The Myths Behind The Conch Shell

Posted April 22nd, 2019 by F4GKcb4Y

By Rene Thompson

There are many symbols of Hawaiian culture, such as the lei, the tiki statue, or perhaps even the mai tai. Many of these symbols instantly conjure up images of the beach. The conch shell, one popular Hawaiian symbol, is still used and revered today. A conch is a large, curved seashell that when blown into, will emit a deep, resounding noise. There are two types of shells that can be used: the cassis cornuta and the triton. Depending on how the conch is used, the volume can be low or it could be made to carry as far as a couple of miles.

The conch shell, or ‘pu’ as the Hawaiian people call it, was often used during ancient rituals and chants, particularly to mark the beginning of a formal procedure. One mythological story depicts an ancient race of miniature gods called the Menehune. The Menehune resided in the Waolani, or heavenly place, on Oahu. They were reportedly controlled by the sound of a conch shell, which was used by Chief Kiha. One day, the Menehune stole the conch from the chief and blew it so loudly and continuously that the villagers complained to the chief. The chief sent one of his people to retrieve the conch shell but on the journey back to the village the conch shell was chipped. This chipped shell can be seen at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu.

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Some historical conch shells have been a more recent discovery. Take for instance the pu that was recovered from the sunken yacht of King Kamehameha II, along with his long lost treasure. The conch was found by a team of archaeologists from Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. It was buried in the sand of the North Shore of Kauai after the treasure was first placed there. It is thought that the conch shell along with the other artifacts recovered were intended to be used to welcome King Liholiho who was visiting the area on his royal yacht.

Traditionally, conch shells have been used as a way to show honor to someone. One such instance was the 112th birthday of Duke Kahanamoku, a legendary Hawaiian surfer. The ceremony began with the approach of a canoe called Hawaii Loa flanked by 112 surfers and other canoes. As the procession came near the beach, a conch shell was blown. Another conch on the shore sounded to the North, South, East, and West in response.

The conch shell, or pu, is still used in Hawaii today. It is often blown at hula festivals, especially during the presentation of the royal court. It is also used as an opening ritual for the state legislature of Hawaii and as a show of respect to celebrities, royalty, and other important people. Countless traditional ceremonies such as weddings and parties still kick off with a good conch bellow. The next time you find yourself in a formal Hawaiian gathering or luau, don’t be surprised if you hear the resounding call of the pu.

About the Author: Royal Tiki’s beautiful range of Tiki Totems are hand-carved on the Hawaiian island of O’ahu. Also check for current specials on a Tiki totem


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