Saturday, April 6, 2013

KANEIKOKALA - A HAWAIIAN SHARK DEITY:



Kaneikokala, in Bishop Museum, Honolulu.
Photograph: Peter Faris, 10/21/2010.

An example of Hawaiian large scale stone carving is this figure of Kaneikokala in the Bishop Museum in Honolulu. Kaneikokala represents a shark deity. It appears to be a rock slab in pretty much natural form with limited pecking to accentuate features of the deity. It was probably originally erected in a productive fishing site or by fish ponds as an entreaty to the shark spirit.

Explanatory text from the museum label explains, “Kaneikokala, a stone image of Ki'i pohaku made of vesicular basalt, was uncovered by Wahinenui, a kama'aina (native born) of Kawaihae, Hawai'i. Wahinenui was guided to the buried location by his dreams, claiming the ki'i had pleaded constantly to be taken from the cold in which it lay. Kaneikokala was brought to Bishop Museum in 1906, and not long afterward set permanently into cement in the floor of Hawaiian Hall. In spite of well intentioned efforts to relocate Kane to a suitable site outside the Hall, the image has steadfastly held its ground and refused to be moved.”

 I love this approach to the subject. Having many years of museum work in my career this sort of light hearted handling of the story allows us to see a contemporary relevance to the subject of such past beliefs. The figure of the deity seems to like to be standing in the Hawaiian Hall of the Bishop Museum and refuses to be moved. It would have been just as easy to have said that the concrete that he was set in was of such high quality that it has resisted contemporary attempts to move the statue without the risk of damage, but would that have been half as interesting? I think not.

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