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This Maori trolling lure fish hook (pā kahawai) comprises three pieces – a worked piece of polished haliotis or paua shell attached to a curved, wooden shank, and then a long barb carved from bone. Each of the segments is held in place by tightly bound muka fibre.
Such lures were used by the Maori to fish for sea salmon (kahawai). The lure would be dragged behind a fast-moving canoe to attract the prey with the haliotis shell glinting in the sun to emulate the scales of fish to attract larger fish. The technique of using a trolling lure was a Polynesian fishing technique that was brought to New Zealand by the Maori and adapted using local materials.
A related example, formerly in the Oldman Collection, is now in the Museum of New Zealand. Also see Hooper (2006, p. 130) for a similar example in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Fish hooks were used for both their intended purpose around Oceania, but also as jewellery, to be worn on necklaces around the neck. Elements of necklaces often were carved to look like fish hooks too. As such, the hooks themselves were fertility and prosperity symbols.
The example here has significant age. The paua shell is sizable and has a pleasing iridescence.
(More images are below. Also, see more Oceanic art.)
Blau, D., & K. Maas, Fish Hooks of the Pacific Islands, Hirmer, 2012.
Brunt, P., & N. Thomas, Oceania, Royal Academy of Arts, 2018.
Grulke, W., Adorned by Nature: Adornment, Exchange & Myth in the South Seas, At One Communications, 2022.
Herle, A. & L. Carreau, Chiefs & Governors: Art and Power in Fiji, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge, 2013.
Hooper, S., Pacific Encounters: Art & Divinity in Polynesia 1760-1860, British Museum Press, 2006.
Hooper,. S., Fiji: Art & Life in the Pacific, Sainsbury Research Unit for the Arts of Africa, Oceania & the Americas, 2016.
Kaeppler, A. L., Polynesia: The Mark and Carolyn Blackburn Collection of Polynesian Art, University of Hawaii Press, 2010.
Neich, R., & F. Pereira, Pacific Jewelry and Adornment, University of Hawai’i Press, 2004.
Starzecka, D. C., R. Neich & M. Pendergrast, The Maori Collections of the British Museum, British Museum Press, 2010.
Waite, D. & K. Conru, Solomon Islands Art: The Conru Collection, 5 Continents, 2008.