Archive for the 'Solomon Islanders' Category

Object: Fish Hook

E/1955/6/134 b
Fish hook
Malaita, Solomon Islands
Circa 1940
Sea shell, tortoise shell, glass beads, fiber

The shaft of this fish hook, made from sea shell, measures just under three inches. The barb is made of tortoise shell and is attached to the shaft by fiber twine. Also attached to one end of the shaft is a set of glass beads on a fiber string. It was made on the island of Malaita in the Solomon Islands around 1940.

These types of hooks have long been used in the Solomon Islands to catch one particular kind of fish, bonito.

Bonito are medium size fish that swim in large schools. They are similar to tuna, but smaller. The people of the Solomon Islands have relied on Pacific Bonito for thousands of years and continue to do so today.

Historically, trolling was the most effective way for Solomon Islanders to catch bonito. Indeed, that is how this hook was designed to be used. They are not meant to be cast and reeled in over and over until a fish is caught. Instead, fishermen cast these hooks out behind their boats and move through schools of bonito. The bonito react to the quickly moving hooks by biting them. No bait is necessary. The action and color of the beads attached to the end of the hook encourage bonito to bite as both mimic distressed or dying baitfish.

This hook and the trolling method associated with it is just one of the many unique tools and strategies Solomon Islanders developed to take advantage of the plentiful marine resources around them. While this technique is probably the most ancient among them, others such as kite fishing, might be considered more ingenious.

Kite fishing in the Solomon Islands is used primarily for catching small needlefish. With mouths too small for seashell/tortoise shell hooks such as the one profiled here, fishermen of the Solomon Islanders learned to utilize spider webs and kites to catch these fast fish. Watch the video below to learn more about this unconventional fishing technique.

Work Cited

California Department of Fish and Wildlife.  Marine Sport Fish Identification: Tuna & Mackerels. http://www.dfg.ca.gov/marine/ mspcont1.asp

Division of Ethnology: Database of Ethnology. Fish hook. http://www.snomnh.ou.edu/db2/ethnology/detail.php?recordID=E-55-6-134%20b

Infoplease. Solomon Islands. http://www.infoplease.com/country/solomon-islands.html

Oxford Dictionaries. Definition of Troll. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/american_english/troll-2

Solomon Islands Department of Commerce, Employment and Tourism. Malaita Province. http://www.commerce.gov.sb/Gallery/Malaita.htm

[Jacob Boren]

Object: Ear sticks

E/1955/6/150 a-b & E/1955/6/151 a-b
Ear sticks
Solomon Islanders
Melanesia: Malaita
ca. 1940s
Materials: Bamboo, glass beads, bone, textile & plant fibers

Pierced ears and ear decorations are common forms of personal adornment in the Solomon Islands. Both men and women traditionally have pierced ears and there are a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and types of ornaments used. Ear ornaments could be made from turtle shells, oyster shells, wood, seeds, bamboo, sharks teeth, bone, and more. People would have their ears pierced as children and would gradually increase the size of the piercing over time by using progressively larger ornaments. The missionary Walter Ivens described the methods he observed being used to pierce ears in the southeastern Solomon Island in the early 1900’s:

‘A piece of turtle-shell is bent into shape and clipped to the lobe. It eats its way through gradually and without much pain. Another way is to bore a hole with the bonito hook, te’i [tuna fish hook], but this gives pain. When the hole is once made, a piece of stick or a roll of leaves is inserted.’

On the island of Malaita a popular form of ear ornament is the ear stick, like those shown above from the Sam Noble Museum. The women traditionally make these ornaments for the men of the island to wear. They are made out of bamboo sticks that are carefully covered with woven designs using plant fibers from the yellow orchid and coconut palm. This type of ear ornament was generally worn for dances or special occasions rather than as everyday ornaments.

Other examples of this type of ear ornament can be found in the British Museum, the Macleay Museum,  the Auckland Museum, and others.

The following video shows a group of musicians from the island of Malaita performing at the Mini Festival of Melanesian Arts in Lifou, New Caledonia. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Object: Lime box

E/1955/6/83
Lime box (or flask)
Solomon Islanders
Oceania: Melanesia: Solomon Islands: Nggela Sule (Florida Island): Vatapura
Unknown date: before 1945
Materials: Bamboo, wood, charcoal, tree sap, and lime

This object is a lime box or flask from the village of Vatapura in the Solomon Islands. Lime is a white powder of inorganic material containing calcium, and can be made from limestone, shell, or coral that has been treated with high heat. People of southern Asia and Oceania commonly ingest lime while chewing betel nuts. Betel nuts, also known as Areca catechu, are actually the seeds of a palm tree native to east Africa, southern Asia, and the Pacific islands. These seeds are commonly chewed, similar to chewing tobacco, along with betel leaves (or daka “mustard” seed pods) and lime. In this combination the betel nuts have a mild stimulant effect. Users of betel nuts can be easily identified by the red saliva and blackened teeth produced by the seed. The lime is primarily used as a mild abrasive which irritates the gums and allows the stimulant to be more easily absorbed by the mucus membranes of the mouth. These properties also contribute to the grinding away of tooth enamel, and the darkening of the teeth in habitual users.

The following video describes the traditional method of chewing betel nuts in Papua New Guinea.

Similar lime flasks can be found in the British Museum, Queensland Museum, and the Birmingham Museum, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and others.  [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]


Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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