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Ethnology of Manihiki and Rakahanga

Flesh Foods

Flesh Foods

In the absence of cannibalism and many flesh foods, the proteid part of the diet was based on fish and shellfish augmented sometimes by wild fowl.

Fish were plentiful within the lagoon and in the deep sea. They were caught by a variety of methods (see pp. 158194). Certain fish were page 91 eaten raw as a change in diet and because the taste was appreciated. The general routine, however, was to cook them in the earth oven. When the sea and season were favorable, the people fared well. When, however, the sea was rough for some time in particular seasons, want of a flesh complement (ninaki) to eat with the vegetable food was felt. On such occasions the Takai-whakaheo chiefess was called upon to exercise her power in calming the sea to enable the hungry fishermen to supply the larder. Cooked fish left over from meals were dried and kept in baskets for future use.

The waters of the outer lagoon were rich in crayfish, which were caught at night by torching and formed an important addition to the diet. They were cooked in the oven.

Two species of land crab, the tupa and the koveu, are plentiful, but the koveu (coconut crab) was more sought after. Certain islands were closed until the koveu were plentiful, when the restrictions were removed. Motungangie was opened for our party. We went crabbing at night with torches of dry coconut leaves. The ground was damp from rain, and the crabs, bloated, purplish objects with powerful claws, were found out of their holes, resting on tree trunks. We procured a large number by picking the crabs from the tree trunks or poking them down with the torch or a stick when out of reach. The natives grasp them behind the claws and then tie them with strips of bark or tari so that their claws are pinioned. The crabs are cooked in the oven. The huge claws contain a delicate flesh, but the rich fatty material in the round bloated part is considered the best portion. It is very rich and oily, but palatable. On account of the oil, I should imagine that the koveu supplies an important addition to the atoll diet.

The inner lagoons in both atolls were rich in pearl oyster (parau) and Tridacna (pahua). The Tridacna formed an important food supply and were eaten either raw or cooked in the oven. Tridacna were also strung on strips of tari after cooking and dried in the sun to form a reserve supply. When dried, Tridacna become as hard as leather and keep for a considerable time. After they are recooked in the oven, they become soft again. We found Tridacna a useful change while on Rakahanga. The women of our household were eager to get us a supply when we expressed the wish. The Tridacna were of medium size and were obtained from the sandy bottom of the inner lagoon in comparatively shallow water. Almost every household had strings of dried Tridacna hanging up in the cooking house. In eating raw shellfish, a certain amount of salty liquid which satisfies the craving for salt is ingested. Other smaller shellfish are found in smaller quantities and are collected by the women.

Turtles were caught and cooked, but did not seem to play as important a part in the marae ceremony as they did in Tongareva.

page 92

All wild fowl that could be caught were grist to the mill. The man-of-war hawk (kotaha) and the brown booby (toroa) were caught at night on their rookeries. A strip of coconut midrib skin (tari) tied in a running noose was attached to a handle of ngangie wood. The stiff tari material kept the noose open. The birds roost on low tauhunu bushes and along the leaves of coconut trees. On the low plants, they were easily reached with the noose. The higher coconut trees were climbed by the fowler, and birds within reach were caught both by hand and by snare. The coconut leaf was bent down, which caused the birds farther out to climb up toward the butt, when they came within reach. The kotaha colored white on the neck under the bill are termed kotaha mari and those colored red, kotaha tarakura. Two smaller seabirds, the ngoio and rakie, were also caught.

Other birds were caught with set snares or killed with stones (pehi ki te toka). The snares consisted of running loops of coconut husk fiber arranged in rows on sticks with the loops directed upward. Barriers were made on opposite sides of the set snares to force the birds to pass through the snares as they moved about on their quest for food. The birds said to be caught in the snares were the torea, kihi, parauanga, kururi, rahurahu, and moiho.