Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Tongan Fishhooks

Number 64 in the 'Catalogue of Curiosities' is 'a parcel of fishhooks of various sizes'.  Five hooks have been assigned to this group, all of them from Tonga.  They are all similar, resembling the one shown here:

Fishhook, Tonga.  1886.1.1301*

In George Forster's 'A Voyage Round the World' (Edited by Nicholas Thomas and Oliver Berghof, University of Hawai'i Press, Honolulu, 2000) he writes in the entry for October 1773 'Our people purchased an incredible number of fish hooks made of mother of pearl, barbed with tortoishell...' while Reinhold Forster, in his 'Observations Made During a Voyage Round the World' describes Tongan hooks thus:
'the largest of all have a shank made of wood or bone covered with a brown mother of pearl-shell, and have a hook of tortoise-shell, which often is made of two pieces tied together.  The strings for these hooks are made of a kind of nettle (urtica argentea) (now known as Pipturus argenteus) which holds the strongest fish, (viz.) the Bonito or Peerara, the Albecore or Eahai (Scomber Thynnus) and the Dolphin or E-ooma (Coryphaena Hippurus)...'**

The shank of each hook is made from a piece of whalebone, which is faced with black pearlshell.  The bone has been carved to fit the curves of the shell.  The point is made from turtleshell, lashed to the shank with a flax-like fibre obtained from a plant in the nettle family.  This fibre has also been used to make the hackle.

These hooks are considered to be in the 'classic' Tongan style, and were used for catching bonito, a large mackerel-like fish.  These hooks are in very good condition, without any of the wear or scratches that might be expected from use, and there is a possibility that they were made as exchange valuables.

*Labels after diagram found in 'Fish Hooks of the Pacific Islands', by Daniel Blau and Klaus Maaz,  Daniel Blau Publishing, 2011.
**Forster, J.R.  'Observations Made During a Voyage Round the World.'  Eds. N. Thomas, H Guest and M. Derrelbach.  University of Hawai'i Press, Honolulu, 1996.