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Place: Tahiti & Society Islands
Category: Fishing & hunting

hardwood, plant fibre, coconut fibre, Tahiti and the Society Islands, l. 21 cm (up to the lashing), Inv. Oz 383

Humphrey No. 234: ‘a singular Fish-hook made of Wood, from the Society Isles.’

The U-shaped hook is made of a finely polished piece of hardwood. It is oval in cross-section, and becomes considerably thicker in the region of its curve. The point is flattened towards the side. There is a support at the upper end of the shank where a lashing of plaited coconut fibres is secured. Both ends of a twisted cord made of a different plant material are held by lashing, thus forming a loop with a knot in it.

Large wooden fish-hooks such this one were made in the Society Islands as well as in other parts of Oceania for catching sharks, ma’o. They were mostly made of a twisted root of toa or ‘aito wood (Casuarina equisetifolia) (Moschner 1955: 188). The procedure was as follows: ‘The root was twisted into the shape they wished the future hook to assume, and allowed to grow till it had reached a size large enough to allow of the outside or soft parts being removed, and a sufficiency remaining to make the hook’ (Ellis 1830, II: 294).

Apart from coconut fibres, the material for the lashings, as well as for the long fishing lines, came in particular from the bast of roa or romaha (Pipturus argenteus), mati (Ficus tinctora) and purau (Hibiscus tiliaceus) (cf. Cook in Beaglehole 1955, I: 133, Moerenhout 1837, II: 104, Ellis 1830, II: 294, Henry 1928: 52 and Nordhoff 1930: 147). As a rule, the cords, made from two or three strands, were twisted by hand on the thigh (Bunzendahl 1935: 177). According to Banks (1896: 154), cords made of roa were considered to be particularly durable and thus superior to European fishing lines in this respect.

Bunzendahl (1935: 177f.) supplied exact information on the use of other materials (e.g. bone) and the introduction of European materials (e.g. iron) for the manufacture of large fish-hooks used in ‘off-shore fishing’.

Apart from Göttingen, large shark hooks made of the same material and of a similar form which can undoubtedly be traced back to Cook’s voyages, and which can be shown to be from the Society Islands, have been documented by Kaeppler (1978a: 157) only for the collections in Vienna and Wellington, New Zealand. Gundolf Krüger


Banks, Joseph, Journal of the Right Hon. Sir Joseph Banks During Captain Cook’s First Voyage in H.M.S. Endeavour in 1768-71 to Terra del Fuego. Otahite, New Zealand, Australia, the Dutch East Indies etc., by Sir Joseph D Hooker, London, 1896.

Beaglehole, John Cawte, The Journals of Captain James Cook on his Voyages of Discovery. The Voyage of the Endeavour 1768-1771, Hakluyt Society, Extra Series, 34, vol. 1, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1955-1968 I.

Bunzendahl, Otto, Tahiti und Europa: Entdeckungsgeschichte der Gesellschaftsinseln, Studien zur Völkerkunde, Leipzig, 1935, vol. 8.

Ellis, William, Polynesian Researches During a Residence of Nearly Eight Years in the Society and Sandwich Islands, London, 1830-1853, vol. 4.

Henry, Teuira, Ancient Tahiti, Bernice P Bishop Museum Bulletin, vol. 48, Honolulu, 1928.

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.

Moerenhout, JU, Voyages aux îles du Grand Océan, 2 Bde., Paris, 1837.

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

Nordhoff, Charles, ‘Notes on the off-shore fishing of the Society Islands’, The Journal of the Polynesian Society, 1930, vol. 39, pp. 137-262.

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