Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Catch of the Day

Catch of the Day

By: Ardis E. Parshall - February 10, 2011

Is it Mormon history if it involves Mormons but not Mormonism? if it takes place near a Mormon locale? has pictures of Mormons? Oh, what the hey – I just want to tell the story.

Don’t read it over breakfast.

Laie, Hawaii, was home to Hamana Kalili (1882-1958; baptized 1890). Kalili was a renowned fisherman in early 20th century Laie. He also worked in the construction of the temple, and in the sugar manufacturing effort of the church there, but fishing is what he was primarily known for. The Mormon sculptor Avard Fairbanks got to know Kalili during the building of the Laie Temple, and later sculpted a portrait of him as “Hawaiian Fisherman,” cast both as a bust and in a full body version. Further regarding his physical appearance, Beatrice Ayer Patton (Mrs. George S. Patton – yes, the General Patton of World War II, and the Patton of an earlier era who had accompanied Gen. Pershing in dealing with Pancho Villa at the time of the Mexican Revolution, and who was stationed on Oahu during the mid-1920s) described Kalili as “a magnificent example of the pure Hawaiian. A man in his sixties, with white hair and a deeply carven face, he had the body and reactions of a teenager. He lived and fished on the windward side of the island.”

Sometime between 1919 when Fairbanks completed his work on the temple frieze and 1937 when he returned to Hawaii on a visit, Kalili was involved in an accident on the sugar plantation that caused the amputation of the ends of the first three fingers on his right hand. I know it sounds like an urban legend, but there appears to be sufficient evidence to support the claim that Kalili’s distinctive wave – his right hand with its thumb and sole remaining (little) finger extended – was so familiar and often imitated by children, and eventually adopted by a used car salesman, a prolific advertiser on Honolulu television, that Kalili is recognized as the originator of the Hawaiian “shaka” sign.

During the 1940s, Kalili (who may have served as bishop and even stake president – I haven’t been able to search the local church records to verify this yet) helped establish the “hukilau” tradition associated with fund-raising and cultural arts efforts at Laie. He is shown in this picture portraying King Kamehameha at one ward hukilau; although the enlargement is grainy, you can see how his right hand, holding the spear, resembles the “shaka” sign.

And with that, on to our story …

On the evening of the 21st or 22nd of May, 1926, Kalili set out his 150-foot line on the beach at Kahuku Plantation (contiguous with the church’s Laie Plantation), fitted with about 500 hooks baited with pieces of squid, in a bid for a major catch of ulua, a popular Hawaiian game fish. The next morning he and a Filipino assistant went to pull in the line. Instead of the expected catch of ulua, Kalili discovered that a huge shark – a great white shark – had become entangled by the tail in the hooks and line, and had exhausted himself trying to break free.

Native Hawaiians did not eat shark meat, and Kalili started to cut the shark loose. But then he realized that such an unusual sight might be of interest to Joseph Musser, his friend who worked as a bookkeeper on the church’s plantation, so instead of freeing the shark Kalili tied a rope around its tail, anchored it to a stone set in the sand, and went to call his friend.

Musser was so impressed by the size of the shark that he ran back to bring others out to see it – Musser’s wife, Antoine R. Ivins (manager of the sugar cane plantation and future member of the Quorum of the Seventy) and Sister Ivins, and missionary Eldon P. Morrell. They also brought some Samoan workmen with them who said they wanted the shark meat if Kalili wasn’t going to take it.

Ivins brought his camera, but none of them had thought to bring any measuring tools. They used some of Kalili’s line to mark the creature’s length and measured that line when they returned to the plantation – the shark was 12 feet 6 inches long, and, as Ivins said (betraying his Great Basin origins), “as large around as a fair-sized Jersey yearling heifer.” The shark, nearly dead, was still in the water; as the tide came in and lifted it, the men pulled the shark out of the waves and onto the beach, where it soon died and the Samoans began to butcher it.

They slit open the shark and pulled out its guts. Ivins suggested that they cut into the well-filled stomach to see what the shark might have eaten. The first thing to fall out was a 25-pound ulua, followed by a slightly smaller one (shown in the accompanying picture). Both ulua had hooks in their mouths but their scales had barely begun to dissolve in the shark’s stomach, so they realized the shark had robbed Kalili’s line before becoming caught himself.

Next we noticed warapped around one of the fish something which looked like a piece of burlap. Then we saw a nice large lobster, almost whole.

Then followed some long bones which were plainly not fish bones,

reported Ivins. After examining those bones and others that they found – including a skull – they sent for a Dr. Buffet, the Kahuku Plantation physician.

“When the doctor arrived he removed all doubt. We were indeed viewing the remains of a human being!

“Further search uncovered the bones of both upper arms, both the bones of each forearm, most all of the bones of the left hand, except the thumb, the top of the head from about the eyes back to and including the bones by which the head connects to the spinal column, a wad of black hair about three inches long.”

The “burlap” first noted turned out to be a pair of men’s long underwear, military issue, cut down as swimming trunks. Oddly, there was no sign of the rib cage, spine, shoulders, or pelvis.

It was interesting to note the different reactions to our discovery. The Hawaiian who caught the shark giggled the whole time, as if to cover his embarrassment; but his [Filipino] helper showed little emotion. The Samoans were plainly uncomfortable; the doctor was full of interest but, at the same time, impressed with the terrible fate that some poor fellow had suffered. One of the party, at least, was so sick that he was nauseated most of the night. Others failed to sleep much. As for myself, I could not forget the sight for days.

Word of the discovery spread. Even Mrs. Patton, who, according to her daughter,

was curious about everything, decided to drive to Kalili’s and see this giant shark that had swallowed a man. Her curiosity wasn’t morbid – she just didn’t believe it was possible. By the time we got there, the shark had been butchered and carried away (the Chinese were very partial to shark meat), and Kalili had the jaws hanging in a tree, propped open with a stick. They were at least three feet in diameter.

(Ivins reported that they “opened up to 18 x 20 inches.”)

The gawkers sent the bones and clothing to the sheriff in Honolulu … after posing for photographs. The sheriff discovered a laundry mark – B25 – which enabled him to trace the trunks to an American serviceman, Private William J. Goins, who had been swimming in shallow water four days earlier. He was standing on a reef when, friends say, he suddenly screamed, threw his arms above his head, and disappeared beneath the water. The search for his body had been unsuccessful, although one man, Major “Red” Miner, “had swum up and down on both sides of the reef for an hour, looking for the body, with no luck.”

According to Mrs. Patton and her daughter, for whose ethnography I cannot vouch,

“Most Hawaiians were very superstitious about sharks, as their mythology told them that there were many of them mystically related to the shark and under its protection, but Kalili was mad at this one, which had swallowed all his ulua. … Kalili was unmoved by it all, but several old ladies in the village were having a little ceremony of propitiation, as they were sure a shark of that size was some relative and that his sons might take revenge on their sons out fishing.

“At Kalili’s request, [Beatrice Patton] was allowed to attend the ceremony: the Hawaiians were a little leery of people watching such ceremonies for fear they would be ridiculed. [She] said it seemed to consist of a repetitive four-note chant and a very understated hula that mimed a fisherman catching something big and throwing it back into the sea. We were later told that some of the family actually carried this further, taking a live dog out in the fishing boat and throwing it into the water about where the shark should have been; the dog disappeared in a flurry of foam, which indicated that the sacrifice had been accepted and all was as before.”

Sushi, anyone?


Note: The accompanying newspaper article contains the name of William Goins. There may be new details of this story in the article; there are some names, for instance, who don’t yet figure into it as written here. I haven’t been able to find a translation website that handles Hawaiian, so I’m posting the article here in hopes that someone sometime can translate and help expand this story. I can send a clearer, larger scan if needed.



  1. Ardis, Goins is a Melungeon surname, which suggests a possible origin near Hancock County, Tennessee. Maybe Bruce Crow might have some resources?

    Comment by Coffinberry — February 10, 2011 @ 6:57 am

  2. Oh please, this is nowhere near as bad as reading about mayonnaise and jello on an empty stomach!

    That was quite a tale! Absolutely fascinating and filled with all sorts of interesting characters. At first I thought that early fundamentalist Joseph Musser played a role in the story, but it’s just someone with the same last name, right? (I’m pretty sure fundie Musser was excommunicated before this, but IIRC there is also some controversy over that excommunication, so I could be wrong).

    Comment by Mina — February 10, 2011 @ 7:00 am

  3. Whoever thought that Keepa would stoop to “fish tales”!?!

    Terrific story, Ardis! Too bad Peter Benchley and Steven Spielberg hadn’t read your blog 40 years ago!

    Comment by Mark B. — February 10, 2011 @ 8:00 am

  4. Because it is ever so much more interesting than doing taxes (which is what I should be doing), I’ve been seeing if I can learn more about Pvt. Goins.

    I think he is buried in San Francisco (thanks
    William J Goins
    Service Info.: PVT B 11 FIELD ART US ARMY
    Death Date: 18 May 1926
    Cemetery: San Francisco National Cemetery
    Cemetery Address: 1 Lincoln Blvd Presidio of San Francisco San Francisco, CA 94129
    Buried At: Section A Site 1170

    Comment by Coffinberry — February 10, 2011 @ 8:27 am

  5. Hurrah for playing hookey (if not hukilau), Coffinberry — poor Pvt. Goins is the most concerned, yet the least identified. Thanks for this additional bit.

    Glad you liked the fishy tale, Mark, and that it didn’t come with mayo, Mina.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 10, 2011 @ 9:11 am

  6. Glad I read this before my lunch (I think).

    Comment by Paul — February 10, 2011 @ 10:34 am

  7. I’d add a note regarding Mr. Goins: the AP reported that he could not swim and that it was initially believed that an undertow was responsible for his disappearance. His home was reported as Singer, Louisiana.

    Comment by Justin — February 10, 2011 @ 3:45 pm

  8. Bon appetit, Paul. *burp*

    Thanks, Justin. I wasn’t able to track anything about Goins beyond what’s here — no home town, no age, nothin’. So any scrap you or Coffinberry or anybody else is able to find is eagerly wanted.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 10, 2011 @ 4:15 pm

  9. My favorite part: the potential source for the wave. What an intriguing story.

    Comment by J. Stapley — February 10, 2011 @ 5:52 pm

  10. Awesome story, Ardis.

    Comment by Scott B. — February 10, 2011 @ 11:48 pm

  11. Possible LDS connection: There are several families with the surname Goins in the church in Louisiana.

    Comment by Mark Brown — February 11, 2011 @ 6:16 am

  12. Another possible name for this post: “Hukilau – Come for the Shaka, but stay for the shark Buffet!”

    Fascinating story, and way to go, Keepaninnies, for adding so much to the story with your extra tidbits (morsels?) of research.

    Comment by kevinf — February 11, 2011 @ 10:31 am

  13. My kids and I were just watching some Israel Kamakawiwo’ole songs on You Tube (a radio show mentioned recently that his recording of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is currently a bestseller in Europe and ukelele sales in Germany are going through the roof) and my kids asked about the shaka sign. Oh my goodness, Ardis, I could tell my kids something about Hawaiian culture! They thought that was cool. I thought it was cool! Thanks for this article. : )

    (We kind of skipped all the shark stuff — I’m sure you won’t mind…)

    Comment by Researcher — February 17, 2011 @ 5:52 pm

  14. There you go — proof positive that reading Keepa will bring you the respect of your children. Spread the word!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 17, 2011 @ 6:43 pm

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