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tale by Biti Lake

Note: The interviewee is noted by initials, the interviewer by [Q].


How to Catch Flying Fish

[BL] My name is Biti last name Lake. The name of my mother is Lamerik. I am from the island of Arno.  In Arno Atoll, this particular piece of land where we sit right now. I am from the Rimejoor Clan [clans are taken from the mother’s family].  And now I am going to tell you all a story. I am sad because I am not very well prepared at this time and I want to tell a really good story, but I’ll just try my best. I will tell about how to catch flying fish.

During fishing, all the people were involved: men, women, everyone gets involved. They gathered together and headed to the northern tip of the island. They take with them local fruits such as pandanus, banana, and the center part of sprouting coconuts to eat before the fishing begins.  They must cook the food before they are allowed to fish.

At sunset, they make an earthen oven, and they cook the catch. They come back the next day and get ready to catch more over the next three days. If successful, they eat, cook, and enjoy their time together.  The evening of the second day, they throw the leftovers into the ocean. They throw out the leftovers to use for bait: luring the flying fish to them. So that when it comes time to gather the fish, the fish fill the canoes. [The speaker here is referring to the medium sized canoes]. 

They fill each and every canoe. Once each canoe is filled, it heads ashore to unload the catch while those ashore are busy by the earthen oven roasting breadfruit, cooking bwiro [fermented breadfruit porridge], and etc. When the canoe lands, all the boys and men meet the canoe to carry the whole catch to the cooking area. Then they sit to eat with one another enjoying the festivities together. That’s how they did it in the past.

[Q] I have heard about catching flying fish from Marshallese elders. They say that they used to make lei’s. And the work of catching flying fish is considered dangerous. Can you explain what the dangers are? For example, why is it dangerous for them to catch a fish and why do they wear the lei’s?

[BL] Well now, that is true, catching flying fish is very dangerous. The reason is that when the torches burn, they attract a lot of sharks.  The fishermen need to be careful because sometimes the sharks hit the canoes, causing them to sink. Well, it is important that the fishermen understand this before they go out on the ocean to fish.

[Q] So that is the reason?

[BL] It is very dangerous. You need to be careful because if you accidentally put your hands in the water a shark might come and bite it off. In the old days, the way to catch the fish was to catch them in the air. The fish fly out of the water here and there because the sharks are chasing them.

[Q] So, they don’t catch them in the water?

[BL] They catch them in the water also, but they need to be careful because when they take them from the water, they are snatching them from the sharks’ mouths. And this is why this type of fishing is difficult. You need to spend time training in order to master the skill. Let’s say we go off to fish, and you ask me to come with you because you think that this type of fishing is easy. You will find yourself struggling in the process.
[Q] So fishermen need a training period.

[BL] Yes, you definitely need to because this type of fishing is not for everyone.

[Q]Now can you explain why you said the fishermen compete to be lead fisherman [perhaps out of turn, or asserting oneself above ones station] and why individual men cannot choose a spot on the canoe wherever they want to fish?

[BL] If you move around the boat wherever you want you, would scare the fish. Now, if you fish heading west, you will catch more fish because the fish fly to the east, but when you head in any direction you wish, you scare the fish away. That is why it is taboo head in any direction you choose. The fish run away.

[Q] So that is how strict the taboo was, it didn’t allow the fishermen to choose their own direction, right?

[BL] Right. Like I said. Once when a fisherman ignored the rule, he paid the price by being plunged through his chest with a spear. That is why fishermen are not allowed to simply choose their own direction when they fish.