Saturday, April 27, 2013


Puako owl, Hawaii, Ellen Belef, Sept. 2012.

At the Puako petroglyph site on the island of Hawaii, this figure on the right is called the Puako Owl. If this identification is correct that means that it is a representation of the Pueo (Asio flammeus sandwichensis), a subspecies of the Short-eared owl that is endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. The Pueo also represents an ancestor spirit (na’aumakua) in Hawaiian culture.

Figure on right is called the Puako owl, Joe Belef, 2012.
Inhabiting forests and grasslands throughout the islands, their numbers are now in decline, especially on the island of Oahu, and they are now listed as an endangered species.The Pueo was first named Strix sandwichensis in 1825, by Andrew Bloxam, a naturalist aboard the british ship HMS Bonde. It is now classified as a subspecies of the Short-eared Owl, Asio flammeus. The Pueo nests on the ground which leaves their eggs and young vulnerable to predators such as the mongoose and cats, as well as by bulldozers (Wikipedia).

Hawaiian Pueo owl, Asio flammeus sandwichensisWikipedia. 
In mythology, as an amakua, the owl is specifically skilled in battle.
“The most famous legend, "The Battle of the Owls" underscores the aumakua's force. It relates the story of an Oahu man who robbed an owl's nest: After he slung the coveted bounty in his knapsack, the owl-parent shrieked with grief and complaint. The man felt sorry and quickly returned the eggs unharmed to the nest. Not only that, he took the owl as his god and built a temple in its honor. Naturally, the ruling chief thought this an act of rebellion against the prevalent gods, and ordered the man's execution. The weapon was poised, the man feared his last breath, and the owls gathered, darkening the skies with their wings. Any further action of the king's soldiers became impossible. The man walked free. Pueo-hulu-nui near Moanalua on Oahu is one of the alleged places where the awesome battle took place.”

“Much further back in time, it is said that Hina, the mother of the god Maui, gave birth to a second child, in the form of the pueo. Later, when the brave Maui was taken as prisoner by enemies and held for sacrifice, brother owl rescued him and led him to safety.”

“Another old story of rescue tells of a warrior who fought under King Kamehameha the First. Cornered by the enemy, he was about to plunge over a dangerous cliff. Right at that moment an owl flew up in his face, so that he was able to thrust out his spear into the earth, saving himself from the suicidal leap.” (

The image does also bear a marked resemblance to a figure wearing a traditional Hawaiian gourd headdress/mask or helmet. However, although one cannot completely discount identifications of rock art images made by the descendants of the original creators, but we can question the original meaning, or assign multiple references to such an image. So, until we know better, based upon its identification by Hawaiian peoples, this figure represents Pueo, the Hawaiian short-eared owl, and I like him that way.



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