Ancient Hawaiian Fishing Techniques: Including How to Fight Off A Shark

While visiting the Kaloko - Honokohau National Park in Kona, I stumbled across an amazing book about ancient Hawaiian fishing techniques. The title of the book is Ka ‘Oihana Lawai’a: Hawaiian Fishing Traditions by Daniel Kahā’ulelio. It’s a compilation of articles written in Hawaiian for Ka Nupepa Kuokoaa, a Hawaiian language newspaper, with a side-by-side translation into English by Mary Kawena Pukui.

Kahā’ulelio was a Lahaina native that went on to serve as a legislator and then as the Police Justice of Lahaina. For five months he wrote a weekly column explaining almost 50 different fishing techniques. Interspersed throughout are personal experiences and anecdotes.

For example, on the section about a type of octopus spearing, Kahā’ulelio writes about how his sister was a champion of this method. She would first scatter pebbles across the surface of the water, and then spear the octopus in its lair. If this didn’t work, she would slap the surface of the water with a cupped hand, and this hollow sound would cause the octopus to shoot into its burrow where it could be caught.

Now here’s where it gets wild. The author then goes on a tangent about how his uncle and aunt fought off a shark. Yes, a shark. The couple was out spearing octopus and after catching a large one, the wife wrapped it around her body. They turned to go back to shore, but heard rustling water and turned to see a shark raging toward them. The husband fought it off with a spear and his Lua, or martial arts. He stabbed the shark repeatedly in the eye and body, which only enraged the shark and caused it to attack even more. The wife was frightened, so the husband said to her, “Do not be afraid, I will fight this shark until we reach shore. If he persists in pursuing us up to the beach, I’ll kill him.” (p. 83) The couple did make it to shore, and Kahā’ulelio says the lesson to be learned is to never go octopus spearing in deep water. Otherwise, you might be eaten like Akawa, the Chinese was.

So if you’re looking for an interesting read, please pick up this book. And if you ever need to fight off a shark, sounds like the key is studying martial arts.

PC: Bishop Museum Archives