither the shark nor its adversary could escape.
to the shark pen at the bottom of Pearl Harbor lived
the Queen Shark, according to legend, guarded by two stalwart sharks from each
of the Hawaiian Islands. She permitted the gladiatorial contests near her
royal lair as long as she received offerings—these being, of course, human
dinners. In old Hawaii, humans were economically of less value than pigs.
of the harbor project mentioned earlier, in which the ancient shark pen had
been destroyed, was the construction of a huge four—million—dollar dry dock.
For unknown reasons the foundation collapsed, and the dry dock was destroyed.
Naval engineers and construction workers scurried around trying to find the
cause, but the native laborers knew what had happened, and why. They stated
simply, “Queen Shark is hubu (angry) and humps her
back because she hasn't received any offerings.”