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Samoan Material Culture

Seine Nets

Seine Nets

Lengths of net with float and sinker lines are used. They vary from short lengths of 8 to 10 fathoms to fairly long nets. The nature of the lagoon bottom over which netting takes place is so irregular from clefts, rocks, and coral outcrop that the usual hauling of a seine net cannot be carried out. Nets are therefore set and not hauled. They form barriers, weirs, or enclosures which prevent the escape of fish. They may be divided into short, winged, and long nets.

Short nets ('upenga fa'alava). Short lengths of 8 to 10 fathoms with pegged float lines and stone sinker lines were used in ordinary family fishing by a small party. At Leone, I assisted the Ripley family in this form of fishing. Two persons were stationed with a net which was spread across a channel. The channel is ava and the method of fishing by stretching the net across is tu ava ava. The fisherman dived down to see that the sinker line rested on the bottom and adjusted it into holes, depressions, and around rocks so that no openings were left below the sinker line. The other members of the family, spread out in a curve, worked down towards the net, splashing and beating the water to drive the fish into the net. On the way they subjected rocks to close scrutiny by diving down and feeling or spearing in the crevices. In this manner they caught several fish and others were driven into the net page 483where they were meshed. Every crevice and hole in the rocks was known to them. After the drive the net was taken up and carried across to another channel. The net, being short and light, was quickly folded at the float line and carried over the shoulder of one person. In this manner, the part of the lagoon adjacent to the family dwellings was worked over.

Short nets were also useful with the artificially made rock heaps. After driving the fish into the heaps, the net was run round it and the sinker line carefully adjusted to the bottom. The stones were then removed by dropping them outside the net line. The fish were speared or caught up in some form of scoop net and the surrounding net prevented their escape, some being caught in the meshes.

The casting net was used for the above purposes quite readily. When opened out across a channel or used round a rock heap, it was an 'upenga fa'alava, but when folded and cast, the same net was an 'upenga tili.

Winged nets. A characteristic net has a purse in the middle called the muli while the two ends are spread out to form a V. The net is set and thus forms a transportable V-shaped weir. It has various names. In Manua, it was described as an 'upenga tali with a bag in the middle and two wings stretching out from it. The name tali (to receive) has an obvious meaning. In Savaii, it is termed 'upenga matalili'i (small meshes) from the fact that the meshes are made small to prevent small fish escaping through the purse. A net examined in Safune, Savaii, was 36 feet long opened out. It had a pegged float line and stone sinkers. The middle 12 feet was doubled and the float lines and sinker lines tied together with a continuous cord to form a purse 6 feet long with 12-foot wings on either side. The net is shorter than the average and was used to catch the small fish among the amu branching coral. It was set in an appropriate place and the people worked towards it, breaking the coral with sticks in the tu'itu'i amu process. As the commonest fish in the coral is the tu'u'u, the net was referred to as an 'upenga tu'i tu'u'u, which was merely a convenient way of describing its use.

A much larger net of this type was used at Fangamalo, Savaii, in connection with the coconut leaf lauloa method described. The floats were of large branch sections and there were no sinkers attached to the bottom line, large stones from the bottom of the lagoon being rolled over the bottom line when the net was set.

The large net made of breadfruit bast to be described on page 487 was also of the purse type.

Long nets. A long net at Aunuu island off Tutuila was 300 feet long, 5 feet 9 inches deep, with a 2-inch mesh. The round floats 1.5 inches in diameter and ranging from 3 to 14 inches in length were attached in the usual way to the top line about 16 to 17 inches apart. The sinkers were of lead. The net was termed uluulu or talaua'au.

page 484

In Upolu and Savaii, a long net (tolomatu) is used in connection with catching mullet. A short one of 26 arm spans was seen hanging out to dry at Iva, Savaii. The drying sticks of forked uprights, about 4 feet apart, are tautaulanga. Two pieces were being joined together by running a cord through the marginal meshes of each end. A pointed stick of coconut wood about 3 feet, 6 inches long was used to gather the net on and was called an 'ausi. The pointed end could then be stuck into the roof of the house and thus hang up the net.

At Moataa, Upolu, the nets were joined together to form a length of 60 arm spans. The nets were carried into the water on the 'ausi stakes. Two stakes were used with a man holding each end of each stake. Owing to the large quantity of fish that come into the lagoon, and the length of net required, the fishing operation is a community one shared by the whole village. The net is thus made in sections by the community. At Puapua, Savaii, the rule is for each matai head of a family to make two arm spans and an additional span for each male child in his family. The sections were made well before the season opened and when needed were assembled and joined together. The float and bottom lines were run through the sections. The ends of the sections were joined as seen at Iva, or were simply overlapped slightly and tied to the upper and lower lines so as not to work apart. Mullet will not go through the net but endeavor to escape by leaping over it.

The nets are used to form an enclosure round the fish. The fish are actually caught with the alangamea net described on page 479. After the long net has been set across the direction in which the fish are moving, the fishermen, each armed with an alangamea, take up their positions outside the net and close together. The free end of the alangamea is held tilted slightly upwards towards the set net and the slack of muli bag part is held in the left hand. The fish are driven towards the set net and as they reach it, they jump over it and land in the scoop nets. The scoop is tilted up and the muli slack let go so that the fish slide into it. By bending the heads back, the fishes' necks are broken. They are kept in the slack until 8 or 10 are obtained, when they are emptied into paopao canoes which are close behind the fishermen. Some of the large scoop nets will hold 15 to 20 fish before they need be emptied. The process of catching the mullet in the air with the scoop net is called seu'anae. When the scoop net is opened out and fitted into the fork of the crossbar it is not tied in order that it may be quickly closed when carried to another position.

At Puapua, the mullet fishing takes place between the reef and a ridge of unsubmerged rock running parallel with the reef at a place called Utuutu. A long net is stretched to form a deep U between the rock ridge and the reef with the open part facing to the east. The schools of fish come from that direction and when a sufficient number have entered the open enclosure, an-page 485other shorter net is run across the opening to close it. The scoop nets are then used on the outer side of the curve of the first net. Sometimes another school arrives before the first school is disposed of. These are kept waiting by shaking the short cross net. When the first school has been disposed of, the short net is drawn aside and the second school allowed to enter, when the short net is again drawn across. The schools which are kept waiting outside the short net are termed tautau 'upenga.

The mullet caught with the tolo matu and alangamea are red-lipped and hence called 'anae ngutu mumu (ngutu, lip; mumu, red). This distinguishes them from the other mullet ('anae Samoa). The red-lipped mullet are stated by tradition to come from Fiji. The Samoan mullet is usually caught in an ordinary net, but the alangamea scoop is used for it at Nuuli (Tutuila), Palauli (Savaii), and also at Leulumoenga and Falelatai in Upolu.

The red-lipped mullet appears first in Upolu at Moataa. They are stated to come direct from Fiji to enter through a passage in the reef near Moataa in October. After passing along inside the reef, they move out through another passage near Vaiala and go on west to Savaii. At Savaii they enter through a channel called Tautu, which is opposite Iva. They proceed along inside the reef as far as Tuasivi, near which they pass out again. Further to the west, they re-enter the lagoon at Lano and go on to Puapua, where they are last seen. The season extends from October to December. The fishing is naturally best at Moataa, where up to 3,000 may be obtained at one catching. The shoals are further depleted at Iva before they reach Puapua, but Puapua, though last, is not least in tradition.

In Tutuila, the red-lipped muliet appear only at the western end. They appear first at Lauanae and then move westward to Amanave near the lighthouse island. Here they are caught in nets stretched across a channel between the small island and the coast. No alangamea scoop net is used.

Traditional Origin

Sina and her daughter came from Fiji with a fish called le i'a a Sina (Sina's fish). They landed at Sangone in Savaii and travelled overland through the Saleleanga district, the fish following at sea. Sina, who was blind and led by her daughter, travelled through as far as Puapua without anyone offering hospitality on the way. At Puapua, she was entertained by Pau and Ungalo. In gratitude, Sina gave her fish to the village. To catch the fish, she told Pau and Ungalo to order the people to collect mats made of pandanus and coconut leaves. She indicated that the place within the reef, Utuutu, should be enclosed with mats between the ridge of rocks and the reef, leaving an opening towards the east. When the fish entered the enclosure, the open end was to be closed with more mats. The people were to surround the enclosure and catch the fish in other mats as they jumped over. This was carried out successfully. Sina ordered that the catch should be divided amongst the villagers, always after a share for herself had been set aside. The following prohibitions were made sa:

No coverings were to be used on the head except lime.

No coverings were to be used on the body except the ti leaf kilt (titi).

In this manner the body was to be exposed to the sun or the rain.

page 486

One day Sina's daughter came back from the beach saying the fishermen had returned home without leaving out a share for her. Weeping bitterly over this neglect and disrespect Sina set out to leave the village, her daughter leading her. The chief Le Malu, however, met her and finding that she was leaving the village, he begged her to forgive the discourtesy and remain. Sina remaining obdurate, Le Malu abased himself before her by throwing himself face downwards across her path (pa'u fao). He begged her first to rest in his house and then to take his daughter as food for her journey. Such respectful treatment had the effect of inducing Sina to stay.

Sina then gave the rule over her fish to Le Malu and delegated to Pau and Ungalo the task of watching for the coming of the schools of fish in the following words: "'Ia fa'ala ma fa'aua ia Pa'u ma Ungalo i le va'ava'aina o le i'a pe a sau, 'ae pule 'oe i le i'a" (May the sun scorch and the rain drench Pau and Ungalo whilst watching for the fish whether it will come but you Le Malu rule over the fish).

Subsequently, Le Malu, in consultation with Pau and Ungalo, decided that Toaloa should be le mata-o-le-i'a (the watcher for the fish).

To this day, a descendant of Toaloa holds the hereditary position of watcher for the fish. He stands to the east of the grounds and signals when the shoals are coming. The story goes on to say that the mats were changed to nets by the order of Sina.

Lack of agreement in tradition is seen in the Tutuila story.

Two youths of Tutuila went to Manua. On returning on their canoe a man on the coast of Tau called. They took no notice until they found they could make no progress. The canoe would not go forward. They took the man aboard, who was really the god Tangaloa. As they neared the islands of Tutuila, Upolu, and Savaii, Tangaloa hid the land so that they travelled on to Fiji.

From this he was called Tangaloa-ufi-nu'u (The concealer of land). At Fiji, the tale records their success in evading the pointing finger of the King of Fiji, which killed all against whom it was directed. Tangaloa sent the boys back with the 'aulosoloso (flower stem of the coconut), the breadfruit (manavenave), and the 'anae (mullet). He told them not to bail out their canoe. Opposite Puapua in Savaii, the canoe was heavy with water. They disregarded the command and in bailing out the canoe the mullet was cast out at Puapua. The boys were brothers of Tuiafono.

The use of the alangamea scoop net at Nuuuli for the Samoan mullet is an importation from Upolu and Savaii. Originally a framework, like a bench with a high back, was made of poles, and from a resemblance to a canoe (va'a) was termed va'a tapa'au. This was covered with coconut leaf mats (tapa'au). A number of them placed outside the tolo matu set net. People then chased the mullet from the inside. When they jumped over the net, they struck the high back and fell down on the bench part where they were secured.

Besides mullet the long net was also used to enclose the matu. It received its name tolo matu from this use. The term tolo is to curve around a net and set it by pushing it forward with the feet as in the use of the lauloa. The net thus encircled the matu and the enclosure gradually decreased in size. The se'i hand net was used for picking the fish up and it formed part of the equipment with the tolo matu net.

Shark nets ('upenga malie.) Shark nets as described in Tau were made of the thick three-ply twisted cord of matiata bast. The mesh was large; the page 487length about 50 yards, and the depth 18 feet. Floats made of breadfruit wood were attached to the upper rope at about 2 feet apart. Large stone sinkers were attached at either end and a lighter one in the middle. Two such stones are shown in Plate XL, D: one with a well marked longitudinal groove on either side was secured by Mr. Judd at Leone and was held to be an anchor for a special bait used in connection with the net. It could serve both purposes.

The bait consisted of two kinds: the maunu seu tied to the top line, and the maunu tau, tied to the meshes at different parts. The bait of fish attracted shark and other large fish which, in trying to secure the bait, got caught by the gills in the meshes.

The net is set outside the reef and at right angles to it. It had to be set in water that was not too deep. The stone sinkers or anchors (taula) had to rest on the ground. Hence the saying, applied to a dreamer who makes impractical suggestions with no sense in them: Lafo le taula i fonua (Drop the anchor where it will reach the ground).

With the first anchor near the reef, and the bottom line resting on the bottom, the floats are dragged under but still serve to keep the net upright. The upper line at each end has a large float, which reaches the surface and indicates the position of the net. The net is set in the afternoon and left until morning as the fish are caught by the gills at night. When the net is set, it is termed fa'atofa le 'upenga (putting the net to sleep for the night). The term is used only with a shark net.

In Asau, Savaii, a large net ('upenga tanifa) made of breadfruit was used for netting a kind of shark (tanifa) which came into the lagoon in large numbers at a certain season.

Breadfruit bast net. The net ('upenga 'ulu) is made of the bast preferably of the aveloloa breadfruit. The bark from shoots is scraped like the paper mulberry on a board but it is never beaten. When fresh, the bast is easily snapped but when dry and rolled (milo) into twisted cord, it is very strong.

The people at Safune had made a similar net but had given it as a present to the village of Leauvaa in Upolu. Fortunately, I tracked it down at Leauvaa and located it hanging up in a shed. The cord was of two-ply twist of the size of very thick string used in tying parcels. It varied considerably, however, in different parts of the net, some parts being comparatively thin. The mesh was 3 inches each way. The top rope was of five-ply sennit braid with a short length of three-ply added. The floats were the usual round sections of wood, some being 4.5 inches long by 4.5 inches in diameter; others were 3 inches in each measurement. The top rope was tied directly round them with the float knot in the usual way. The bottom line had no sinkers but was fixed to the bottom by rolling coral boulders or rocks over the line to rest on the net. The depth was 10 feet but the length which was considerable could not be ascertained. The net had a purse (muli).

page 488

This particular net was said to be made from the 'ulu manu'a variety of breadfruit. It was called an 'upenga 'ulu from the material but the same type was called 'upenga tanifa in Asau from its function. Though the tanifa (a shark with three dorsal fins and a long thin tail like a malauli, caught within the reef in the passage, and close to the village at full tide in season) name is given, all fish that enter are grist to the mill.

Turtle net ('upenga 'afa). The turtle net gets its name of 'afa from the three-ply sennit braid with which it is made. The braid is slightly thicker than the ordinary braid used in lashing houses.

The only net in Savaii was seen at Ngataivai. The mesh was 13 by 12 inches and tied with the usual netting knot. An idea of the size of the meshes may be obtained from Plate XLV, C. The top line was of three-ply braid of the same thickness as the net material. The floats were the usual round sections of wood, but in tying them with the top line the marginal mesh was caught in with the tie.

The float line was threaded through the marginal meshes before each float was tied on. The bottom line consisted of a well made five-ply sennit braid threaded through the marginal meshes. Stone sinkers were tied on the bottom line by a separate cord.

The net was 24 meshes deep and each mesh was a foot deep. Made in two parts, each about 34 fathoms long, the nets were wound separately on stout poles which served the purpose also of carrying poles hoisted on the shoulders of two men. The village of Ngataivai is in two parts, one on either side of the Ngataivai stream. As the full net was owned by the community, one portion was kept on either side of the river. When the head fisherman decided the time was favorable for turtle, the two sections were assembled and the village took part in the fishing.

The turtle net is used on the rockbound cliff-girt coast west of Ngataivai where there is no reef. The net is carried on canoes with the netting party while lookouts travel along the top of the cliffs looking for turtle. On seeing them, the lookouts signal the canoes and indicate where they are. The net is dropped in a line parallel with the shore opposite the point indicated. The men then jump overboard and form lines from the ends of the net to the shore. They beat the surface of the water with sticks (lauta). The shore ends of the lines then work inwards to join and then advance towards the net driving the turtle into it. The turtle get their heads through the meshes and are caught up in the net. In removing turtle, the front fins are held and the turtle guided in the required direction. In the daytime, the turtle are seen and readily removed. In netting at night, larger turtle are caught. Owing to the darkness, however, the net and turtle are bundled up together and taken ashore.