Tuesday, 20 March 2012

An Octopus Lure

Octopus lure, Tonga.  1886.1.1279 .2

This object is from Tonga, and is No. 63 in the 'Catalogue of Curiosities', where it is described as 'A weight made of shells and stone, to sink their fishing lines.' The label written on this object gives a more accurate description, reading 'Cuttle-Fish lure, TONGA Ids.'
These lures, known as maka feke, are made from hard stones, shaped to form a cone.  To this are attached pieces of cowrie shell, using plaited coconut fibre tied through holes drilled in the shell.  A piece of plant stem is tied to the bottom of the lure, and it is usually said that the lure is made to resemble a rat.
There is a traditional story on Tonga, and on other Pacific islands where the octopus lure has a similar form, to explain why the lure has this appearance.  There are variations, but basically the story is that a rat was travelling between islands in a canoe, which sank.  The rat couldn't swim, and was rescued by an octopus, which are friendly creatures. After taking the rat to shore, the octopus was swimming away when he felt the top of his head, and discovered that the rat had left him a surprise…That's why octopuses have black spots on their heads, and why the sight of a rat in the water makes them angry.

You can see a video from the Australian Museum here where the story is told more fully.

The lure would have been played along near the surface of the water over a reef, and would attract the octopus, which attached itself to the lure.  The lure could then be withdrawn from the water and the octopus removed.