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Mangaian Society



The specific term for fishing is tautai, a word also used in a general sense to include methods of obtaining living things as food. Thus tautai 'enua (land fishing) denotes methods of catching land crabs and even rats.

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Fishing, a necessity and not a sport, was followed by all, with the exception, perhaps, of the sacred high priests of Rongo.

Women fished within the lagoon. They employed groping with the hands among the rocks, short sticks to drive the octopus out of holes at low tide, and hand nets. They were allowed to assist in the community drives by men within the lagoon. At night they could use the torch and hand net within the lagoon. Thus their scope was bounded by the outer edge of the reef.

Men, though using the methods of the women, employed larger hand nets within the lagoon, the flying-fish net outside the reef, and hook and line within the lagoon, on the outer edge of the reef, and in the deep waters beyond. The fishing canoe was restricted to men. All were skilled fishermen, but some excelled through greater knowledge and aptitude.

A person with a set of nets was considered a man of wealth. The wide net (nariki), owing to its size and fine mesh, was of the highest value. Dip nets, though handled by one man in the channels, required an assistant to drive the fish toward the net holder. The wider nets with end poles required two holders and others to drive the fish.

For deep-sea fishing an octopus for bait had to be secured outside the reef by diving. Whoever first caught an octopus had to share the tentacles with the other canoes.

Poisoning pools within the lagoon was called 'ora. Because this method of fishing wastefully killed a number of young fish it was prohibited (ra'ui) except at special times designated by the chiefs of the districts. The 'ora was a social event, a time for laughing and splashing enjoyment:

The whole community shared in collecting and preparing the narcotizing material (crushed stems and roots of the Tephrosia piscatoria and grated fruit of the Barring-tonia). After the pool had been treated and the requisite time for affecting the fish had elapsed, a crowd of men, women, and children dashed into the pool with baskets, dip nets, and, in modern times, spears. Though each person was anxious to secure the greatest number as a mark of skill, the whole catch was heaped together and divided (tu'a) into shares for the several cooperating families. Extra or larger fish were added to the shares of families of high rank.

The lore and skill of the fisherman (makona) was transmitted from father to son. The makona directed those who accompanied him, and disregard of his instructions generally caused a man to fall into some of the small holes that studded the lagoon bottom and cut his legs and feet on the dangerous unga koa. The makona knew the weather signs and the significance of the direction of the Milky Way. Cold, rain, and storm did not retard him if the nights of the month (arapo) were right for certain fish. The makona who went out in all weathers received the special designation, tautai tonga tuatua akau.

The lie of the Milky Way (te moe a te Ika) indicated at what part of the coast the kuonga (calm) lay. It was said that the fish followed the kuonga to the calm side of the island, and that even the land crabs and rats went around to that side. My informant stated:

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Kua kite ratou tei reira te kuonga. They saw that the calm was there.
Tei reira te tai meitaki, te tai mate. The favorable tide was there, the dead tide [perfectly calm].

After the kuonga was pointed out, all the fishing canoes assembled and lined up on the beach (paetai). The hereditary Ruler of Food, who took charge, was referred to as the man with the tirango moana. The term seems to refer both to his deep knowledge of weather signs and to his possession of charms representing Mokoiro. Evidently, in addition to coconut leaf charms which he affixed to each canoe of the fleet he had a special technique for his own canoe. Aiteina states that he folded pieces of bark cloth (autea) in the form of cones and turned the edges at the base inward into the cone. A cone was termed a poani (plug; Rarotongan, poponi, "to stop up"), and four were made. One poani was pushed under the forward outrigger boom where it was attached to the gunwale on the starboard side (hated), the second under the same boom on the port side (ama), the third under the bow cover (tuauru i mua), and the fourth under the stern cover (win vakd). The description runs:

Nona 'ua te vaka tei rave'ia, tei te karo mai te katoatoa. Only his canoe was so treated, all the people watched.
Ua tara ratou o eia poani i rave'ia e teia tangata, o nga rua matangi e 'a o te ao nei. They [the old people] said that these plugs used by that man, [were to block up] the wind openings numbering four, of this world.
O te aiteanga teia o nga poani e 'a. This is the reason of the four plugs.

Having symbolically plugged the four wind holes of the world, the priest recited the following incantation:

Tirango moana i 'oaia The charms of the sea have been made,
Ei ueue i te taorangi To lever up the prop of the heavens,
E paku te vaka i te 'a'anga. That the canoes may splash down on the sea terrace.
Ua no'o nga tuarangi takino o te moana. The spirits beyond the horizon who roughen the sea remain peaceful
Ei 'akatere i te pa 'etu, To guide the set of the stars
Tau ai te marama. That the moon may remain calm.

The fleet then set out, in full confidence that no rough weather would arise, to fish for manga (barracouta) and other deep-sea fish. Should the weather signs indicate a change, the Ruler of Food would give the signal for going in. He stayed outside the reef and checked off the canoes before coming in himself. Sometimes a timid fisherman came in when a shower of rain fell, and without consulting the ruler of the fleet. Such men dropped their supply of stone sinkers and could not readily come out again when the shower passed over. They were laughed at by the others and disparagingly referred to as children. The Ruler of Food did not always go out himself. His place was taken by a skilled weather expert of tried courage who was then referred to as the man with the tirango moana.

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When the canoes returned to the beach, the leader might call a fisherman's meal (a'i tara'u). Each successful fisherman contributed a good-sized fish, and the leader contributed two. These were cooked on the beach and then divided by the leader among all the canoes. The men then feasted on the beach, whether it was night or day. The object of the a'i tara'u was not only immediately to refresh the fishermen but also to give their unsuccessful comrades a meal. When the fishermen returned inland to their homes, various other obligations had to be discharged. A fish was set aside for their tribal gods or for Ruaatu, and fish had to be given away as gifts to chiefs or relations. By the a'i tar'u the fishermen made sure of one meal of fish.

Gill (9, pp. 102, 103) describes a form of fishing ceremonial connected with preparations for a great feast substantially as follows:

In addition to the individual canoes, each tribe launched a canoe (vaka tuarangi) in honor of its tribal god, in charge of the head of a family. For each of the first two fishing trips the canoes set out at daybreak and returned at midday. An unsuccessful canoe was termed a vaka kirikiri (canoe with gravel), as the fisherman could offer only a coral pebble to his tribal god whereas his successful comrades strung the smallest fish of their respective catches and sent them as offerings to the tribal marae. The fish were then cooked on the beach and all the fishermen shared together with their first-born sons (tama), in whose honor the first catch was eaten. The next day the catch was eaten in honor of the first-born daughters ('ine). After the first-born of the two sexes had been honored, the special restrictions lapsed and the real fishing to provide food for the impending feast commenced on the following night.

Fishermen called upon their own particular family gods for assistance at times while actually fishing. Potai, of evil fame, when he hooked a large shark, called upon his god Veri, as follows: "Ta'i'ia e Veri i te aka aoa i Vaia'u." (Tangle it up, O Veri, like the banyan roots at Vaiau.) Potai lived at Vaia'u, where there was a large banyan tree with innumerable aerial rootlets forming a thick tangle. The call was for the god to tangle the shark up in his line so that it could not escape.

Another fisherman named Tito, whose god was Te-aio, the shark god, hearing Potai, paddled over intending to match his own god against Veri to loosen the fish and catch it on his own line. Potai, suspecting this, called out to him, "Ei te atua 'okota'i, e Tito."(Leave it with the one god, O Tito.) Tito, being a sport, respected the apt saying.