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Niuē-fekai (or Savage) Island and its People

Canoes and Fishing

Canoes and Fishing

Like all Polynesians, the Niuē people are expert canoe men. Even to this day they go in their little canoes right round the island on fishing expeditions, on the weather side of which rough seas are experienced. Every dark night fleets of canoes are to be seen along the leeward coast with their bright torches (hulu) engaged in catching flying or other kinds of fish,—it is a very pretty sight to see them. A canoe is a raka, as it is in all other parts in some form of that word; but foulua is also a canoe, now applied to ships, which are also called tonga. The canoes have outriggers, which are fastened by two arms to the canoe itself. The hull is dug out of a log, with a topside lashed on and enclosed for a space both fore and aft. The seams are caulked with a hard gum called pili, and are often ornamented with shells and a little very rough carving. The Niuē canoes are more like the raa-alo-atu or Bonito canoes of Samoa than any others I have seen, but they are not so well-finished nor so long. A Niue canoe is from 12 feet to 25 feet in length, about 18 inches or 2 feet deep, and somewhat less in width. They carry from one to three or four people. The outrigger is called a hama; a double canoe is vaka-hai-ua, but not now in use. The paddles are termed fohe, and are shaped as seen in Plate 6. With these the canoes can be propelled at a considerable pace, and they sometimes sail, the sail being a la, the mast a fanā. The natives manage their craft very adroitly in coming onto the reef in rough weather, for at that time the little chasms (ava) in the reef are not available for landing purposes.

The particular gods (tupua), which presided over all fishing work, were Fakapoloto, Hakumani, Mēle and Lata, and in former times prayers were addressed to them in order that the fishermen might be successful (olatia) in fishing. The people possessed seines (kupega), but as I never saw one I cannot say what they were like; they are made of the bark of the fou-mamala tree. In Part IV hereof, paragraphs 51 to 56 will be found an account of the manner in which the Niuē people first became acquainted with fishing nets, which were used by the gods. This story is very like that of the Maoris, who learnt from the so-called Fairies how to make nets.

So far as I saw, fishing was generally done at night by aid of a torch carried at the stern of the canoe, at which the fish jumped and were then caught in a hand-net. These fish are usually flying fish, or page 66 hahare. But they had other methods as well, for many of the larger kinds are deep water fish, caught by hook-and-line. Fish preserves in the chasms of the reef were common, where the fish were fed (pupu-ika) and caught when wanted. And also, they often stupify fish by casting the berries of the kieto and kauhuhu into the waters.

Fish were counted by twenties; te kau (or 2 tens) being the term used, which is identical with the old Maori word for twice ten; it is not used in any other connection.