Ethnology of Tokelau Islands
Many turtles are caught off the sandy shores of the atolls during the mating period and the season when the females come ashore to lay their eggs. They are sometimes caught with a noose held alongside a canoe, but most commonly by swimmers catching them by hand.
When anyone sees the black back of a turtle, he shouts “Fonu! Fonu!” (Turtle! Turtle!). The men of the village run to the reef below the point page 100 where the turtles lie offshore, dive into the sea, and swim to the turtles from the side. Two men swim ahead and submerge before alarming the turtles. Coming up from underneath, one man puts his arms under the fore flippers of the female while the other swimmer climbs quickly over the back of the male and hooks his arms under its fore flippers in a “full nelson” grip. As soon as there is the slightest disturbance of the water about the turtles, the remaining men swim quickly to assist the first two in holding the turtles vertical so that the fore flippers are out of the water.
Two men attack a single turtle from beneath, one on each side lifting a fore flipper. A single turtle is always caught if two men can reach it before it sounds, but often one of a pair escapes a single man before his companions can close in to assist.
The men float the turtle to the reef in a vertical position, and carry or drag it to the beach by the flippers. Four young men carry it on their shoulders to the malae in the village for a ceremonial division. The turtle is first put on view and later cut up by a specially appointed man who divides the meat, blood, and immature eggs among the people of the village. The man who first sees the turtle at sea is the rightful owner and may claim a share of the better portion of the meat. Formerly the head was tapu and was given, on Fakaofu, to the head chief, a custom almost universal in Polynesia.