What Does the Fish Hook Symbolize?

What Does the Fish Hook Symbolize?

One of the most recognizable and iconic symbols in Polynesian culture is the fish hook symbol. The fish hook symbol or makau and is often carved out of various materials. These include bone, coral, jade, koa wood, or even turtle shells. But what does the fish hook symbolize?

The most obvious connection is the importance of fishing to the inhabitants of island environments. Fish such as kümü, moano, weke ‘ā and ‘oama provide a vital source of food. The hook is one way to catch a meal or even haul in food for the village. The fish hook symbol in Hawaii references the ocean’s bounty and the ways that humans have harnessed this abundance over the centuries. 

But there’s more to this symbol than just a good day’s catch. 

Fish hook symbols are worn around the neck to bring good luck
The fish hook symbol brings safe passage over water

Makau: Maui’s Fish Hook

The unpredictable nature of the Pacific Ocean and the fickle nature of fish behavior have led to the development of this special good luck charm. The fish hook symbol came to be known as makau. 

Hawaiian legend states that the demigod Maui went fishing with his brothers. He caught the bottom of the ocean floor with his magical hook makau. In this way he pulled up and created the Hawiian islands.  

With a creation story like that, it’s obvious why Hawaiians see the makau symbol as so special. But the fish hook symbol doesn’t only represent Maui’s greatest catch, but it also symbolizes the connection between humans and the ocean. The hook also brings prosperity, good luck, and strength to all who wear the symbol.

The Fish Hook Brings Safe Passage Over Water

Fish hook symbols are now carved utilizing techniques which have been passed down over the generations. Hooks are created using bone and koa wood, which has a rich golden hue and beautiful grain patterns. After carving the hook shape, artisans add intricate details into the hooks, creating one of a kind designs for each wearer.

Legend holds that wearing a fish hook necklace over time imbues the object with one’s own spirit. This spirit becomes part of the talismaasn. Generations of family members receive this spirit over time. This is why the makau necklace brings not just safe passage, but also connection to one’s ancestors and the spiritual power between us all.

The Fish Hook and Hawaii’s Beautiful Culture

The fish hook is an appealing symbol that demonstrates the importance of the ocean’s bounty while referencing the mythological origin story of the Hawaiian islands. A makau necklace represents the importance of carving to indiginous Hawaiians as well as the connection between our ancestors over generations. The fish hook is a sturdy and aesthetically pleasing shape that unites the past and the present, bringing Hawaiian culture into the mainstream.

What does the fish hook symbolize? It continues to be one of the most powerful and recognizable symbols of the archipelago.

The acacia koa tree is native to Hawaii
Many makau necklaces are carved from the acacia koa tree. These trees are endemic to Hawaii.

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