COURTESY OF KAMEHAMEHA SCHOOLS
Capturing a Tiger Shark
Tomorrow we shall catch a tiger shark! That exciting thought kept Malu awake. The chief's fishermen lay in the house beside 'Aukai's shrine. The others slept. How could they sleep, Malu wondered.
Only twice had the young man gone out to catch this fierce fish. Tiger-shark fishing was a sport for chiefs, but tomorrow...! Malu tried not to think of the part he was to have. What if he failed? O gods of fishing, he prayed silently, give me skill. Give me courage.
Everything was ready. Spoiled pork -- very bad-smelling -- had been wrapped in ki-leaf bundles with shells of kukui nuts. That had been a most unpleasant job. Malu hoped the smell would bring a shark. Again his mind was planning -- planning and praying. Would he never sleep?
Suddenly he sat up. He had slept, and a wonderful dream had come -- a dream of kite-flying. His kapa kite was large, yet he pitched it easily into the air. The wind caught and lifted it. In his dream Malu was running and shouting as he paid out the cord. He felt the pull of the kite as it rose. It went higher and higher until it was out of sight above the clouds.
Then he had wakened and remembered. The men around him were rising from their mats. This was the day! He was to have an important part in catching a tiger shark and the gods had sent a good dream. A kite, flying high, meant success!
The fishermen were quiet as they gathered before the shrine. 'Aukai made an offering and prayed. He spoke quietly as he always did, yet Malu heard excitement in his voice.
The morning star was rising as the men carried the chief's double-hulled canoe into the water. A strong pole had been tied to the 'iako which held the two hulls together. To this pole Malu tied the bundle of bad-smelling pork. As he worked he prayed.
Meanwhile other men made fast bailers and extra paddles. They laid the sail ready in the canoe then stood holding their own paddles, waiting.
Out of the darkness came three more -- the chief and his two half-grown sons. They took their places in the canoe and the fishermen stepped in. 'Aukai raised the sail while the men paddled. The canoe flew through the starlit waves fast as a flying fish.
The morning star climbed high in the sky. That was the ruler. He and the other stars had watched over the ancestors of chiefs and men. Silently Malu prayed. He knew that all were praying.
Dawn came. At a sign from the master, Malu rose to pierce the ki-leaf bundles with a pointed stick. This freed the strong-smelling grease from the pork. The smell should attract a shark. The canoe sailed steadily.
When 'Aukai lowered the sail, Malu turned to look back. They had come so far he could no longer see the lowland of their island, only mountains dark against bright sky.
What was that among the waves? A fin? Suddenly a shark rose for a moment, then plunged after the canoe. Malu could see the fierce eyes gleam. He could see the cruel mouth open to swallow grease-covered water. That was good. If the shark filled himself with sea water, he would be easier to kill.
The double-hulled canoe was moving slowly and the shark swam close, eager for the pork grease. Malu laid down his paddle and took up a noose of strong hau rope. This noose was held open by a forked stick. The young man watched the wicked head come closer -- right between the two hulls.
Now was the time! At a signal from 'Aukai, Malu slipped his noose over the shark's head. He glanced back. Another noose had been slipped over the tail. Malu raised his arm and the watching men tightened ropes fastened to the nooses. They were pulling the head back and the tail forward. The great fish fought fiercely but the ropes did not break.
The chief was ready, spear raised. Now he struck and struck again. "Our enemy is dead!" he cried. "Thanks to our fish god Ku'ula."
The two boys shouted and the men joined the shout, "E! The chief has killed a tiger shark! Thanks to the gods of fishing!"
At a signal from the master, the canoe headed toward home. They had come far, and wind could not help them now. But success filled the men's hearts with joy, and paddles dipped strongly in time to a chant.
When they at last reached their landing place, the chief took part of the shark as a thanks offering to the gods of fishing. The heart was cooked, for that was food -- food to give fierce courage to the chiefs. Part of the skin would be cured to use as drum heads, and the teeth saved for carving tools. The flesh of the shark was cut into strips, salted and dried. Later it was cooked in the imu for food for those families who were permitted to use shark flesh.
Malu was eager to tell his wife the day's adventure. She shivered when he told of slipping the noose over the wicked head. "It frightens me," she said, "yet I am glad. Because of this victory you will always be victorious -- will always win. Someday you will be the head fisherman."
"Capturing a Tiger Shark" is from "Stories of Life in Old Hawai'i," by Caroline Curtis and illustrated by Oliver C. Kinney. Published by Kamehameha Schools Press, ©1970 and 1998 by Kamehameha Schools. Reprinted by permission.
"Hawaiian Folklore" is presented Mondays through the Star-Bulletin's Newspaper in Education program.