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Ethnology of Tokelau Islands

Groping and Probing

Groping and Probing

It is the women's work to search the reefs for fish and edible crustaceans left in pools at low tide. They gather little fish, sea eggs, and crabs by hand and drop them into coconut-leaf baskets slung by a cord over their shoulders. They carry small sticks with which to probe the quarry out of holes.

To catch squid (feke) they thrust a stick (ngangie fou feke) into the squid, twirl it about to irritate the squid, and slowly withdraw it. The squid reaches out to secure its antagonist, and the fisherwoman drags it out of its hole. While enticing the squid she sings a little song.

Feke tu ake aua ia pusi ma
Mango o ka kati ki te pito.

Squid, stand up because the eel
And the shark will bite at your head.

Intermittently the singer makes a sucking sound (misi) through her pursed lips, a noise commonly used to attract another's attention and particularly to call children to the house. She kills the squid by pushing the head into the body and turning it inside out.

Men, women, and children swim under water about the coral heads of the lagoon, catching in their hands the small bright-colored fish that live in the deep recesses.