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Samoan Material Culture

Casting Net

Casting Net

The Samoan casting net ('upenga tili) consists of an ordinary straight net a few fathoms long and about 5 feet deep. (See Plate XLV, D.) It has an upper line with peg floats and a lower line with sinkers. In Olosenga the casting nets all had small sinkers of round waterworn stone but in most parts lead is now used. The success in casting depends on the way the net is gathered (sangaio) and held in the right hand. As it is too deep to manipulate, it is folded by turning down the upper third. The float line is held in the teeth to stretch the net to its full depth, while the left hand grasps the meshes page 481about a third down. The teeth let go and the float line thus falls down to form the right fold. The net is usually grasped by the left hand from the front when the float line falls backward when let go. The procedure may be reversed by grasping the net from behind and letting the float cord fall forward. Whichever method is commenced must be carried on to the end. The part of the net grasped by the left hand must then be transferred to the right hand with regular sequence and arrangement between the right fingers.

The right hand holds the right end of the net temporarily. The float line is seized between the teeth and the weight of the sinkers stretches that part of the net to its full depth. The left hand selects a part of the net a third from the top and transfers the part grasped to the right hand as the teeth let go. The first fold is brought into the right palm between the thumb and forefinger and held by the thumb closing down over it. The float line about 2 feet, 6 inches to 3 feet away to the left is brought in by the left hand and, held by the teeth to stretch the net. The left hand again selects a spot a third down and transfers it to the right hand as the teeth let go. The second fold is passed into the right palm between the fore and middle fingers. The method of seizing fresh folds is continued with regular spacing to the left. Three folds are successively placed between the middle and ring fingers and three between the ring and little fingers. The closure of the fingers is sufficient to keep the folds in position. The last four folds are brought into the right palm on its ulnar side and held by closing the fingers over the palm. The arrangement of folds was 1, 1, 3, 3, and 4, commencing from the thumb side, but if the net is longer, the fisherman alters the number of folds to suit. He gets to know his own net. The number of folds may alter except between the thumb and forefinger which is always a single fold but the order between the fingers must be maintained. To form a circle with the throw, the two ends of the float line must be tied together. If the floats have been dropped backwards, the line must be tied forward or away from the body but if the floats have been dropped forward, the line must be tied at the back or towards the body.

Casting. The fisherman walks along the edge of the lagoon or wades in the shallow water until he sees a shoal of fish. Judging the distance, he swings the folded net backwards and forwards to gather impetus and then, with a curve, to the front of the body and back. From the back swing, he comes forward with the cast. As the hand goes forward, he turns it with the back upwards in pronation as he lets go. The sinker line spreads out in a curve which is restricted to a circle if the ends are tied. The fisherman who demonstrated the method on land, showed his skill by throwing the net over me. The net is thus thrown with a high trajectory into the air and falls fairly vertically round the mark. Subsequent practice showed that the throwing is quite simple if the net has been properly folded.

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Some doubt has been expressed as to the 'upenga tili being native Samoan. This is due to confusing the casting net described with the Chinese cast net which is closed at the top, like an inverted bowl. This is a permanent closure whereas the Samoan net is only tied with the float line when being folded. When cast it forms a ring of netting round the fish. The Chinese casting net has become popular in some parts of Samoa but is distinguished by being called 'upenga tili Saina (Saina, China). Sometimes the casting net is thrown without the ends being tied.

The casting net gets the name of tili from the casting process. In Asau, Savaii, the net so used is called 'upenga mangingi from its being used to catch the mangingi fish which gather in shoals. The net used is about 8 fathoms long and is folded as described above. There are two methods of casting: 1. tili tongi (tongi, to cast) the complete cast with the ends tied to form a ring; 2. fa'asavangatunu, after gathering the folds into the right hand, three are let go as a slack and the end held in the left hand without being tied. When the cast is made, the left end is let go at the last minute so that the net makes a pronounced curve beyond the fish. The fisherman starting forward after his cast drives the fish into the curve of the net. Pratt (23, p. 101) gives fa'tasavangatunu as to fish with two nets, but in Asau no mention was made of a second net.