Niuhi Sharks

In One Boy, No Water

Niuhi sharks are sharks that are aware of themselves as predators and can choose whether or not to bite humans. Niuhi sharks can appear as human.

The real scoop…

The Hawaiian word niuhi simply means big man-eating shark and is often translated as large tiger shark.

There are hundreds of legends, stories, and myths throughout the Pacific about sharks that can turn into humans, humans that can turn into sharks, guardian spirits of ancestors who assume the shape of a shark, and demi-god children born to a human and shark parent. Many of these stories can be found on the Internet.

In ancient Hawaiian legends sharks masquerading as humans had a secret: on their backs was the large, gaping mouth of a real shark! When in human form, shark men would hide their shark mouths under capes made of leaves, feathers, or kapa cloth. Usually shark men were discovered when someone removed the cape.

Since big predatory sharks tend to hunt and travel alone, most Hawaiian shark shape-shifter stories are about a particular individual and not about whole societies of shape-shifting sharks. The Niuhi Shark People of Hohonukai only exist in the novels.

In the Niuhi Shark Saga, Uncle Kahana and Nili-boy recommend wearing ti leaf leis or special tattoos to ward off sharks. While Hawaiian tattoo traditions do include patterns used to honor shark ‘aumakua as well as to identify and protect the wearers in shark infested waters, there really isn’t an anti-shark bite tattoo,  and while there are also many traditions about the healing and protective properties of ti leaves, ti leaves and ti leaf leis are not worn to ward off niuhi sharks.

In Hawaii, children are taught that the best way to avoid shark bites is to follow a few simple guidelines:

  • Don’t swim with an open wound.
  • Don’t swim in harbors or near the mouths of rivers.
  • Don’t swim in murky water.
  • Don’t swim at dusk, dawn, or at night
  • When spearfishing, keep your catch away from your body. Use a long tethering line or get things back in the boat quickly.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. If you feel uncomfortable, get out of the water.
  • If you see a shark, remain calm. Watch the shark’s body language. Exit the water slowly.

Sometimes people with ravenous appetites, particularly for meat, are called niuhi, so the next time someone says you’re pigging out, say no, you’re really eating like a niuhi shark!

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