top of page

History of Ancient Waipio Valley

Updated: Feb 8, 2023

Historic Drawing by William Ellis of the Waipio Valley – Pub 1824 Engraved by J. Archer



Hawaiian Folk Tales, by Thomas G. Thrum, [1907], at

pgs. 256-268

KAMOHOALII, the King-shark of Hawaii and Maui, has several deep sea caves that he uses in turn as his habitat. There are several of these at the bottom of the palisades, extending from Waipio toward Kohala, on the island of Hawaii. A favorite one was at Koamano, on the mainland, and another was at Maiaukiu, the small islet just abreast of the valley of Waipio. It was the belief of the ancient Hawaiians that several of these shark gods could assume any shape they chose, the human form even, when occasion demanded.

In the reign of Umi, a beautiful girl, called Kalei, living in Waipio, was very fond of shellfish, and frequently went to Kuiopihi for her favorite article of diet. She generally went in the company of other women, but if the sea was a little rough, and her usual companion was afraid to venture out on the wild and dangerous beach, she very often went alone rather than go without her favorite sea-shells.

In those days the Waipio River emptied over a low fall into a basin partly open to the sea; this basin is now completely filled up with rocks from some convulsion of nature, which has happened since then. In this was a deep pool, a favorite bathing-place for all Waipio. The King shark god, Kamohoalii, used to visit this pool very often to sport in the fresh waters of the Waipio River. Taking into account the many different tales told of the doings of this shark god, he must have had quite an eye for human physical beauty.

Kalei, as was to be expected from a strong, well-formed Hawaiian girl of those days, was an expert swimmer, a good diver, and noted for the neatness and grace with which she would lelekawa (jump from the rocks into deep water) without any splashing of water, which would happen to unskilful divers, from the awkward attitudes they would assume in the act of jumping.

It seems Kamohoalii, the King-shark, had noted the charms of the beautiful Kalei, and his heart, or whatever answers in place of it with fishes, had been captured by them. But he could not expect to make much of an impression on the maiden's susceptibilities in propria persona, even though he was perfectly able to take her bodily into his capacious maw; so he must needs go courting in a more pleasing way. Assuming the form of a very handsome man, he walked on the beach one rather rough morning, waiting for the girl's appearance.

Now the very wildness of the elements afforded him the chance he desired, as, though Kalei was counted among the most agile and quick of rock-fishers, that morning, when she did come, and alone, as her usual companions were deterred by the rough weather, she

made several unsuccessful springs to escape a high threatening wave raised by the god himself; and apparently, if it had not been for the prompt and effective assistance rendered by the handsome stranger, she would have been swept out into the sea.

Thus an acquaintance was established. Kalei met the stranger from time to time, and finally became his wife.

Some little time before she expected to become a mother, her husband, who all this time would only come home at night, told her his true nature, and informing her that he would have to leave her, gave orders in regard to the bringing up of the future child. He particularly cautioned the mother never to let him be fed on animal flesh of any kind, as he would be born with a dual nature, and with a body that he could change at will.

In time Kalei was delivered of a fine healthy boy, apparently the same as any other child, but he had, besides the normal mouth of a human being, a shark's mouth on his back between the shoulder blades. Kalei had told her family of the kind of being her husband was, and they all agreed to keep the matter of the shark-mouth on the child's back a secret, as there was no knowing what fears and jealousies might be excited in the minds of the King or high chiefs by such an abnormal being, and the babe might be killed.

The old grandfather, far from heeding the warning given by Kamohoalii in the matter of animal diet, as soon as the boy, who was called Nanaue, was old enough to come under the taboo in regard to the eating of males, and had to take his meals at the mua,, house with the men of the family, took especial pains to feed him on dog meat and pork. He had a hope that his grandson would grow up to be a great, strong man, and become a famous warrior; and there was no knowing what possibilities lay before a strong, skilful warrior in those days. So he fed the boy with meat, whenever it was obtainable. The boy thrived, grew strong, big, and handsome as a young lama (Maba sandwicensis) tree.

There was another pool with a small fall of the Waipio River very near the house of Kalei, and the boy very often went into it while his mother watched on the banks. Whenever he got into the water he would take the form of a shark and would chase and eat the small fish which abounded in the pool. As he grew old enough to understand, his mother took especial pains to impress on him the necessity of concealing his shark nature from other people.

This place was also another favorite bathing-place of the people, but Nanaue, contrary to all the habits of a genuine Hawaiian, would never go in bathing with the others, but always alone; and when his mother was able, she used to go with him and sit on the banks, holding the kapa scarf, which he always wore to hide the shark-mouth on his back.

When he became a man, his appetite for animal diet, indulged in childhood, had grown so strong that a human being's ordinary allowance would not suffice for him. The old grandfather had died in the meantime, so that he was dependent on the food supplied

by his stepfather and uncles, and they had to expostulate with him on what they called his shark-like voracity. This gave rise to the common native nickname of a manohae (ravenous shark) for a very gluttonous man, especially in the matter of meat.

Nanaue used to spend a good deal of his time in the two pools, the one inland and the other opening into the sea. The busy-bodies (they had some in those days as well as now) were set to wondering why he always kept a kihei, or mantle, on his shoulders; and for such a handsomely shaped, athletic young man, it was indeed a matter of wonder and speculation, considering the usual attire of the youth of those days. He also kept aloof from all the games and pastimes of the young people, for fear that the wind or some active movement might displace the kapa mantle, and the shark-mouth be exposed to view.

About this time children and eventually grown-up people began to disappear mysteriously.

Nanaue had one good quality that seemed to redeem his apparent unsociability; he was almost always to be seen working in his mother's taro or potato patch when not fishing or bathing. People going to the sea beach would have to pass these potato or taro patches, and it was Nanaue's habit to accost them with the query of where they were going. If they answered, "To bathe in the sea," or, "Fishing," he would answer, "Take care, or you may disappear head and tail." Whenever he so accosted any one it would not be long before some member of the party so addressed would be bitten by a shark.

If it should be a man or woman going to the beach alone, that person would never be seen again, as the shark-man would immediately follow, and watching for a favorable opportunity, jump into the sea. Having previously marked the whereabouts of the person he was after, it was an easy thing for him to approach quite close, and changing into a shark, rush on the unsuspecting person and drag him or her down into the deep, where he would devour his victim at his leisure. This was the danger to humanity which his king-father foresaw when he cautioned the mother of' 1 the unborn child about feeding him on animal flesh, as thereby an appetite would be evoked which they had no means of satisfying, and a human being would furnish the most handy meal of the kind that he would desire.

Nanaue had been a man grown some time, when an order was promulgated by Umi, King of Hawaii, for every man dwelling in Waipio to go to koele work, tilling a large plantation for the King. There were to I be certain days in an anahulu (ten days) to be set aside for this work, when every man, woman, and child had to go and render service, excepting the very old and decrepit, and children in arms.

The first day every one went but Nanaue. He kept on working in his mother's vegetable garden to the astonishment of all who saw him. This was reported to the King, and several stalwart men were sent after him. When brought before the King he still wore his kapa kihei, or mantle.

The King asked him why he was not doing koele work with every one else. Nanaue answered he did not know it was required of him. Umi could not help admiring the bold, free bearing of the handsome man, and noting his splendid physique, thought he would make a good warrior, greatly wanted in those ages, and more especially in the reign of Umi, and simply ordered him to go to work.

Nanaue obeyed, and took his place in the field with the others, and proved himself a good worker, but still kept on his kihei, which it would be natural to suppose that he would lay aside as an incumbrance when engaged in hard labor. At last some of the more venturesome of the younger folks managed to tear his kapa off, as if accidentally, when the shark-mouth on his back was seen by all the people near.

Nanaue was so enraged at the displacement of his kapa and his consequent exposure, that he turned and bit several of the crowd, while the shark-mouth opened and shut with a snap, and a clicking sound was heard such as a shark is supposed to make when baulked by its prey.

The news of the shark-mouth and his characteristic shark-like actions were quickly reported to the King, with the fact of the disappearance of so many people in the vicinity of the pools frequented by Nanaue; and of his pretended warnings to people going to the sea, which were immediately followed by a shark bite or by their being eaten bodily, with every one's surmise and belief that this man was at the bottom of all those disappearances. The King believed it was even so, and ordered a large fire to be lighted, and Nanaue to be thrown in to be burnt alive.

When Nanaue saw what was before him, he called on the shark god, his father, to help him; then, seeming to be endowed with superhuman strength in answer to his prayer, he burst the ropes with which he had been bound in preparation for the burning, and breaking through the throng of Umi's warriors, who attempted to detain him, he ran, followed by the whole multitude, toward the pool that emptied into the sea. When he got to the edge of the rocks bordering the pool, he waited till the foremost persons were within arm's length, when he leaped into the water and immediately turned into a large shark on the surface of the water, in plain view of the people who had arrived, and whose numbers were being continually augmented by more and more arrivals.

He lay on the surface some little time, as if to recover his breath, and then turned over on his back, and raising his head partly out of the water, snapped his teeth at the crowd who, by this time, completely lined the banks, and then, as if in derision or defiance of them, turned and flirted his tail at them and swam out to sea.

The people and chiefs were for killing his mother and relatives for having brought up such a monster. Kalei and her brothers were seized, bound, and dragged before Umi, while the people clamored for their immediate execution, or as some suggested, that they be thrown into the fire lighted for Nanaue.

But Umi was a wise king and would not consent to any such summary proceedings, but questioned Kalei in regard to her fearful offspring. The grieved and frightened mother told everything in connection with the paternity and bringing up of the child, and with the warning given by the dread sea-father.

Umi considered that the great sea god Kamohoalii was on the whole a beneficent as well as a powerful one. Should the relatives and mother of that shark god's son be killed, there would then be no possible means of checking the ravages of that son, who might linger around the coast and creeks of the island, taking on human shape at will, for the purpose of travelling inland to any place he liked, and then reassume his fish form and lie in wait in the many deep pools formed by the streams and springs.

Umi, therefore, ordered Kalei and her relatives to be set at liberty, while the priests and shark kahunas were requested to make offerings and invocations to Kamohoalii that his spirit might take possession of one of his hakas (mediums devoted to his cult), and so express to humanity his desires in regard to his bad son, who had presumed to eat human beings, a practice well known to be contrary to Kamohoalii's design.

This was done, whereupon the shark god manifested himself through a haka, and expressed his grief at the action of his wayward son. He told them that the grandfather was to blame for feeding him on animal flesh contrary to his orders, and if it were not for that extenuating circumstance, he would order his son to be killed by his own shark officers; but as it was, he would require of him that he should disappear forever from the shores of Hawaii. Should Nanaue disregard that order and be seen by any of his father's shark soldiers, he was to be instantly killed.

Then the shark god, who it seems retained an affection for his human wife, exacted a promise that she and her relatives were to be forever free from any persecutions on account of her unnatural son, on pain of the return and freedom from the taboo of that son.

Accordingly Nanaue left the island of Hawaii, crossed over to Maui, and landing at Kipahulu, resumed his human shape and went inland. He was seen by the people, and when questioned, told them he was a traveller from Hawaii, who had landed at Hana and was going around sightseeing. He was so good looking, pleasant, and beguiling in his conversation that people generally liked him. He was taken as aikane by one of the petty chiefs of the place, who gave his own sister for wife to Nanaue. The latter made a stipulation that his sleeping house should be separated from that of his wife, on account of a pretended vow, but really in order that his peculiar second mouth might escape detection.

For a while the charms of the pretty girl who had become his wife seem to have been sufficient to prevent him from trying to eat human beings, but after a while, when the novelty of his position as a husband had worn off, and the desire for human flesh had again become very strong, he resumed the old practice for which he had been driven away from Hawaii.

He was eventually detected in the very act of pushing a girl into the sea, jumping in after her, then turning into a shark, and commencing to devour her, to the horror of some people who were fishing with hook and rod from some rocks where he had not observed them. These people raised the alarm, and Nanaue seeing that he was discovered, left for Molokai where he was not known.

He took up his residence on Molokai at Poniuohua, adjoining the ahupuaa of Kainalu, and it was not very long before he was at his old practice of observing and accosting people, giving them his peculiar warning, following them to the sea in his human shape, then seizing one of them as a shark and pulling the unfortunate one to the bottom, where he would devour his victim. In the excitement of such an occurrence, people would fail to notice his absence until he would reappear at some distant point far away from the throng, as if engaged in shrimping or crabbing.

This went on for some time, till the frightened and harassed people in desperation went to consult a shark kahuna, as the ravages of the man-eating shark had put a practical taboo on all kinds of fishing. It was not safe to be anywhere near the sea, even in the shallowest water.

The kahuna told them to lie in wait for Nanaue, and the next time he prophesied that a person would be eaten head and tail, to have some strong men seize him and pull off his kapa mantle, when a shark mouth would be found on his back. This was done, and the mouth seen, but the shark-man was so strong when they seized him and attempted to bind him, that he broke away from them several times. He was finally overpowered near the seashore and tightly bound. All the people then turned their attention to gathering brush and firewood to burn him, for it was well known that it is only by being totally consumed by fire that a man-shark can be thoroughly destroyed, and prevented from taking possession of the body of some harmless fish shark, who would then be incited to do all the pernicious acts of a man-shark.

While he lay there on the low sandy beach, the tide was coming in, and as most of the people were returning with fagots and brush, Nanaue made a supreme effort and rolled over so that his feet touched the water, when he was enabled at once to change into a monster shark. Those who were near him saw it, but were not disposed to let him off so easily, and they ran several rows of netting makai, the water being very shallow for quite a distance out. The shark's flippers were all bound by the ropes with which the man Nanaue had been bound, and this with the shallowness of the water prevented him from exerting his great strength to advantage. He did succeed in struggling to the breakers, though momentarily growing weaker from loss of blood, as the people were striking at him with clubs, spears, stone adzes and anything that would hurt or wound, so as to prevent his escape.

With all that, he would have got clear, if the people had not called to their aid the demigod Unauna, who lived in the mountains of upper Kainalu. It was then a case of Akua vs. Akua, but Unauna was only a young demigod, and not supposed to have acquired

his full strength and supernatural powers, while Nanaue was a full-grown man and shark. If it had not been for the latter's being hampered by the cords with which he was bound, the nets in his way, as well as the loss of blood, it is fully believed that he would have got the better of the young local presiding deity; but he was finally conquered and hauled up on the hill slopes of Kainalu to be burnt.

The shallow ravine left by the passage of his immense body over the light yielding soil of the Kainalu Hill slope can be seen to this day, as also a ring or deep groove completely around the top of a tall insulated rock very near the top of Kainalu Hill, around which Unauna had thrown the rope, to assist him in hauling the big shark uphill. The place was ever afterwards called Puumano (Shark Hill), and is so known to this day.

Nanaue was so large, that in the attempt to burn him, the blood and water oozing out of his burning body put out the fire several times. Not to be outwitted in that way by the shark son of Kamohoalii, Unauna ordered the people to cut and bring for the purpose of splitting into knives, bamboos from the sacred grove of Kainalu. The shark flesh was then cut into strips, partly dried, and then burnt, but the whole bamboo grove had to be used before the big shark was all cut. The god Mohoalii (another form of the name of the god Kamohoalii), father of Unauna, was so angered by the desecration of the grove, or more likely on account of the use to which it was put, that he took away all the edge and sharpness from the

bamboos of this grove forever, and to this day they are different from the bamboos of any other place or grove on the islands, in this particular, that a piece of them cannot cut any more than any piece of common wood.

51 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All



Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page