Weke, Moano, Kumu, and Munu – Goatfish

Weke ‘a’a – yellowstripe goatfish

Biology Connections – Ike Noeau:

Weke refers to several species of Goatfish found in Hawaii, including the Square-spot, Yellowfin, Bandtail, and Pfluger’s goatfish, which typically have one or more body stripes. Weke under 7 inches are referred to as ‘oama and the names for other Hawaiian goatfish are moano, kūmū, and munu. Goatfishes have beard-like extrusions called barbels, resembling a goats beard, which they use for ‘tasting’ the sand for worms, molluscs, and other invertebrates. Once they have located their prey, goatfish plunge their snout into the sand, inhale both sand and prey, and then expel the sand through their gill cover. With forked tails and two dorsal fins, goatfish have the remarkable ability to change color in seconds. Most goatfish are bottom-dwelling, but may school in midwater at midday. 

Cultural Connections – Mo’olelo:

All goatfish are prized as food. Kepelino’s Traditions of Hawaii records an ancient chant describing the importance of the moano,

Ono, ono wale mai la no ka hoi ka i’a o ke kai, A he moano kai lena, Ono! Ono!
Delicious, delicious is the fish of the sea, The moano of the yellowish sea, delicious, delicious!

Moano fish

Kumu fish

When Hawaiian priests required a red fish for an offering to the gods prior to launching a canoe, in hula ceremonies, and sometimes to atone for a sin, kūmū fish were commonly used. Kūmū also means master or teacher. After learning and mastering an art, people wishing to become a master often first make an offering of a kūmū fish. Weke are also popular food, but the brains of certain species contain toxins which can cause nightmares and hallucinations (Waikiki Aquarium). This is explained by the Hawaiian legend of the Mischievous Boy of Maui, which describes the tale of Kaulu, the son of the ruler of Maui, who was tormented by an evil spirit of a chief. Although Kaulu attempted to kill this evil spirit, he failed and the spirit escaped into the ocean, where he came to live in the head of the weke. Thus, the heads of certain heads are dangerous to eat because you might be tormented by this evil spirit chief.


Goatfish are featured in line 139 of the Hawaiian creation chant alongside the mano (shark),

Hanau ka Mano, hanau ka Moano, i ke kai la holo,
Born is the Mano [shark], born the Moano [goatfish] in the sea there swimming