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Samoan Material Culture



Various forms of scoop nets are referred to on page 476. There are, however, two forms of marine food which swarm in shoals at particular seasons and which are gathered in scoops not made of ordinary netting. The two foods are the palolo and the ingana, a small fry which corresponds to the whitebait of other countries.

Palolo scoop. The palolo swarms to the surface in myriads and all that is required is some form of scoop to dip them up out of the water. Children scoop them up with their cupped hands and empty them into a receptacle made of a sheet of the lau'a'a coconut fabric from the base of the leaves. The sheet is doubled, folded at the ends, and tied with a strip of bark. The little basket (Pl. XLI, D) is simply termed 'a'a from the material.

The palolo though long are very thin. The problem of making a fine enough mesh in netting was evaded by the Samoan who sought a substitute in other material. Two types of scoop were made and both are called 'enu. page 440The term 'enu is thus rather general as it applies to some forms of net scoops and also to certain forms of traps.

1.Coconut fabric scoop ('enu lau'a'a or taepa). The fabric-like lau'a'a forms a convenient material as it is already fashioned by nature. In Savaii it was made into a basket-like receptacle on a larger scale than the children's 'a'a. An alternative name for this form in Savaii is taepa. Kramer (18, vol. 2, p. 170) figures a deeper form.
2.Coconut leaflet midrib scoop ('enu tuaniu) is a much better article. It is also figured by Kramer (18, vol. 2, p. 170) and shows midribs made into a cone by rows of single pair twining. A handle is also provided. Edge-Partington (10, vol. 1, no. 3, p.77) figures a similar scoop.

Both forms of scoop are no longer in use as thin gauze or scrim can now be easily secured from the traders and made into scoop nets which are better or just as effective. At Tau, where the "palolo night" found me, my host's family had enough gauze from medical supplies to equip them, and as everybody else was similarly equipped, one looked in vain for the old time scoop nets during the fishing operations. The only ones who retained the old culture were the children who, failing to secure some gauze, still used the cupped hand scoop.

The palolo consists of the reproduction segments of a sea worm (Nereis) which are freed by the adult whose head end remains in its habitat at the bottom of the reef. The palolo comes wriggling up to the surface in immense quantities on certain parts of the coasts throughout the group, on the last night of the second quarter of the moon, or the following night in the months of October and November. If they appear in quantity in October there may be little in November, and if the supply fails in October, the Samoans look forward with confidence to November. In 1927 they appeared at Tau on October 17th just after midnight. The moon which was at the full rose at 2 A.M. and after that the palolo disappeared on Tau. On Tau, palolo catching thus takes place between midnight and the rising of the moon. This corresponds with full tide and the rising of the moon coincides with the tide going out and thus carrying the palolo out to sea. They were caught by using the scoops close to the shore as the waves brought them in. The fishing ground was restricted to a small stretch opposite an opening in the reef. The catch was small and was not much better the next night. The November nights were also poor.

On the "palolo nights," they appear earliest in the east at the Manuan group. From Tutuila westward the hour of appearance is progressively later until at the western extremity of the chain, Savaii, they appear at sunrise, where they are caught in daylight. In Manua, one works in the dark with the aid of coconut torches or the modern electric torches.

A night or so before the palolo appeared an old man stated he could page 441smell the pua palolo, a peculiar indefinite reef smell that is supposed to get very strong immediately preceding the appearance.

The palolo seen were in two colors; green and brown. Cooked, they form a greenish unappetizing mass which, however, has a characteristic salty taste which is quite palatable. Palolo is greatly esteemed by the Samoans. Chief's palolo is cooked with coconut cream. Some is laid aside and recooked again and again with more coconut cream so that it is not only kept preserved but increases in size. With this treatment it is kept till the next season when it is eaten and fresh chief's palolo made.

The palolo season is of importance in the Samoan calendar and some of the months are referred to as before and after "palolo."

The whitebait scoop (fonoti) is made of sennit three-ply braid with the same technique as the sennit baskets already mentioned. (See Plate XLII, A.) Though the sennit basket technique is lost through disuse the sennit scoops are still made at Ngataivai and neighboring villages on the south coast of Savaii. The scoop is made like a satchel with one end left unclosed. Two sticks are lashed to the rim on either side. The handles stop flush with the rim at the unclosed end and project backwards for 10 inches at the other. The sticks not only form the frame of the scoop at the rim but the projecting ends form a handle. The handle sticks when crossed over each other open out the unclosed end to form the scoop.

The technique demonstrated by an old chief of Ngataivai is important as it proves that the sennit baskets obtained at Ofu and at Safotu in Savaii are of local make as the Samoans maintained and are not a diffusion of actual material from Melanesia, as an isolated example might have lead us to infer. The baskets are no longer in demand but the whitebait run is an annual occurence which the Ngataivai people fortunately deal with by their old time method.

A piece of sennit braid was tied by one end round a carrying pole and stretched taut round an end of the pole. On the stretched line so provided loops were set up with a knot resembling the netting knot. (See figure 258.)

There are three ways in which the scoop is used:

1.In the stream. To scoop up the shoals as they are working up the stream from the sea, two people work together. One carries an ola fish basket as a receptacle for the catch, and the other uses the scoop. The scoop is opened out and the right hand grasps the crossed sticks with the thumb passing over the crossing to the inside of the scoop. (See Plate XLII, A.) The divergence of the handles is thus controlled and the scoop kept open. Both fishermen wade in the shallow stream and the scoopbearer, after ladling up the fish, empties them into, the basket held open by his assistant.
2.Over rocks (papa). The two streams up which the fish come have a number of shallows where flat rocks (papa) appear just above the surface. page 442The fish on their way upstream wriggle over these rocks. The fisherman holds the scoop below the rock and with a salu broom of coconut leaflet midribs brushes the fish off the rocks into the scoop.
Figure 258.—Technique of whitebait scoop (fonoti):

Figure 258.—Technique of whitebait scoop (fonoti):

a, the braid (1) was carried over the line (2), brought down behind it and held below the line by the left hand. The braid makes a wide loop (3) to the right, passes over both limbs of the loop around the line, passes back below them from the left and comes up through the loop (3) on the right. The knot is drawn taut as in the loops already made on the left. The technique of setting up loops is continued until the proposed length of the scoop is reached. b, The work is turned and meshes are now made by passing the braid through a loop above and tying the same knot. The knot is shown on the right where the braid has passed through the loop (1). The knot is the usual Samoan netting knot but instead of being made over the limbs of the loop above as in nets, it is made below the loop as shown. Each row is made with the same number of meshes and the work turned at the end of each row so that it proceeds from left to right. With an ordinary scoop 11 inches long and 8 inches deep, each row corresponds in length to the first one, namely 11 inches. The rows are added until the material is twice the required depth, namely 16 inches. The 16-inch length is doubled to make a depth of 8 inches and one end is closed. c, The end to be closed is turned downwards with the folded margin which is to form the bottom turned to the left. The closing knot is the same as on the body but the braid passes over a mesh from each edge instead of one. d, The meshes (1 and 1') are the meshes on either side of the left fold in (c). A piece of braid with a stopper knot (2) at the end is passed through both meshes and the usual knot tied below them. The braid then passes through the next two meshes on the right (3 and 3') which are brought together, and the knot (4) made under them. The next two meshes (5 and 5') are brought together, the braid passed through them and the knot (6) is shown in the making. The knots thus close the end up to the right edge which is to form the opening. e, The material is turned so that the right edge in the last figure is now above and the closed end to the right. The two sticks are now fastened in the position shown. f, The end of a piece of braid is looped around the handle end (1), through a mesh (2), and tied around its standing part with the knot (3). The braid passes to the right for about 0.5 inches, turns downward through a mesh and after passing around the handle passes over and then under the standing part of the braid in the knot (4). This is continued till one handle is fixed, then the other handle is fastened to its upper edge in the same way. The above is the technique described by the Samoan expert. g, In the scoop figured, however, the loops were set up on a piece of braid for twice the depth, namely 16 inches. The material was then netted to a depth of 8.5 inches, turned upside down, and another set of loops formed on the same braid cord (1) but on the other side from the first part (2). The loops are continued for the full length of 16 inches and additional rows (3) added for a depth of 2.5 inches. The longest diameter of 16 inches was then doubled and dealt with by closing one end and attaching the handles.

page 443
3.Under waterfalls (niu pangoa). At Puleia, close to Ngataivai, there is a fair sized waterfall. The fish find their way into the rocky clefts below the overshoot of the fall. A torch made of the dry flower sheaths of the coconut (taume) is used to drive the fish out of the clefts when they are swept into the scoop with the salu broom. The torch is protected from the water spray by the large leaves of the launga papa placed above it. It is the heat of the torch that drives the fish out of the narrow clefts.

The season commences in August and may reach to December. The two streams frequented are Ngataivai and Puleia.

The small fish ascend the streams after coming in from the sea. The Samoans follow them upstream and the inland villages get their share. They are said to become a little smaller just after coming in from the sea but to grow larger as they ascend. The larger more mature form is called 'anamangi. The larger fish are not sought after for themselves but are often caught whilst fishing for fresh-water crayfish. My informants had never noticed the 'anamangi in roe or moving downstream at any particular time. Large fish follow the ingana in, and during the season are caught close to the shore. A small sea eel (mango) is caught in the sand below the fall at Puleia. If the sand is scooped up and thrown ashore, several of them are thrown out in it. They bury themselves in the sand tail first. The tail is round and pointed. These small animals also prey on the ingana. When they come in, the mango erect themselves on their tails to catch the ingana. The Samoans call the mango, the 'ata of the ingana, 'ata evidently meaning the natural enemy, as the shark is of the atule.

Legenedary Origin

The ingana was brought from Fiji by Sina with its 'ata, an eel like fish called the mango, and its guardian, a very large fish called pa'i tele. Sina came to visit her mother, Le Afine-vave, who lived at Afoasau between Sili and Vaiala. She was accompanied by Ili and Tangoai, both men. They caught a shark on the voyage and landed at Sapapalii in Savaii. Sina sent the men overland with the shark to her mother while she travelled along the shore with her fish.

On the journey, the two men ate the liver of the shark. On their arrival at Afoasau, they presented the shark to Sina's mother but she, seeing that the liver had been removed, reprimanded them for eating it (fa'asua i le ate). From this incident she named her son Fa'asua-i-au, which is the origin of a title in Afoasau.

Sina left her fish, the ingana, for her brother Faasua-i-au and appointed Ili and Tangoai as guardians of the fish for Faasua-i-au.