SHARKS AS GODS AND OTHER REPRESENTATIONS IN VARIOUS CULTURES
It’s Shark Awareness Day, and today we discuss these amazing sharp-toothed, cartilaginous-skeletoned, fast swimming fish, that’s often the subject of every diver, surfer, and beachgoers nightmares. Sharks are the oceans’ top predator who have been around for 425 million years, making them older than dinosaurs. In time with the celebration for Shark Awareness Day, we give tribute to this fascinating yet often misunderstood creature. In this article, we’re going to explore how people perceived sharks in the past vs. today along with the impact of the most famous shark film, Jaws, in our society.
Sharks as Deities and Other Supernatural Beliefs
Did you know sharks were revered as gods? Wild animals like sharks have spiritual significance in many indigenous cultures. In coastal communities and Pacific islands, sharks are an important part of their culture.
Pacific Islanders who view the sea as part of their life and origin, sharks are a powerful manifestation of their ancestors. They have an important role in the stories of the creation of many coastal communities. These creatures were respected for their power and strength.
The shark-god Dakuwaqa from Fijian mythology is one proof that sharks were revered as deities in many traditional islands and coastal regions. Dakuwaqa as legends foretold was a deity well-respected by fishermen. He was a half-man, half-shark Fijian god, protector and guardian of fishermen. Local fishermen in Fiji always remember to pour a drink into the sea in
In Hawaii, sharks were treated with respect above all other animals in the sea. Hawaiians believe in several shark deities and spirits which protect them. One of the most notable is Kamohoali’i. Kamohoali’i is a shark god and sea guardian watching over the islands of Hawaii. Kamohoali’i can transform into different sea creatures or human forms. He also controlled the fish population and was able to determine how a successful a fisherman will be.
They have a unique relationship with these creatures that allows them to think that sharks are the embodiment of gods and their family deities. It was believed that when a family member died, they could offer the corpse to become a shark. He could become an “Aumakua.” Aumakua is a guardian spirit and family protector. Once your ancestor has died, he can choose to leave the earth or watch over his family in the form of Aumakua.
The earliest depictions of shark in art were found 5000 years ago in the works of Phoenician potters. Images of sharks appeared in various vases, bowls, and mosaics suggesting that people have had encounters with sharks long before they could build ships that traveled the world. Religious relics of carved shark figures were also found affixed to a wall of a church.
In the 1700s totem poles with wood carvings of marine creatures including sharks were found in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia.
Sharks have been mentioned in various mythologies of the ancient world. In Greek mythology, a goddess named Lamia was imagined as a massive shark. She was portrayed as a dangerous sea monster with an appetite for young children.
The Greek poet Homer also mentioned sharks in his famous epic Iliad. In the story, a young lad going by the name Akheilos boasted about his ferocity to the goddess Aphrodite. Aphrodite didn’t like his daring and punished the boy by turning him into a shark.
Sharks as the “Hunted”
The invention of the ship allowed humans to explore the deep seas and eventually encounter sharks. Sharks became a part of the seafaring lore, often demonized because of their ravenous appetite for man. When four people were killed by sharks in New Jersey in the year 1916, sharks became a symbol of fear and danger. Various tools and repellants were used to protect sailors navigating the oceans.
Many countries around the world ban hunting sharks especially those that are endangered. However, in some countries like China, India, and Indonesia, hunting shark for food is a legal business. In fact, Chinese people are known for their shark fin soup which is a delicacy that has been spread all over the world. Though fear and loathing for sharks were already established in the past, sharks weren’t as hunted and endangered as they are now.
While the rest of the world fears sharks, in some villages in Papua New Guinea, sharks are “called” and hunted using snares. Shark calling as the residents call this ability is seen as a “divine right.” The Papuans believe it’s a skill that only a few are bestowed and thus must come from God. These people lured sharks and hunted them down using snares.
Sharks in Modern Culture and the Impact of Jaws
Our universal fear of sharks was a modern idea propagated by western culture. No thanks to Jaws and other similar “killer shark” films, sharks are popularly known as the ocean’s man-hunting beast that should be feared and hunted today. Despite being far from the truth, sharks have been portrayed in this light ever since these popular films dominated Hollywood and the world media.
Jaws first hit the wide screens on June 20th, 1975. The film was all about a terrifying sea monster, in the form of a great white shark. Years later the hunting of sharks rose worldwide. Shark educators and conservationists point out the film as one of the many films to blame for the current widespread hunting of certain species of sharks leading to their endangerment and possible extinction.
One of the many mistakes of the film was its portrayal of the great white as a mindless killer and vengeful predator that can settle a grudge and target specific people.
Should We Fear Sharks?
Are you scared of swimming because of sharks? You’re not alone. Fear of sharks is a common fear shared by millions in the world. Sharks are getting a lot of hate and abuse. Sharks kill around ten people a year, but humans kill 100 million sharks a year.
Who is the real monster here?