If you take a trip to the Hawaiian islands and venture out into of the many wonderful spots for snorkeling or swimming you just might, if you are lucky, encounter the majestic sea turtle. Seeing them in their natural habitat is an experience that won’t be soon forgotten. Also often found basking in the sun on popular beaches, the sea turtle is easily one of the most beautiful animals relatively easily found in their natural habitat. It’s important, however, that you don’t get too close as it’s an very protected species where touching them is punishable by a steep fine. Not only is this animal beautiful it is also an important part of Hawaiian culture.
One of Earth’s oldest animals, sea turtles have been swimming the Earth’s oceans rather unchanged for nearly 75 million years. With lifespans similar to humans, sea turtles can frequently be found to live around 80 years. In Hawaii there are three native turtles with the most common being the green turtle also referred to as Honu.
The honu, or green sea turtle, has been an important Hawaiian symbol for as long as people have inhabited the Hawaiian islands. A petroglyph of honu can be found in the Pu’u Loa lava fields on the Big Island proof of its ancient importance to the Hawaiian people. The petroglyph is a simple image of a turtle, as if looking at it from above, with its four flippers out to the side as if it’s gliding through the ocean.
One of the unique traits of this gorgeous reptile is that it’s birthing place to lay eggs, often traveling hundreds to reach this location. This incredible ability to always find its way home makes it a symbol of navigation. Ancient Hawaiian myth even tells stories of the honu leading the original hawaiian people to the islands.
The myth of the honu is extensive, some stories tell of the honu as a guardian spirits that choose the shape of the sea turtle. Not just a symbol of good luck but also, when necessary, would represent a guardian to protect one of the enemies.
In some legends gods such as the god, Kanaloa, would take the shape of a honu when they needed to be among humans. While other legends tell of the green turtle, Kailua, who would take the shape of a young girl who would watch over children of Hawaii.
The green sea turtle is even honored through a hula dance that is meant to represent the turtles movements as it digs into the sand to make a place to lay its eggs and is even mentioned in the ancient hawaiian chant of creation.
From protection to luck the honu has tremendous meaning and symbolism in the hawaiian culture, which has extended to modern time and the honu is now popular symbol found on anything from leis to bracelets and t-shirts. It’s important to remember where these symbols come from and why they are important to the hawaiian people.