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Fishhook mata’u

Fishhook mata'u

Place: Tonga
Category: Fishing & hunting

mother-of-pearl, tortoiseshell, plant fibre, Tonga, l. 4– 9.5 cm, Inv. Oz 215

Forster Register B.16: ‘a comb and 2 fish-hooks’ (= Oz 207 u. Oz 215)

Humphrey No. 278 & 279: ‘Two fish hooks the Shanks made of Mother o’pearl the hook Tortoiseshell, with their lines, from the Friendly Isles.’ (= Oz 209 u. Oz 212)

Humphrey No. 280: ‘a small ditto [fish hook] exactly similar except that there are white Feathers added to it. It has a long plaited Line. From ditto [Friendly Isles].’ (= Oz 214)

The examples in this group of five are composite fish-hooks made of two components. They consist of white and reddish-brown shank of mother-of-pearl from the mussel Meleagrina margaritifera, and a hook of tortoiseshell. The V-shaped hook without barbs is attached in two places to the flat, lightly bulged end of the shank with threads of plant fibres. The specimens Oz 207, Oz 212 and Oz 215 exhibit the remains of a ‘beard’ at the lower binding, used as a lure and made of various plant fibre materials. The line from the upper hole of the hook is otherwise secured by a twisted cord (presumably fau. Hibiscus tiliaceus), which leads through an opening into the upper, bulged part of the shank. This cord is, with the exception of the damaged fish-hook Oz 215, knotted to this aperture with the fishing line olonga and twisted. The very finely plaited line of Oz 214, an extension of the narrow twisted cord of light-coloured plant fibres, is probably made out of coconut fibres (niu, Cocos nucifera).

Such composite fish-hooks correspond to the West Polynesian type and occur in a similar form especially in Samoa (cf. Moschner 1955: 185, Kaeppler 1978a: 235 and Kaeppler 1978b: 44f.). They were mainly used for catching mackerel, tuna, albacore, swordfish, and bonito (cf. Kaeppler 1978b: 111).

Ferdon (1987: 223-27) gives further details on the various fishing techniques.

Comparable pieces may be found in the collections of Vienna, Edinburgh, Berne, Sydney, Florence, Wörlitz, and Herrnhut (cf. Kaeppler 1978a: 235f. and Augustin 1993: 82f.). Inken Köhler, Ulrike Rehr,Gundolf Krüger


Augustin, Stephan, Kunstsachen von Cooks Reisen - Die Sammlung und ihre Geschichte im Völkerkundemuseum Herrnhut, Dresden: Museum für Völkerkunde, 1993.

Ferdon, Edwin N, Early Tonga, As the Explorers Saw It, Tucson, 1987.

Kaeppler, Adrienne L, ‘Artificial Curiosities’ Being An Exposition of Native Manufactures Collected on the Three Pacific Voyages of Captain James Cook RN [Exhibition catalogue], Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu, 1978a.

Kaeppler, Adrienne L, Cook Voyage Artifacts in Leningrad, Berne and Florence Museums, Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu, 1978b.

Moschner, Irmgard, ‘Die Wiener Cook-Sammlung, Südsee-Teil’, Archiv für Völkerkunde, Vienna and Stuttgart, 1955, vol. 10, pp. 136-253.

Related artefacts

Fishhook mata’u, Inv. Oz 207
Fishhook mata’u, Inv. Oz 209
Fishhook mata’u, Inv. Oz 212
Fishhook mata’u, Inv. Oz 214


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