Shark bait – Le vaiaso o le gagana Sāmoa (Samoan Language Week) 2013

Tu’i ipu (shark rattle) made by Tagaloa 1990.

Welcome to the sixth blog of our series celebrating le vaiaso o le gagana Sāmoa (Samoan Language Week) from 26-31 May 2013. This is a tu’i ipu – a rattle used by Samoan fishermen when they are hunting sharks. The Samoan word for shark is malie. The tu’i ipu is made from half shells of coconut threaded onto a wooden stick. Throughout the 20th century, fishermen would use baits and the tu’i ipu to attract the attention of sharks and lure them to their canoes. Using a specially prepared noose the fisherman aimed to have the shark swim through a rope noose. An account written by ethnologist Te Rangi Hiroa in 1930, describes the shark rattle and the noosing of a shark.

“There is no special care taken in making the rattles. Any shells and any suitable wood serve the purpose. They are used to attract attention by lowering the shells well down into the water and working the handle part violently up and down, care being taken to keep the shells submerged. A sound is made not by the shells clicking together but by the commotion of the water caused by the cups being drawn up and down. The commotion in the water, according to the Samoans, conveys the idea to the shark that there is a school of fish about. As it swims in the direction of the sound, another of the shark’s senses conies under the influence of the bait lures. When a shark is seen in the vicinity of the bait lures, the rattle is drawn up [….] The noose is lowered into the water with the hand above the surface and the loop at right angles to the canoe. The assistant manipulates the bait so as to draw the shark which follows it into the noose. As the shark’s head enters the noose, the expert’s right hand carries the loop back until it touches the shark’s dorsal fin.The dorsal fin is an anatomical landmark. The shark’s lower jaw is set well back and the noose must not be closed until it is behind the lower jaw. Immediately the right hand touches the dorsal fin, the expert knows that the noose is behind the lower jaw, so he pulls the rope taut with his left hand while the right holds the eye of the noose firmly against the side of the shark.”

The shark is usually killed with a club or spear. This technique was still in use in the late 2oth century.

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