Ancient Uses

Toothy Tattoos… An old Hawaiian legend tells of a woman who freed herself from a shark by telling it that he was her aumakua. The shark let her go and said he would recognize her in the future by the tooth marks he left on her ankle. Since then, it is said, some Hawaiian people tattoo their ankles to let sharks know that their aumakua is a shark.

The shark tooth pattern is also a popular design in kapa, or barkcloth. A feather cloak in the Bishop Museum, belonging to Kiwalaa`o, a fellow warrior of King Kamehameha, is decorated with five equilateral triangles — a motif depicting shark teeth. The fierceness of the shark was associated with the wearer of the cloak.

As Tools… We know only some of the uses that Hawaiians had for shark teeth. It is believed that shark teeth were frequently used as a cutting edge, functioning as a knife for tools, for cutting designs into kapa bamboo stampers, wooden kapa beaters, and for detailed carvings on decorative bases and elements of drums and gourds.

Shark skins were used for the membrane of large temple and hula drums and as sandpaper.

As Weapons… Heavy wooden clubs and daggers lined with shark teeth were damaging, even fatal, weapons.