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Ethnology of Tokelau Islands

Noose Fishing

Noose Fishing

Four large fish in the Tokelau waters are snared from canoes by noosed ropes into which they are led by baits. Kingfish (pala), a large aseu (ulua), a large variety of tuna (takuo), and sharks are so caught. The method of snaring is the same for all except sharks (p. 99).

The crew paddle up and down the fishing banks to troll. The fishing captain stands facing aft and trails a bonito head attached to a light line behind the canoe. He watches for the rising of a fish to the surface, and as soon as the water breaks behind the bait he jerks the bait ahead to lead the fish to the canoe and orders the man who sits before him (te liu) to throw out bits of the prepared chopped fish bait and to hold ready the noosed rope. He quickly draws in the bait line and takes the rope from the liu. This rope has a small stiffly-seized loop at the end through which the line is doubled to make a running noose and twisted three or four times over the end of the short stick by which it is suspended over the water. As the liu continues page 99 to toss out bits of the ground bait, the fishing captain lowers the line into the water so that the noose stands vertically, withdraws the stick and lets the noose drift beside the canoe. The canoe moves slowly ahead as the fish is led closer and closer with the deftly distributed bait. The liu drops a handful of bait under the water ahead of the noose. The fish, excited with the increasing amount of bait and unwary, moves forward for this food and enters the loop. At the moment the dorsal fin passes under the noose the fishing captain heaves backward with all possible effort and speed to pull the noose about the base of the broad tail of the fish. The liu seizes the rope also to prevent the fish from struggling away from the side of the canoe, where it can be clubbed with a short, stout killing stick (te siki), always carried on fishing expeditions to dispatch any large fish whose thrashing makes it too dangerous to be taken into the canoe alive.

Sharks are caught with hooks, but snaring with a noose along the edge of the reef is a more popular method because it demands more activity and skill of the crew and captain (tautai). The bait consists of the pounded flesh of two or three white eels of the unedible variety (pusi tea). When these are tied at the stern and dragged in the water, small particles wash off and leave a tempting trail in the wake of the canoe. As soon as the tautai sees the pointed dorsal fin of a pursuing shark, he calls to his crew to slacken their pace and drops his running noose, loosely turned about the end of the stick, just behind the eels. As the shark strikes at the eels, the fishing captain snaps the noose snug behind the dorsal fin with a sudden and tremendous jerk. He and the liu pull together and snare the shark around the tapering juncture of its body and tail. As soon as they can draw it alongside, they kill it with the club. If the shark is too large and powerful and cannot be drawn in without endangering the crew and upsetting the canoe, the line is slacked and quickly slipped over the shark's tail before it is carried away.

The Tokelau natives differ from the Samoans in this method of catching sharks, but use the same technique in snaring sharks alongside the canoe and in catching kingfish and ulua. They have recently copied the Samoan shark rattle, made of halves of coconut shells strung on a stick and tied in a ring. The rattle is shaken violently under water causing a commotion which attracts the sharks (28, p. 432).