Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Manō Kanaka

Sharks held a great deal of cultural significance in old Hawai'i. Tools and weapons were fashioned from the teeth of sharks, and drums were made with sharkskin. Man-eating sharks, like the tiger and great white were known as niuhi, and were hunted by nobles. Their flesh, and particularly their eyes, was believed to be imbued with supernatural power.

Some families however had sharks as 'aumakua (a family totem), and considered it bad form to hunt or eat sharks, since there was a possibility that the shark might contain the spirit of one of their ancestors.

The most powerful of such ancestral spirits were the shark gods such as Kua "the Red Shark", Ku-hai-moana who was said to be "thirty fathoms long", or Ka-moho-ali'i the brother of Pele the goddess of fire. These spirits could take on human form, and in some cases ended up producing children with normal humans. The offspring were known as manō kanaka (shark-men), or what we might call were-sharks.

Tales of humans that could change to sharks can be found throughout Polynesia, but probably the most famous one is the tale of Nanaue. Relatively modern stories of manō kanaka also exist, some of which I find particularly chilling.

As far as appearance goes, most modern depictions of were-sharks show them as sharks with human arms and legs. I'm not sure where this concept originated from, but it has been used in both D&D and videogames.

I have mixed feelings about this depiction because the were-shark stories I heard as a child, lead me to imagine them as men with gaping shark maws on their back (hidden under a feather cloak) who could transform into sharks. I suppose the current view of shark-with-legs can be considered as a transitional form between man and shark, and certain Hawaiian chants do have the phrase " with long legs from head to tail...", though it is not clear to me that the reference is to manō kanaka.

Anyway, Reaper makes a whole slew of transitional form were-sharks, but almost all of them are enormous even compared to 28mm figures. The only exception is the dwarf were-shark which is just about right as far as height goes, but the figure is a bit to campy for me.

Other than Rumscratch, the only other suitable figure that I could find for use as a 1/72 were-shark was the Pathfinder Wereshark Pirate (Skull and Shackles #12). I would have preferred if it were less clothed, but it is better than nothing.

Addendum: Center Stage Miniatures also has some Lesser Weresharks (Spawn of Dajobas), but they also look pretty big as well.

1 comment:

EY said...

Addendum: petroglyph of Manō Kanaka showing another interpretation of the transitional form.