Octopus fishing and more described by Emma Metcalf Beckley, 1902.


Women Got the Octopus With Spears.

The Hawaiians have five methods of fishing: by spearing, hand catching, baskets, hook and line, and with nets.

The Ia O is the spearing of fish and is of two kinds, below and above water. That below water is the most important, and is generally employed for the different kinds of rock fish. The spear used by the diver is a slender stick of from 6 to 7 feet in length made of very hard wood and sharply pointed at one end, but more tapering at the other. Since the possession of iron, spears are always tipped with it, but perfectly smooth, without hook or barb. Diving to a well-known station by a large coral rock or against the steep face of the reefs, the diver places himself in a half crouching position on his left foot, with his right foot free and extended behind, his left hand holding on to the rock to steady himself, watches and waits for the fish. Fish in only two positions are noticed by him, those passing before and parallel to him, and those coming straight towards his face. he always aims a little in advance, as, by the time the fish is struck, its motion has carried it so far forward that it will be hit on the gills or middle of the body and thus secured, but if the spear were aimed at the body it would be very apt to hit the tail, or pass behind. When the fish is hit, the force of the blow generally carries the spear right through to the hand, thus bringing the fish up to the lower part or handle of the spear, where it remains whilst the fisherman strikes rapidly at other fish in succession should they come in a huakai (train) as they usually do.

Except in the case of Oopuhue spearing, above-water spearing is very rarely used, and then generally in connection with deep sea line and hook fishing. Oopuhue is the well-known poison fish of the Pacific, but of delicious flavor. It is generally speared in enclosed salt water ponds from the stone embankments. The poison of this fish is contained in three little sacks which must be extracted whole and uninjured. The fish is first skinned, as the rough skin is also poisonous in a slight degree. Should the teeth of the fish be yellow then it is so highly charged with poison that no part of its flesh is safe even with the most careful preparation. Oopuhue caught in the open sea are always more poisonous than those from fish ponds.

Some fishermen dive to well-known habitats of certain fish and lobsters and, thrusting their arms up to their armpits under rocks or in holes, bring out the fish one by one and put them into a bag attached for the purpose to the malo or loin cloth. Women frequently do the same in shallow waters and catch fish by hand from under coral projections. It is also a favorite method employed by women in the capture of the larger varieties of shrimps and oopus in the fresh water streams and kalo ponds. Gold fish are also caught in that way, and at the present time form no inconsiderable portion of the daily food of the poorer classes living near kalo patches or fresh water ponds. Their power of reproduction is very great. The different kinds of edible sea slugs are caught in the same way, although the larger kinds are sometimes dived for and speared under water.

There are tow ways of octopus fishing: In shallow water the spear is used. Women generally attend to this. Their practiced eye can tell if an octopus is in a hole whose entrance is no larger than a silver dollar, and plunging their spears in they invariably draw one out. These mollusks have the peculiar property of drawing themselves out and compressing their bodies so as to pass through very narrow apertures many times smaller than the natural size or thickness of their bodies. Those caught in the shallow waters vary from one to four feet in length, but the larger kinds live in deep water always and are known as heeokaiuli (blue water octopus). They are caught with cowries [leho] of the Mauritiana and sometimes of the Tiger species. One or more of these shells is attached to a string with an oblong pebble on the face of the shells through which the line is passed, and having been fastened is allowed to project a few inches below, and a hook whose point stands almost perpendicular to the shaft or shank is then fastened to the end of the line. Only the finest kind of Mauritiana or Tiger cowries are employed for this purpose as the octopus will not rise to a large-spotted or ugly one. The spots on the back must be very small and red, breaking through a reddish brown ground; such a shell would have the strongest attractions for an octopus and is called ipo (lover). Cowries with suitable spots, but objectionable otherwise, are slightly steamed over a fire of sugar cane husks. This has the effect of giving them the desired hue.

The fisherman having arrived at his fishing grounds first chews and spits on the water a mouthful of candle nut [kukui] meat which renders the water glassy and clear; he then drops the shell with hook and line into the water and swings it over a place likely to be inhabited by an octopus. This being a voracious animal is always, according to Hawaiian fishermen, when in its hole, keeping a lookout for anything eatable that may come within reach of its eight arms. The moment a cowry is perceived an arm is shot out and the shell clasped, if of the attractive kind, one arm after the other comes out, and finally the whole body is withdrawn from the hole and attaches itself to the cowry or cowries which it closely hugs, curling itself all around it, and seeming oblivious of anything bu the pleasure of hugging its “lover.” It remains very quiet whilst being rapidly drawn up through the water till, just as its head is exposed above the water it raises it, when the fisherman pulls the sting so as to bring its head against the edge of the canoe and it is killed by a blow from a club which is struck between the eyes. This must be rapidly done before the animal has time to become alarmed and let go the cowry, when, should the arms be a fathom in length, it becomes a dangerous antagonist, as there would be risk of the fisherman being squeezed to death. Having eight arms, an octopus of such a size could very well manage two or three persons, as the cutting off of one or more of its arms does not affect the rest in the least.

[The publication by Emma Metcalf Beckley from 1883 was “Hawaiian Fisheries and Methods of Fishing.”]

(Pacific Commercial Advertiser, 12/23/1902, p. 5)


The Pacific Commercial Advertiser, Volume XXXV, Number 6358, Page 5. December 23, 1902.


2 thoughts on “Octopus fishing and more described by Emma Metcalf Beckley, 1902.

  1. Pingback: Octopus fishing and more described by Emma Metcalf Beckley, 1902. — nupepa | HDNP

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