No Ka Hīhīmanu – Hawaiian Eagle Ray


Na Jacob Hauʻoli Elarco

An image appeared in the news a couple of weeks ago that was not only disturbing, but also very hurtful. A graceful creature of the sea, a hīhīmanu, or Hawaiian eagle ray was found dead and mutilated on a Kauaʻi beach. Its tail was completely severed and deep lacerations covered its body. The slashes were not similar to those patterns seen by animal vs. propeller. It was deliberate cuts with a human’s hand and knife. I cannot begin to fathom the disgust I had with this animal’s murderer(s). However, what disgusts me even more is the petty misdemeanor fine the culprit would be charged if he or she were caught. The maximum one would be fine is $500. A mere $500 is all it costs if caught taking the life of a beautiful and scared creature.

I began to see this news article everyday for about a week being reposted on my social media feeds. Oddly, there was an incident at work when I over hear someone talking about a large stingray that was caught some where on the other side of the planet. I took this as a sign. So I began to do some research on the hīhīmanu and its importance to Hawaiians and the Hawaiian culture. Here are my findings.

According to Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel H. Elbert’s Hawaiian Dictionary, hīhīmanu is the word for various types of Hawaiian stingrays, but more specifically the spotted eagle ray. Another name for it was lupe, meaning kite. The Hawaiian lupe (kite) was probably named after the ray due to the evident similarity in shape. Some say that the stingray’s Hawaiian name would differ based on the island one is on. Hīhīmanu is the sting ray, and lupe are the eagle rays. Furthermore, hīhīmanu means, “lavish, magnificent, elegant”. I can only speculate that the Hawaiian eagle ray was called hīhīmanu for its magnificent and lavish looks, and its elegance as it flies through the water. Other Hawaiian rays are the hāhālua, or the manta ray, and the hailepo.

The hīhīmanu highly regarded by the ancient Hawaiians, perhaps even a food staple. In one Hawaiian languauge article, it mentioned that a hīhīmanu would cost $0.08-$0.14 per pound at the fish market. In various Hawaiian language newspaper sources, many authors describe the hāhālua and hīhīmanu as food that were kapu to women.

In Ka Hae Hawaiʻi, a writers says:

“Eia keia wahi mea kapu, aole pene iki i ka wahine ke ai ia mau mea, o ka puaa, o ka maia, o ka niu, o ka ulua, o ke kumu, o ka mano niuhi, o ke kohola, o ka nuao, o ka hahalua, o ka hihimanu, ka hailepo, a me kekahi mau mea e ae…”

Here are a few things that are forbidden, women did not live long if these were eaten, pig, banana, coconut, ulua (jack trevally), kūmū (goatfish), shark, whale, propoise, manta ray, eagle ray, and a lot of other things…

Many of these physical manifestations (kino lau) are representations of gods and phallic symbols of male deities. In Mary Kawena Pukui’s, Polynesian Family System in Kaʻū, Hawaiʻi, she suggests that the hāhālua, and hīhīmanu are kino lau of Kanaloa. He was regarded as the god of the sea.

In Margaret Titcomb’s Native Use of Fish in Hawaii, she describes the preparation of the hīhīmanu.

“They are cut into chunks, salted a few days, wrapped in ti leaves and baked in the imu; others prepare them like “jug-meat,” or “jack-meat,” (Hawaiian colloquialisms for jerked meat) strips of flesh salted and dried in tough, hard strips or ropes.”

Returning to the Ka Hae Hawaiʻi article, it ends by saying the following, “e make no ka wahine ke ai i keia mau mea ke ike pono ia kana ai ana.”. “…women will surely die if she eats these things and if her eating is seen.” Breaking this eating kapu was punishable to women by death.

There was a scare amount of the hīhīmanu in legends. One of which was a kaʻao retold my Abraham Fornander in Fornander Collection of Hawaiian Folk-lore. Here is an excerpt of the Legend of Kaulu:

“Ua walewale o Kaulu i keia make ana o kona kaikuaana, a mahope noonoo o Kaulu, i kona ninau ana i ke ’kua, hoole mai ke ’kua, nolaila, manao ilio la o Kaulu ua make. Hele aku la o Kaulu i kahi o ke kai e poi ana, a hiki o Kaulu, wehe i kona mai a hou i ke kai, ua omo ia ke kai a pau i loko ona, nolaila, waiho wale na ia i ka maloo. Noke aku ana o Kaulu i ka huli i na ia a pau loa, oia na mano, ka niuhi, ka lalakea, ka hihimanu, aohe loaa.”

After a while Kaulu discovered that his brother was missing, so he inquired of the spirits where his brother had gone to. Upon being told that they knew nothing about him, Kaulu then felt that he was dead. He then proceeded to the seashore, stooped down and drank up the sea so that all the fish were stranded, dry. Kaulu then began to make a search for his brother in all the different man-eating fish, the common shark, the tiger shark and the hihimanu, but he was unable to find him.”

In this kaʻao, it was indicated that perhaps Hawaiians regarded the hīhīmanu at a similar status as sharks. Furthermore, it was perhaps thought by Hawaiians that the hīhīmanu had the capacity to eat an entire man.

Further in Fornander’s collection of folklore, he records a mele koʻihonua, or creation chant in which the hīhīmanu appears.

O Kane, O Ku-ka-Pao, O Kane, o Ku-ka-Pao.
With great Lono, dwelling on the water, Me Lono-Nui-noho-i-ka-Wai.
Brought forth are heaven and earth. Loaa ka Lani, Honua.
Quickened, increasing, moving, Ho-eu, kukupu, inana.
Raised up into Continents. Ku iluna o ka moku.
The great ocean of Kane, O ka Moana nui a Kane.
The ocean with the dotted seas, O ka Moana i kai oo.
The ocean with the large fishes, O ka Moana i ka ia nui,
And the small fishes, I ka ia iki,
The sharks, and niuhi, I ka mano, i ka niuhi,
The whales, I ke kohola,
And the large hihimanu of Kane. I ka ia nui hihimanu a Kane.

Interestingly, in the more famous koʻihonua known as the Kumulipo, the hīhīmanu is not mentioned. However, the hāhālua are born in the same wā as other ocean inhabitants such as the manō, the ulua, and moi.

“Hanau ka Ulua, hanau ka Hahalua i ke kai la holo”

“Born was the Ulua, born was the Hāhālua “

The last bit of information I’ve found about the hīhīmanu comes from Sites of Oʻahu. In this book, the authors describe a tale of a konohiki of Heʻeia fishpond. One day he sought the help of the hīhīmanu god, Lupe Kiaʻi Nui. The konohiki paddled to the island of Kekepa where the god resided. He asked if Lupe Kiaʻi Nui would guard the fishpond from fish stealers such as the barracuda (kakū), and greedy humans. He agrees on condition that the pond would always be filled with fish. When the konohiki agreed, Lupe Kiaʻi Nui had the canoe pulled back to Heʻeia with a large kite secured by an olonā string. Lupe Kiaʻi Nui and his hīhīmanu never left Heʻeia fishpond. It is still said that the hīhīmannu can be seen chasing the kākū today.

The mutilation of the hīhīmanu is highly unacceptable and it is my hope that through what I have shared through this post, we will grow, learn, and understand its importance to us who coexist with these elegant and magnificent creatures.


Fornander, Abraham, and William De Witt Alexander. Fornander Collection of Hawaiian Antiquities and Folk-lore. The Hawaiian Account of the Formation of Their Islands and Origin of Their Race; with the Traditions of Their Migrations, Etc., as Gathered from Original Sources by A. Fornander … With Translations (completed under Dr. W.D. Alexander’s Supervision) Revised and Illustrated with Notes by Thomas G. Thrum. 1916. Print.

Handy, E. S. Craighill, and Mary Kawena Pukui. The Polynesian Family System in Kaʻū Hawaiʻi. Honolulu: Mutual Pub., 2006. Print.

“Mooolelo Hawaii. Helu 9.” Ka Hae Hawaii 9 Iune. 1858: 12. Print.

Kalakaua. “The Pule Hoʻolaʻa Aliʻi He Kumulipo No Kaʻiʻimamao a Ia Alapai Wahine.” Sacred Texts. Web. <>.

Liliokalani. The Kumulipo: An Hawaiian Creation Myth. Kentfield, Calif.: Pueo, 1978. Print.

Lyte, Brittany. “Ray Likely Stabbed to Death.” The Garden Isle, 4 Apr. 2015. Web. <>.

Pukui, Mary Kawena, and Samuel H. Elbert. Hawaiian Dictionary: Hawaiian-English, English-Hawaiian. Rev. and Enl. ed. Honolulu: U of Hawaii, 1986. Print.

Sterling, Elspeth P., and Catherine C. Summers. Sites of Oʻahu. Honolulu: Bishop Museum, 1978. Print.

Titcomb, Margaret, and Mary Kawena Pukui. Native Use of Fish in Hawaii. 2d ed. Honolulu: U of Hawaii, 1977. Print.

Photo Credit –


Submit a Comment
  1. Aloha nō e Hauʻoli,

    What a sad but thoughtful and informative post.

    Mahalo ia ʻoe,


    Aloha McGuffie

  2. Helu ʻekahi kēia e Hauʻoli! Mahalo nui kou ʻimi a noiʻi i kēia iʻa nani lua ʻole.

  3. Mahalo for this thoughtful and informative post. I try in my children’s books to help keiki learn more about Hawaiian life of land and sea and know there are many others raising awareness. But we all have much to do to malama i ke kai.

Submit a Comment