The fishhook Is a symbol of strength and prosperity for all Polynesian cultures. Fishhooks were prize possessions. Polynesian craftsman produced a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Rough bits of lava and coral, or sea urchin spines and shell served as files, drills, rasps, and saws used in the manufacture of hooks. The ancients used a wide variety of natural materials such as wood, shell, whalebone and human bone. The ancient Hawai’ians believed that fishhooks made from the bones of people without hair on their bodies, who were termed ‘olohe, were more attractive to fish than hooks from normal bone. Thus the ‘olohe individuals ran the risk of being prematurely dispatched to supply the luck-bringing material.
Those skilled in the art of fishing and carving hooks were held in the highest esteem in ancient Hawai’i. Fishing knowledge was passed from generation to generation. Not only was fishing important for subsistence, but it was also enjoyed by Chiefs and commoners alike as a recreation.
Fisherman had their own gods and places of worship. Before going fishing they perform rites which sometimes were elaborate. When they returned, the first fish they caught was offered to the gods.
So fishhooks were an invaluable tool that provided food for the “ohana” (family), and were innovatingly adapted over the centuries. And now currently (beginning over 15 years ago), the market has being flooded with cheap replica pieces made in sweatshop conditions in Asia and beyond. So today Makau are worn as personal adornment and many wearers are unaware of the heavy symbolism involved.
To learn more about Makau and Hawai’ian history visit:
1525 Bernice St, Honolulu, HI 96817
(Photo from Hawaii: A pictorial history 1969 Bishop Museum Press)
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