Hunger: a Hawaiian Shark Tale

Imagine hunger.

Not midnight snack hunger.

Not I-had-to-skip-lunch-for-an-office-meeting hunger.

Not I’m-on-hunger-strike to save the penguins hunger.

Insatiable hunger.

Hunger for flesh, hunger for blood.

Hunger for human flesh and blood.

And no matter how hard you try, it just won’t go away.

Like the living shark mouth that adorns your back, between your shoulder blades.

Always hungry.

A reminder of your ancestry, a harbinger of your destiny.


Our tale takes place on three Hawaiian Islands: The Big Island (specifically the Waipio Valley), Maui, and Molokai (in particular, the sacred grove of Kainalu).

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If you look at the map, you’ll see why a shark-man would take that route.

If the story didn’t end on Molokai, it very well might have gone on to Oahu; The shark-man might have ended up in Honolulu.

Shark-man, you ask?

Shark-man, indeed…


Nanaue was fed the flesh by his grandfather.

Dog meat and pork.

Dog meat and pork, to become a man.

Blood, to become a man.

The shark-mouth on his back grew teeth.

The Hunger had started.


Nanue was a good son; he tended his mother’s fields of taros and potatoes. He wore a kihei, a scarf to hide the shark mouth on his back. His mother’s property was close to the ocean, close to the waters she had played in as a girl.

The waters she played in when she met the King of the Sharks.

The waters where people went to swim.

Nanaue was kind.

He warned them.

He instructed them.

He really tried.

“Don’t swim alone, or you might get eaten, heed to tail.”

They never listened.

When someone ventured out alone,

Nanaue assumed his true form.

The form of his father, Kamohoalii, the God-king of all sharks.

Kamohoalii of many forms, many shapes.

But still, always a shark.


If you find yourself lost at sea, you need two things:

  1. a kahuna, which according to Pukui & Elbert (1986) is a “priest, sorcerer, magician, wizard, minister, expert in any profession”.
    Who am I to question Pukui and Elbert?
  2. Awa, better known as kava, which is both a narcotic and an entheogen.

Between these two things, you might gain the benefaction of Kamohoalii, the God-king of all sharks. If the kahuna pours the awa into the waters for Kamohoalii to drink, the shark god will guide the boat to safety.

Guaranteed, or your kava back.


When Kamohoalli first saw Nanaue’s mother, he was love struck.

There she was; bathing in the moonlight.

Brave – alone.

Beautiful – alone.

He longed for her.

He spied on her.

And when the moment was right, he came to her, in human form.

He raised the waters to scare her, and he rescued her from the peril he had engineered.

She fell for his ruse; she was taken in by his beautiful form.

She accepted him as her husband – he took her as his wife.

But he only came to her at night, for by day he ruled the oceans.

Then there was another heartbeat – a new life grew inside her.

Kamohoalli knew it was time to leave.

He left her with only one instruction: never let the child taste flesh.

The child was born – a beautiful baby boy.

Perfect in every regard.

Perfect, in spite of the shark mouth on his back.

No, that wasn’t it at all.

Perfect because of the shark mouth on his back.

He made his mother proud.


Nanaue was fed the flesh by his grandfather.

Dog meat and pork.

Dog meat and pork, to become a man.

Blood, to become a man.

The teeth grew longer.

The teeth grew sharper.

The once clear waters were now tinged with blood.

Sacrificial offerings to the son of the shark king.


It was only a matter of time before Nanaue was discovered.

As the son of the shark king, he was spared his life.

But he was forced to flee.

He swam to Maui, where he tried to live a simple life.

He met a girl, got married, did the equivalent of a nine-to-five job.

And got bored.

Within six months, the Hunger was back.

This time, there were no coy warnings.

Only wanton gluttony.

When he was found devouring a girl, his time was up.

Once again, Nanaue fled.


There is something very peculiar about the bamboo grove in Kainalu, on the island of Molokai.

The bamboo in the grove is blunt; regular bamboo is very sharp. Not the bamboo in this particular grove.

Botanists have their answers; story-keepers have better ones.

This is where Nanaue was flayed alive; cut into strips while in his shark form, and cooked.

Perhaps fitting that the eater be eaten.

His father did this to the bamboo as a tribute to his son.

He rendered the bamboo harmless.

He blessed the bamboo blameless.

Perhaps he wept for the son he never knew, the child that turned into a monster.

Perhaps he wept for himself.


Nanaue was fed the flesh by his grandfather.

Dog meat and pork.

Dog meat and pork, to become a man.

Blood, to become a man.

There is no hiding from the Hunger.

The Beast will feed on the blood of the innocent.


By the time Nanaue made it Molokai, he had abandoned the last vestiges of his humanity.

Why be human at all? It just gets in the way of Feasting.

However, his reign of terror was short lived. He was dragged to land by the locals, with the intention of being cooked.

When he proved too large for their fire pit, the humans took to skinning him alive with bamboo poles.

One slice at a time, they peeled off his skin.

They ripped apart his muscles.

They slashed away at his organs.

Nanaue watched as his body was flayed, one piece at a time.

Torn apart and cooked in front of him.

Did he beseech the oceans?

Did he cry out, father, why have you forsaken me?

If he did, Kamohoalli remained silent.

There would be no intersession, no divine involvement.

If the son called, the father did not answer.


This is where the story ends.

There might be a moral or two in here, but I’ll dance my way around that business, except to say…

The Hunger manifests in a lot of ways; there have been time I’ve sacrificed parts of my humanity to let my demons feed, just like Nanaue.

I guess the trick is to find your way home, before you reach Molokai.

Not all of us are that lucky.

Some of us don’t remember which way home is, if it even exists.

Still, we can buy a little time,

before we reach Molokai.

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