Fish hook pendants are very popular nowadays since they look quite masculine, evoking feelings of strength, skill, prosperity and a cultural connection to the vast blue sea. The most popular designs are based on functional and contemporary Polynesian designs, especially from Aotearoa (New Zealand).
The ancient Polynesians did not have metal on their islands so other materials that were hard yet be carve-able were used for their fish hooks or matau. Materials such as shell, wood, human bone, and whale bone and teeth were utilized much like in Micronesia.
Because of their popularity though, there are a lot of low-quality mass produced Polynesian-style carved hooks that you can practically find in any tourist shop or on the internet. Even admiring a decent looking matau in Waikiki’s International Market did not guarantee an “authentic” Polynesian hook as I was told, “No. This one is made in Thailand.” Here are two pictures of a bone Maori-style matau that my good friend Greg M. got while vacationing in Bali. It doesn't look too bad really, and it even has some nicely carved designs on the bottom of it.
I like the stories though that come along in obtaining a unique piece. A lot of people belive that these special pendants contain Mana or spiritual power and the essence of the maker and then the wearer. I am really a big fan of the Polynesian matau designs and will probably make some in the near future. How did the ancient Micronesians design their fish hooks? I asked this question as I explored the idea of making my first hooks based more on ancient Chamorro or Micronesian designs.
Like the Polynesians, the ancient Chamorros also used shells, wood, bone, and teeth to manufacture this very important tool that was relied on for obtaining food from the sea. The Chamorro word for hook is haguet. (Incidentally, haguet is very similar to the Tagalog word for hook, kawit or kalawit, again showing an Austronesian connection in the languages.) The most abundant fishing hook artifact that archeologist have found are made from tree oysters or tooth pearl shells from the family Isognomonidae.
Isognomons are closely related to pearl oysters (Pinctada sp.) and are bivalves that are flat compressed-shelled animals that encrust rocks and mangroves. Their interiors are pearly. Here are a couple of tree oysters that I have found on Saipan:
This is Isognomon ephippium or saddle tree oyster (Linnaeus, 1758) which I found in Luta (Rota, CNMI) in August 2005. It usually grows up to 12 cm wide but this specimen is about half of that. Its exterior is dark and black and the shell is flaky. Inside is beautifully nacreous (pearly) and tinged purple.These are Isognomon perna (Linnaeus, 1767), also known as false pearl oyster or rayed tree oyster, that I found in Obyan Beach, Saipan. They are nacreous inside and their exteriors are an off-white color usually with broken brown radial stripes.
Here is a picture from the CNMI Museum of History and Culture, Saipan that depicts the process of making a haguet from an Isognomon shell. I really wish I had a better close up picture because you can see that the finished haguet looks very different from the actual sea shell.
This is a picture of a P. margaritifera valve that I found. It is bigger than the palm of my hands. It has a beautifully nacreous interior. Its natural beauty prevents me from cutting it into different pendants!
Here's an example of how a trolling lure would look complete. These lures are from Yap that can be found at http://www.pacificworlds.com/yap/sea/fishing.cfm.
The shank is supposedly shapped like a small fish and the pearl oyster is used to simulate a shiny silvery fish that bigger predatory fish would eat. The point itself could be composed of shell, haggan (sea turtle) shell, or bone.
This is my first attempt at a stylized compound trolling haguet. As you can see, it is not yet finished but I am using a piece of nigas (Pemphis acidula) found during a beachcombing expedition for the shank and a beef bone point. I inlayed a piece of rectangular Spondylus on the shank and will have to decide on how to bind all the parts together. I decided to use wood and bone because I really do not have (or have anough of) the actual materials that the islanders used according to the examples that I have seen.
This is my first completed stylized compound haguet also made of nigas (Pemphis acidula) and a beef bone point. I read later after I was done making this hook that nigas was a preferred hard wood for making compound hooks on other islands. That was pure luck! Nigas is so hard that it is called ironwood at some of those places.
Here’s a picture of nigas at Coral Ocean Point, Saipan. The common name is small-leafed mangrove, but it is not a true mangrove. Nigas is a coastal tree that you usually see living on jagged coastal rocks. I read that they can grow into medium sized trees at places, but I’ve only seen them in bush form on Saipan. I also read that they are over harvested in many areas because they make good bonsai trees. Driftwood from this tree is usually a rustic gray but when you cut, shape, sand and polish it, it comes out as a rich dark brown colored wood.
Compound hooks are hard to make, but I will spend some more time learning a better way to produce them. Bone hooks need a little more investigating since the material is not as dense and is easy to scratch. I will need to do more research on how to properly make them, and even maybe order a book about bone carving.
Spondylus was not made into hooks by the ancient Chamorros. I wanted to experiment though and see how these would look like or how they would act as I fashioned them into hook shapes. Now, I am not the first person to fashion Spondylus into hooks mind you. I don't think a lot of people attempt it though because a good piece of Spondylus is an uncommon commodity. I've seen some designs that look as if the artisan was afraid to cut it. Mindfully so I say, since I learned that the fear is well placed as I have lost a few good pieces in attempting the twists and turns of a haguet. It is not easy!
This is my first attempt on making a Spondylus hook. I made it very simple out of a very solid fragment which held a beautiful intense orange color. I paired it with a hima salape’ (giant clam money) and a Spondylus salape’ toggle. Hima is very dense and it chips and cracks when heated making it hard to cut and polish. It was my first attempt with the material and the salape’ has tiny cracks that I decided to keep anyway to remind me of the learning process that I go through in this new hobby of mine. It symbolizes struggle and the hardness and skill you gain going through trials.
Thank you for letting me share once again.