Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Sharks! Move over Jaws and meet Tumuitearetoka!

Yes, yes, we are all terribly familiar with JAWS and monster sharks lurking in the depths just waiting for your fleshy limbs to flail by before devouring you in a horrific and painful fashion aren't we?

Before you crap yourself about getting back in the water, I think I should introduce you to the amazing Tumuitearetoka, the king of Sharks, who hails from Polynesian Mythology and Kamohoalii of Hawaiian mythology.

image courtesy: Wikia
We are so used seeing the shark depicted as something wicked and evil that some Polynesian mythology may  surprise you. In many of the Polynesian territories the Milky Way is traditionally represented as a shark, and is apparently called the "Long Blue Cloud Eater." This shark spirit can become man, in the form of tribal chiefs. These shape shifting chieftains can been good or evil depending on their personal preferences!

In Hawaiian mythology, Ka-moho-aliʻi is a shark god, and frequently swam the waters of Maui, whenever a boat was lost, the sailors would feed him an alcoholic kava drink and he would guide them back to their home port. It is alleged that Kamohoalii could also take the form of any oceanic fish. It is interesting however that Kamohoalii's son Nanaue's story isn't nearly as nice. Kamohoalii's boy unfortunately got a taste for human flesh... things got a little messy after that... You can read that myth here.

 There is also an interesting myth that I read about in The Element Encyclopaedia of Magical Creatures, by John and Caitlin Matthews. On the American Pacific coast a man and his wife were fishing, and instead of catching halibut they captured an enormous fish like they'd never seen. They cleaned and gutted it, but as she returned to the waters edge the wife was grabbed by Killer Whales. In desperation, the husband asked the Fish Chief where they would have taken his wife. He told the fisherman that his wife would have been taken as a slave because the huge fish they caught was a friend of the Killer Whales. Desperate now, the husband pleaded for anyone to come and help search for his wife. The only one volunteer was Shark. Together the man and Shark travelled to the home of the Killer Whales, where Shark grabbed the woman, throwing her into her husband's arms. He yelled at the humans to hurry away. When the people got to shore, behind them they could see a great fight happening in the water. To this day, Sharks and Killer Whales are still fighting...
Interestingly I could indeed find evidence of this.
© BBC Magazine – Peter Pyle/Oceanic Society
Image Courtesy: Discover Wild Life
I am going to warn you that if you look on youtube you may find some disturbing footage...

Now all this nice mythology is great, but as the story of  Nanaue suggests, not all the Polynesian shark myths are very nice. In fact they can be just as dismal as a Jaws sequel. One in particular is when Tumuitearetoka decided he would eat the Polynesian legendary hero Ngaru. Fortunately for Ngaru and every subsequent surfer, in an effort to out run Tumuitearetoka in the water, Ngaru is said to have created the first surfboard.

Another Fijian myth of the shark deity called Dakuwanga, says that the shark positively delighted in eating fishermen's fish, as well as the fishermen should they fall in. As it happens, the king of the octopus fought with him, and eventually they came to a deal, and Dakuwanga promised not to eat any more fishermen...

So perhaps you could say that despite the sharks scary appearance and nature, even the myths don't peg it as totally malevolent being... which some people (the Premier of Western Australia, Colin Barnett for example) should take heed of.
Sea Shepherd Australia

As you may know from my Facebook posts last year, am proud supporter of Support Our Sharks and Sea Shepherd Australia, organisations who are trying hard to save our increasingly endangered marine life, especially the top predators, who are suffering at the hands of humans through overfishing, shark finning and general ignorance about their importance in a healthy marine ecosystem.

On that note, I hope you found this post enlightening, I certainly found the research fascinating. Have a wonderful week!
Support Our Sharks Logo
Save Our Sharks

Book Ref:
Knappert, J.,1992, An Encylopedia of myth and Legend Pacific Mythology, HarperCollins.
Matthews, J&C., 2013, The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures, HarperCollins.


  1. Another interesting look into a mythological being/creature. I learn a lot from these posts, mostly because I'm mainly familiar with the "big" branches of myths: Greco-Roman, Norse, and Celtic, with some oddball Aztec/Incan/Mayan thrown in too.

  2. Yes, I often find that learning about the more random mythological creatures gives an insight into the psyche of humanity. The fact that the shark, a creature largely feared by all is not always depicted as terrible in mythology is lesson people could take straight to the reality of the current situation (particularly in Australia where shark attacks have resulted in some terrible animal rights abuses towards any shark).