‘Aumakua and “Great Change”

It turns out there are far more complex questions we can ask about the shark in the fishpond. No, I didn’t see it yesterday, but we saw a good deal of thrashing near the dock and think it may have been snacking there. Let’s be honest: It’s cool that there is a big shark in a small area that we study. But it is a spiritual event as well as a biological one.
Auntie Donnie, professor in the UH Hawaiian Studies program and cultural teacher for the LAIP interns, gave us a little background yesterday on the shark and other spirits around the fishpond and Kaneohe Bay. When she heard there was a shark in the pond, she thought, “This is heavy.” Sharks are one form of an ‘aumakua, a guardian spirit. ‘Aumakua have connections to certain families, so this shark is related by blood to a family here. Family members can communicate with the ‘aumakua and invite them to leave or stay. Additionally, guardian spirits (kia’i) patrol the bay and make sure people are treating the land well, sharing with each other, and working hard (an approximation of the Hawai’ian word for this is pau). These spirits include Meheanu, the kia’i of the fishpond. According to legend, Meheanu brings in a lot of fish if people are pono, but can also take them away.
Auntie Donnie says the last time a shark was in the pond, a great change happened there. This could mean that the pond is already transforming, or that the kiai’i are demanding change. As researchers, we have a responsibility to honor this. So what does it mean to be pono as a scientist? We have to know our place at this site, and our responsibilities as stewards of this valuable resource. So as we look forward to great and exciting changes in the pond, we also recognize that we too have a place in making those changes.


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  • Mahalo Nui Loa

    I recently graduated from the Donahue Lab at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa and am currently a graduate student at the University of Washington. This research is funded by a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation, as well a scholarship from the Seattle chapter of the Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) Foundation.
  • “Where do ecological ideas come from? …Most do not spring deductively from the minds of ecologists, like Athena from the head of Zeus. Instead, they emerge when ecologists absorb the essential spirit of individual places– their genius loci.”

    ~Mary V. Price & Ian Billick, "The Ecology of Place"
  • “Aloha is the intelligence with which we meet life.”

    ~Olana A'i, Kumu Hula

  • “I no longer say ‘Hawaiian ways of knowing’ anymore. Because people relegate that to the margins. ‘Ways of knowing,’ as if it’s a quaint, anthropologic way of describing something outside us. No, it’s ‘epistemology,’ the philosophy of knowledge. Land educates. ‘Ike ‘aina. The land of your birth educates you. This land here educates you.”

    ~Manu Meyer

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