Ocean lore: water spirits of the islands

In Hawaii Mo'o is a term that describes any sort of water spirit. Mermaids in Hawaiian mythology are sea goddesses and sea gods. They were human-fish hybrids but they could also be human-serpents, human-eels, or octopuses. Mo'o's could be extremely tiny creatures or they could be gigantic. It was believed that Mo'o's originally developed from gecko lizards to human women and then to sea goddesses. Mo'o can live in both salt and fresh waters. In the islands lagoons, ponds, rivers, and mostly in the ocean. There is a Hawaiian expression that in each woman there lives a little Mo'o inside them.

​Stories about the dangers of the mo'o's were not very different compared to any other mermaid, siren or selkies mythology from other parts of the world. It was believed that mo'o's were especially dangerous to men (of course) who were too weak to resist their feminine charms. Mo'o´s could seduce and drown them. According to Hawaiian folklore after humans pass away they could return back to this world and transform themselves into a mo'o if they wanted, to hang around the waterfalls.

There is a famous Hawaiian folk tale from the Wailuku river and the Rainbow falls which tells about a mo´o called Hina. She was a beautiful sea goddess who had a competitor, an evil mo´o called Mokuna, who wanted to kill Hina and destroy her home. Jealous Mokuna pulled a giant rock into the river plugging it. Water level was rising and Hina´s home was about to be destroyed. She called her son the demi-God Maui to help her. Maui started to chase Mokuna with his canoe but she was faster and hid herself into a waterhole. Maui called goddess Pele to help him to destroy Mokuna. Pele came down from the volcano bringing hot lava with her. Water turned burning hot and in the end killed evil Mokuna. Still today it is said that when you visit the Rainbow falls you can see the remains of Maui's canoe in the bottom of the river. On stormy days the water boils because there is lots of volcanic activity. Maybe there is a seed of truth in these stories.

In any case, the Islands carry a heavy magical air and belief around its waters and in its Gods. In Hawaii, it is said never turn your back on the ocean, it is more respectful to back out of it. I found out the hard way when coming out of the water on a fairly calm beach day. The minute I turned my back to walk up to the beach a huge wave came and knocked me down. In a place where you can see the waves come from a mile away, it seemed safe enough.  Until it wasn’t.  And I definitely didn't that again. 

Another time I went to the Black sand beach on the Big Island where I took a small piece of lava rock and a hermit crab shell from the Valley of the Gods. I had a horrific string of bad personal luck, from car accidents to loss of jobs to a bad breakup. I sent the objects back to my mother who flew from Oahu to the Big Island to give back what I stole. She also threw in some vodka because we heard it’s Pele’s favorite drink. My bad luck seemed to stop abruptly. While I will never know if it was all coincidence, and I am more likely to believe that it was, I will never take another shell from that beach again!

If you have a great story or ocean lore to pass on from an ocean/beach vacation, please share it with us. We all need to know what might be lurking in the mysterious corners of the globe!

xo, Jacci 

Jacci Russ

Our founder Jacci, combines her background in Marine Biology and Organic Cosmetic Science for high performance, yet clean skincare using ocean-based ingredients. She has traveled the world in search of strange spa treatments and perfect pizza. Dreamer and Doer. Adventuress, animal activist, recovering cheese addict. Read more about Jacci.