Interpreting this Myth as an Allegory for Struggles with Addiction
I wrote the first part of this myth on a separate blog post called The Tale of Nanaue the Shark-Man of Hawaii: The Wayward Son of Kamohoalii, King of the Sharks.
This post provides the ending of the tale and an analysis on how it is an allegory for having a child that struggles with drug addiction.
The Tale of Nanaue Part 2
Kamohoalii, King of the Sharks, confronted his son in the Pacific Ocean after his rescue on the beach in Hawaii.
“Son, you have violated the taboo. Sharks must not eat humans.”
“Father, I’m sorry, but I can change. I promise.”
“You are banished from the Hawaiian Islands. If my shark soldiers find you they have my orders to kill you.”
“Banished? But I want to live with you. I want to be part of your world. I can become one of your soldiers,” Nanaue pleaded with his father but he could see no sympathy in his cold-blooded fish eyes.
“You can not be trusted.”
“I’ll prove it to you. Give me a chance.”
“Your actions speak louder than words or apologies. Get!”
With his last word, Kamohoalii snapped his giant shark jaws at his son, and with that snap, their relationship severed.
Alone, Nanaue swam off into the dark deep water offshore.
Nanaue is Alone
Months passed, Nanaue tried to obey his father’s command but he was lonely. He didn’t belong to either the human or the shark world. He hungered as much for companionship as he did for human meat.
Nanaue Becomes A Man Once Again
Finally, he swam back to civilization. On the island of Maui, he went ashore at Kipahulu on a dark night. He found some wauke plants and beat some bark cloth. He sewed himself a mantle. It wasn’t as beautiful as the ones his mother had made, but he was able to kill a few birds and add their feathers as embellishments. By the time the sun rose, Nanaue was ready to begin his new life as a man.
He entered the village and immediately attracted attention. He was twenty-four and handsome with a muscular body, thick black hair and eyes so dark they looked like bottomless black pools. He told the locals he was a traveler from Hawaii. He was welcomed into their village and soon had them enthralled with his wonderful stories of sharks, dolphins and manta rays.
“It’s almost as if you have lived among them, under the sea. Your details are captivating,” said the Chief.
“Almost as captivating as your sister,” replied Nanaue with a bold smile at the young woman who sat beside the Chief. She blushed and giggled.
The Chief looked between the pair with match-making eyes. A man as strong and charming as Nanaue would be an asset to his family.
Over the next few weeks, Nanaue used his charm and skills to ingratiate himself with the locals. He would go fishing at dawn by himself, and return with a giant sack of fish. Other fishermen asked him to show them his tricks.
“Secret from my ancestors,” he whispered with a finger held up to his smiling lips.
Soon he was given permission by the Chief to propose to the sister. The pair were married in a ceremony filled with hula, laughter and music. Nanaue felt a sense of belonging that he had never known. He pushed down the cravings for human flesh that had started to prickle his shark-mouth. He had the willpower to resist his hunger.
Nanaue Gets Married
On his wedding night, he laid in the dark with his beautiful bride. They were both still dressed in their wedding finery. Nanaue was a virgin and, in addition to his performance anxiety, he was terrified she would discover the shark mouth on his back.
His wife, confused by his coldness, reached forward and timidly caressed his chest.
“Don’t touch me,” he hissed.
A virgin herself, she withdrew her hand, “Do you find me repulsive?” She whispered and he could hear the ache in her voice.
“No, you are beautiful. It is me” He tugged at the edges of his cape, something he always did when nervous. ‘“I made a vow when I was young that I would always sleep alone.” He started to leave the hut.
“Will we never have children?” she whispered.
He paused. “I will lay with you. But, you must keep your hands on the bed. I do not want you to touch me.”
She agreed and the marriage was consummated. Despite Nanaue’s conditions, they were both young and passionate. They found joy in each other’s bodies. Nanaue thought that his pretty new wife would be enough.
But, just as in the past, the villagers began to whisper.
“Isn’t it strange that he has his own sleeping quarters?”
“Why does he always wear that mantle, no matter how hot it is?”
“Why won’t Nanaue participate in wrestling contests with the men?”
“Do you know what his wife told me?”
“Isn’t he strange? Isn’t he odd?”
Nanaue could hear the gossip. He knew he would never belong to the human world, yet he couldn’t be part of his father’s. He tried to fight his urges, but they became stronger.
Nanaue Eats Human-Meat Once Again
One day, in broad daylight, she saw the biggest gossip in the village standing near the water’s edge. He couldn’t help it. He ran straight for her and pushed her into the water, he then shapeshifted into a shark and tore her to pieces in the shallows. Gulping down the human meat, ecstasy filled him at the taste, the texture, the blood.
The men of the village ran down to the water to kill Nanaue, but he swam out to sea.
The craving, once given in to, consumed him. All he could think of was his next meal of human flesh.
The next night, he came ashore on the island of Molokai. He waited in the shallows and watched the village. He wanted to fit in better, and he didn’t want the attention of women to distract him from his next meal.
He discovered a grumpy fisherman that lived on the outskirts of the village, near the path that led to the beach. Day after day, the man toiled alone and no one ever visited him.
One day, the old man stood in the shallow water fishing with his handline. Nanaue, as a shark, ate him. He waited a few days and then walked into town as a man. He pretended to be the nephew of the dead fisherman. The locals allowed him to move into the old man’s hut.
The women flirted with this handsome new arrival, but Nanaue held himself aloof. He knew there was no point in acting friendly and social because it was just a matter of time until the gossip and rejection started again.
Instead, he watched the people of the village. He learned their habits. Who liked to bathe in the river alone. Who liked to fish away from the crowd. Who took his canoe far off shore.
One by one, Nanaue ate the people of the village. All water was unsafe. People could no longer swim in the river, or even splash in the waves along the shoreline. Canoes went out filled with men, and drifted ashore empty.
The Kahuna Begs Unauna, the Demi-God, to Save the Village from the Shark
The Kahuna, or shaman, of the village begged for help from Unauna. He was a demi-god who lived in a sacred bamboo forest, in the mountains above Kainalu. Unauna came down to the fishing village and looked carefully at every man, woman and child. Demi-gods glow with an aura that is invisible to mortals, but visible to each other. The moment his eyes fell on Nanaue he knew who was behind the shark attacks.
“Pull off his mantle,” Unauna shouted.
The men of the village pushed Nanaue down onto the sand and held him as the Kahuna tore off the mantle. The men gasped at the mouth filled with sharp, triangular shark teeth on Nanaue’s back.
His shark mouth snapping, Nanaue writhed on the sand until he reached the water. He changed into a shark, but Unauna threw a net over him and held it tight.
“Beat him with your clubs,” he ordered the men.
It was a fearsome fight, but finally the villagers killed Nanaue.
Trying to Destroy the Body of the Shark-Man
“His body must be completely burned far from the ocean. That is the only way to destroy a shark man,” Unauna said.
The demi-god sprinted up Kainalu Hill and tied a rope around a giant rock. Unauna used this as a pulley so the villagers could drag the heavy shark body of Nanaue up the hill.
Everyone strained and pulled at the rope and slowly Nanaue’s corpse moved. The body was so heavy that, as it was dragged, it dug a shallow ravine, which can still be seen today. The rock that the rope was tied to is still there. The hill was renamed Puumano, which means shark hill.
At the top of the hill, the villagers built a giant fire and tried to burn Nanaue. However, his shark body oozed blood and water and kept putting out the fire.
Unauna ordered people to go to his sacred grove and cut down bamboo shoots to use as knives. The villagers then cut Nanaue’s body into strips and hung them up to dry. It took so many knives to carve up the body that the only a few bamboo trees remained in the grove. But finally, the villagers were able to burn the strips and all remains of Nanaue were turned into ash.
From that day on, the bamboo shoots that grew in Kainalu lost their sharpness and could no longer be used as knives. To this day, the plants in that grove are different from any other bamboo plants in the Hawaiian Islands.
The Power of Mythology in the Modern World
The power of mythology is that the stories remind us that we are not alone. Even though the moment I am experiencing feels so intense and personal, I can always find a myth that reveals humans have always gone through similar trials. The details change, but the challenges of existing as a human being remain the same throughout different cultures and time periods.
Commentary: The Tale of Nanaue is an Allegory for a Drug Addict
“The Tale of Nanaue” is an allegory for having a child with a drug addiction. Even though he is a man-eating shark, I never stop feeling sympathy for him. His life ends with the natural consequences from his choices, but it is a sad ending. This echoes the feeling of parents that must travel this path with their child. (I encourage anyone on this painful journey to join an Al-Anon parents group.)
Nanaue is born with his genetic inheritance, a shark mouth on his back. Every child is a genetic mixture of his parents and grandparents, and there is often evidence of addiction or depression in the family tree.
Nanaue’s mother tries her best to support her son. She makes him beautiful mantles, she sits by the side of the pool as he bathes, and she keeps his secrets. Despite her support, he moves into the world of men and his peers. In this case, it is the world of the grandfather.
The grandfather and the villagers blame the mother for Nanaue’s faults. This is typical. In her book, Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers, @sadydoyle explores the habit of society to ignore the role of the father and child and, instead, heap blame on the mother.
Grandfather thinks he knows what is best for curing Nanaue. Anyone who has ever had a troubled child knows that everyone has an opinion and suggests an easy fix. The most common suggestion is to talk to your child. As if parents don’t drown in endless conversations and pleas with their addicted children.
Once Nanaue has broken the taboo and eaten animal meat, his craving is out of control. He tries to satisfy it with pork, but eventually he is driven to taste human flesh. Some kids can dabble with marijuana and other drugs, but for others it becomes a gateway to harder substances. Just like humans for a shark, drugs are available everywhere for an addict.
Nanaue’s addiction has consequences with the villagers. The father, Kamohoalii, steps in with a heroic effort to save him. This replicates the negotiations with schools and the attempts to minimize the child’s consequences through the hiring of attorneys and sending him to counseling.
Eventually the father resorts to tough love, and banishes Nanaue from his shark world. To an outsider, and to the addict, tough love looks cold and uncaring. What spectators don’t realize is all the efforts that have already been made on behalf of the child.
Nanaue, lonely and at rock bottom, makes an honest effort to reform. He gets married, he lives as a man among the villagers. He genuinely wants sobriety and believes his will power will be enough to resist his cravings.
However, the same triggers of gossip send him back to his drug, human flesh. Once he gives into his cravings, he commits to a life of drug seeking. His relationships with his mother and wife are collateral damage. They disappear from the story because they are no longer important to the addict. Nanaue’s consuming goal is to find a new supply so he watches a new village and strategizes.
Two Possible Endings for an Addict
The ending of the story can be interpreted in two different ways. From one perspective, Nanaue’s actions catch up with him and he suffers the consequences of death. This is often the conclusion of an addict’s story.
A Story of Recovery from Addiction
However, a more hopeful interpretation can also be found in the myth. The shark body of Nanaue can be seen as the addicted version of him and not his true self. In the story, Unauna, a demi-god is summoned to help kill the man-eating shark. Just like an addict that seeks recovery is told to ask for help from a higher power.
To truly eliminate the man-shark, Nanaue’s body must be destroyed far from the ocean. This echoes how a recovered addict must move away from his old environment. The ravine that Nanaue’s body digs symbolizes the resistance the addict feels to fully sacrifice and commit to his sober life.
At the top of the hill, the villagers try to burn the corpse, but the water and blood douse the flame. Many honest efforts at sobriety meet with relapse and the flame is put out. However, by using tools from the sacred grove (Doing the 12 Steps) the body of Nanaue can finally be destroyed.
The sacred bamboo grove is forever changed after the destruction of the addiction. Even when sober, the recovered addict will always carry the memory of his addiction and some lasting consequences will remain.
In a world that increasingly rejects organized religion, I believe turning to mythology can be a pathway for hope and strength. Humans, no matter how modern we feel, are evolutionarily similar to early man. We can use myths, folktales and stories from other cultures to create meaning in our own lives. To ease our burden. To find hope.