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Samoan Material Culture

Usage and Custom

Usage and Custom

The sexes. The sphere of the two sexes in fishing was clearly defined. Women spent quite a lot of time in the lagoon but the methods open to them were restricted. A woman's ordinary field kit consisted of an ola basket slung over her back or around her waist, a strong mele'i pointed stick for prising up stones and shell fish and a slender rod (la'au sao) for driving squids out of their holes. With this equipment she searched the shallow parts of the lagoon and the dry reef at low tide. The tu'u'u trap and groping under rocks formed other methods. In company with others, the ola tu plaited basket was used as a manipulated trap around the stone heaps and in connection with battering the branching coral amu. She also assisted on occasion in driving with the long leaf lauloa and in these days she may be seen assisting to drive into the shorter nets placed across channels.

To men all methods beyond the strictly female methods were open. In individual fishing he pleased himself but in community methods there had to be a leader who by experience and recognized authority could decide what methods were to be used, when and where, and take command over those engaged. This need created the position of the head fisherman (tautai).

The head fisherman. It does not appear that the Samoans delegated fishing to one particular class who did nothing else. The whole male community indulged in fishing including high chiefs if they so desired. Fishing was a sport as well as a food procuring activity. Some of the community methods were occasions of fun and excitement and corresponded to a combined picnic and sports gathering that took place in that most important Polynesian playground, the lagoon. All experienced fishermen were classed as tautai but amongst them one was elected by common consent to the position of head tautai of the village. In a large village with distinct divisions or groupings, each division might have its own tautai. The heads of families met in a guest house, and over a bowl of kava decided according to the season what form of community fishing should take place, as quantity or shoals of particular fish could only be secured adequately by the cooperation of numbers. page 518In these gatherings, the tautai naturally assumed command. In the community methods in the lagoon or outside the reef, the head tautai was in absolute command. He was the chief and men of higher rank and authority on shore were inferior to him on the realm of the sea. A clear cut distinction existed between the two spheres of influence. The authority of the tautai did not extend to the land except, of course, in the preliminary arrangements connected with fishing.

The distinction was conveyed in a saying which amounted to a law.

E le au le va ngauta i le va ngatai, The authority of the land does not apply to the sea,
E le au le va ngatai i le va ngauta. The authority of the sea does not apply to the land.

The authority of the tautai is best exemplified by the bonito fleet.

The bonito fleet. The bonito canoes usually go out in a fleet over which the tautai assumes command by right of his position. He selects the grounds to be visted and decides on the movements at sea. If a high chief accompanies the fleet, he does so as a private individual. His social position as a chief, however, is recognized by giving him the first bonito caught on the first morning that he accompanied the fleet. If he is of very exalted position, he gets the first fish on the second morning. Full respect having been paid to his shore rank, he lapses to the position of ordinary fisherman with the others. His authority remains on the land and right from the beginning he obeys the commands of the tautai. The first fish given to a high chief as a purely ceremonial form of respect is termed ngalongia.

When the tautai decides that it is time for the fleet to return to the shore, he raises his paddle as a signal and all obey. Before reaching shore, the tautai further exercises his authority by making a levy (aleanga) on the fleet. He takes from the successful canoes, one or more bonito according to their catch. The fisherman with moderate success goes free if his catch is small as compared with that of others. The aleanga is not for the tautai but to form the material for a community feast for the fishermen in which the unsuccessful member shares equally with his more fortunate fellows. The tautai in making his levy calls to each canoe, "How many?" On the reply he demands the appropriate number which are thrown into his canoe. He cannot always see what is in each canoe. If, however, it subsequently transpires that a fisherman has avoided the aleanga by giving a wrong account, he suffers the penalty of departing from custom in thus not recognizing the authority of the tautai. His bonito canoe is broken up and his fishing gear confiscated to the tautai.

There are two forms of mobilization of the bonito fleet over which the tautai rules. One is the fleet that goes out in the early morning to get on the page 519grounds by daylight. The other form is used by villages close to the reef which can see a good stretch of ocean. The canoes are kept in readiness above high water mark with the rod on the outrigger rests and the paddles and seats in position. These waiting canoes are called alei or va'a alei. Watch is kept for the shoals (ingafo) of bonito which follow shoals of small fish and whose presence is shown by the flocks of sea birds which follow. When the flock of sea birds is seen, the signal is given, the canoes are quickly launched, and the fleet is away under the command of the tautai.

Limitation of power. The tautai rules over a community acting together. His authority does not apply to the individual acting away from the community. This is illustrated by the individual canoe termed tulialo or va'a tulialo. While the fleet is out, a chief, seeing a passing flock of birds, may send a bonito boat out to try its luck. Should the tulialo canoe come up with the fleet it does not come under the authority of the tautai as it did not enroll, so to speak, with the fleet by mobilizing with it. This is recognized by the tautai for he cannot demand the aleanga levy from it. The individual canoe is responsible with its catch to the chief who sent it. In this way, in spite of the law limiting the sphere of influence of the land authority, the chief still exercises some authority but it is very limited and does not clash, in the Polynesian mind, with the sea authority exercised by the tautai. The tulialo canoe does not exist as far as the tautai is concerned and it is only accident that brought it in the vicinity of his fleet.

Observances. In addition to main principles, there are a number of observances that must be carried out and so become established as custom. Such are those based on hospitality, but enforced by custom for those who are not innately hospitable.

Fishermen, on coming in, must give a fish or a portion of fish to anyone they meet in the water of the lagoon or on the shore. These people, of course, have not been fishing, and are termed tui atua. The share given to them is termed tufaanga sa tui atua; sa means the member of the tui atua, and is not prohibited or sacred. By this observance, the people who could not go out are assured of a share. As the fleet comes in they go down to meet it and obtain the tufaanga sa tui atua as their right. Custom saves them from the opprobrium of being regarded as mendicants.

The custom applies equally to men of rank such as chiefs and talking chiefs. They have only to meet the fisherman anywhere on his journey to his house and the fishermen have to recognize their superior position by giving them of the best.

Prohibitions. There are always prohibitions in fishing as in other activities to avoid bad luck and form an excuse for ill success though the latter reason is not verbally expressed.

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In bonito fishing, as in netting mullet, the fishermen wore nothing but ti leaf kilt in olden days, and now wear nothing but a cloth kilt. The upper body must be bare. Nothing must be worn on the head except lime which is used as a protection from the sun. The taumata eye shade is allowed. Other prohibitions exist such as not spinning the paddle in the air, leaning back in the seat or stretching the legs over the topsides. The last is termed sapoliu. There are also pre-fishing prohibitions: the craftsman making a bonito hook must be seated on a pile of mats and not on the floor and no noise must be made in the vicinity while he is making or lashing. A means of magnifying the importance of the hook maker and insuring it by the threat of non-success to the hook if the respect is not duly paid can be seen in this last prohibition. Many other prohibitions have probably been in force, but have not survived the clash of cultures.

As regards food prohibitions during fishing, the Samoans did not have any as evidenced by the fact that the cooked food fu'efu'e or lafoa'i was taken out on bonito fishing expeditions.

Status of bonito. That the bonito had some status amongst fish is indicated by the use of special words such as were created around the rank of chieftainship. The common name of bonito is 'atu, but it also has the poetic and honorific names of pau and pa 'umasumu. Large as applied to a bonito is not tele but sumalie. In counting them, they were grouped in tens expressed by prefixing tino to a unit as tinolua (twenty bonito).

Hook obtaining custom. The custom of obtaining ready-made material from some one else applied to bonito hooks. A master fisherman could call on another with the view of obtaining hooks from him. Such a visit was malanga fanga. From such visits, the hooks in active use that were tied to the rod and stuck in the silinga were exempt. The total number of hooks sa'ana on the rod may have been an inducement to a fisherman to have extra lines on his rod, not only for variety as already described, but to save them from a visiting fisherman on a malanga fanga. Should the visitor announce his wish to see his compatriots' hooks, the tautau basket containing the spare hooks has to be taken down and emptied out before the visitor. To thus cause a fisherman to turn out his spare hooks is termed fa'ausu. The visitor handles and examines the hooks and either directly or indirectly expresses a wish for one or two. The owner makes the best of a bad job and gives them to his visitor. As Tufele of Tau puts it, "He opens his basket and his heart, too." A couple of hooks so given is termed talanga.

Shark fishing. There is a large species of shark called naiufi that is regarded by fishermen as the king of sharks and treated with ceremonial respect even while planning its capture. If not prepared to noose it on first meeting it, the fisherman makes a speech addressing it as a chief of the highest rank in the terms, "Afio mai lau afionga." He apologizes to it for not being able page 521to deal with it that night but he will return the next night. The tautai gets another bigger canoe perhaps and a better crew if the first one is frightened. As these sharks are said to remain in one area for some time, he returns the next night. The baits are put out, the shark attracted to the canoe, and after much ceremonial speech on the part of the tautai the naiufi is noosed with the shark rope. The shark is a vigorous fighter and the canoe may be towed miles first in one direction and then in another. Always, however, according to the tautai it returns to die at the spot where it was noosed. Hence the saying, "'O le i'a e ngase lava i le mea no lavea ai" (The fish will assuredly die by the thing that caught it).

The thing, besides meaning the distinctive object, also carries in the saying the idea of the place where it was noosed. Hence the experienced fisherman will never cut loose no matter how far the fish tows him away, for he is confident that it will tow him back again.

It is a deservedly great honor to kill a naiufi. As the canoe comes in, the shell trumpet is sounded from it and the canoe parades backward and forward before the village. The owner meets his canoe at the landing with a fine mat and touches the head of the fish with it. The mat goes to the tautai and the fish to the canoe owner and the village chiefs, amongst whom it is ceremonially divided. The tautai who has noosed a naiufi is forever established in authority. The event may even have a bearing on the appointment of his son to succeed him after he has retired. In an argument between two aspirants, the decision in favor of one is clinched if it can be said, "His father caught a naiufi."

After snaring two of the ordinary species of shark, the tautai allows his crew to use the noose.

Distribution of fish. The individual fisherman has the right to his own catch, subject, of course, to the inroads that may be made by obeying the laws of hospitality. In bonito fishing with the fleet, the catch is subject to a levy for the communal feast of the fishermen. In community fishing with narcotics, leaf sweeps, and nets, the head fisherman gets first pick and the catch is divided up into heaps corresponding to the number of families engaged. Heaps are usually put out for privileged people, such as high chiefs, visitors, and in these days, the village pastor. Shark and turtle are divided up with special parts assigned to those with hereditary titles.

Hereditary rights and titles. The position of head fisherman while not strictly hereditary was often transmitted from father to son or a close member of the family on account of their better opportunity of acquiring expert knowledge. Information of practical value as to the habits of fish, favorable or unfavorable weather signs and suitable nights, months, and seasons were acquired by long experience and transmitted orally to succeeding generations of the same family. The acquisition of such knowledge gave a member of the tautai family the extra qualification that fitted him for succeeding to the page 522position of head fisherman. According to Pratt (23, p. 254), the name of the chief fisher at Safotu, Savaii, was safa'ausu. The conferring of a special title shows the honor with which the position of chief fisher was regarded, but whether the title was inherited or not by a particular family is not clear. The pride taken by a family in holding such positions would, however, lead to reciprocal efforts between father and son to retain it in the family.

Certain privileges in connection with fishing were, however, held by some families. In the tu'i method of fishing at Salailua, Savaii, with the mat cone and leaf sweeps, the fish in the tail end of the tu'i were restricted (sa le i'a) to a certain family. A cord was tied around the tu'i towards the tail end. Of the fish on the entrance side of the cord, the head fisherman got the first pick and the rest were divided up among the villagers.

Some of the privileges, like many of the chiefly titles, are associated with a traditional origin of a mythical nature. Such is the position of le mata-o-le-i'a (the watcher of the fish) held by the family of Toaloa in Puapua, Savaii. The title dates from the appointment of the first Toaloa after the introduction of the red-lipped mullet from Fiji by Sina. The watcher signals to the waiting netters when the first shoal of mullet is coming from the east. It would appear that the family of Toaloa have acquired extraordinary eyesight during the period they have exercised their hereditary duties for the people of Puapua firmly maintain that the present holder of the position can see the shoal coming a mile away. Sina also gave Le Malu the right to rule (pule) over the fishing arrangements in connection with her mullet and the right has been exercised by the family ever since.

Sina also brought the ingana fish to Savaii and left her brother Faasua-i-au in charge. Ili and Tangoai were appointed guardians of the fish. The three names are titles held in Puleia and their right (pule) over the ingana is still recognized. If a man wishes to angle for the big fish that have followed the ingana shoals in close to shore, he must send a fine mat to Faasua-i-au, who in turn gives it to Hi and Tangoai, the hereditary guardians of the ingana.

Another example of an inherited right is furnished by the family of Nuu in Satupaitea, Savaii, which has a monopoly or patent right over the very crude malauli hook made from a fish bone tied at an angle to a piece of wood. Anyone wishing to fish for malauli with such a hook made his request with an accompanying present to the head of the Nuu family.

The special monopoly exercised by the high chiefs of eastern Polynesia over such fish as the shark and the turtle does not seem to have held in Samoa as a general custom though the Tui Manua would appear to have held some such privilege over the turtle as revealed by the story of the Sasaumani. The Sasaumani tribe of expert fishermen lived originally in Manua but migrated to Savaii through a number of causes among which the theft of a turtle belonging to the Tui Manua played a part.