Snippet: Swimming with Sharks

Hamana Kalili hoped to find an abundance of ulua, a priceless indigenous Hawaiian fish, when he went to check his lines on the morning of June 1, 1926; instead, he found a great white shark measuring twelve-and-a-half feet. Gutting his surprise catch to repurpose all of its parts, Kalili discovered the manō recently enjoyed a lobster, some uluas, and a pair of trunks with B25 sewn on the waistband.

Upon further investigation, he also discovered “the bones of both upper arms, both the bones of each forearm, most all of the bones of the left hand, except the thumb, the top of the head from about the eyes back to and including the bones by which the head connects to the spinal column, and a wad of black hair about three inches long.” It didn’t take long to make the connection with Private William J. Goins, number B25, who had suddenly disappeared beneath the waves at Haleiwa Alii Beach on May 18, 1926.

The news soon spread to Schofield Barracks, where a slightly disbelieving Beatrice immediately jumped in her car. By the time she drove the twenty-four miles to the Kahuku Plantation, only the shark’s jaw hadn’t been cut up yet, all twenty-four inches of it hanging from a tree with a stick clenched between its teeth. Since he already knew Beatrice well, Kalili invited her to stay for the ceremony that the women of the village were performing that evening; after all, a shark as big as the one Kalili caught had to have been someone’s ancestor.

A major part of the Native Hawaiian’s belief system was based on their powerful bond with nature, and this was nowhere clearer than in the concept of ‘aumākua. The lizard, the owl, and especially the shark are often recognized as family guardians, whereby an ancestor takes on the form of an animal upon his death to watch over family members, appearing to them in dreams to offer spiritual guidance. For this reason, the Native Hawaiians neither killed nor ate sharks, and instead of fearing them like most, treated the manō with respect and reverence.

On that day in 1926, Beatrice was introduced to the power of the shark in Hawaiian culture, a theme that featured prominently in her second book, Blood of the Shark, published in December 1936. A male shark became her ‘aumākua, and she was taught a prayer, which told the shark that she was “of his people and that he must obey her.” Beatrice never feared sharks, and she would swim everywhere; George, however, thought she was crazy and always stood on deck with a loaded rifle at the ready.

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