The life of the Marshallese are intricately intertwined with the ocean and every thing that lives in it. Fish have been a main staple of the Marshallese diet and because of this over the last 2,000 years the Marshallese have adapted to become expert fishermen. In the pre-European contact era the Marshallese had over 50 different fishing methods. Since European contact the Marshallese have adopted imported fishing gear to develop modernized fishing techniques. For example, instead of oyster shells for hooks, metal hooks are used and woven nets have been replaced by synthetic ones.
Marshallese fishing methods can be broken into 2 classes. Communal and individual. The rest of this essay will discuss different communal methods.
Alele using Mweio (Coconut frond weir)
Mweio are essential chains made from intertwined coconut palm leaf fronds, which were held together with a line made of lo (hibiscus) bark. These were used by the whole community (20 – 200 people) to encircle and scare schools of fish on the lagoon side of an atoll. Sometimes as the tide is going out, fishermen would paddle out into the lagoon in several canoes. They would jump into the water, form a line, hold the weir and swim towards shore. While the school of fish swims in confusion, the rest of the community would join to entrap them by slowly tightening the circle until the ends are joined together. The fish are then speared, scooped up with nets or beached. This allele method (not to be confused with the alele basket) is a community affair and could not be done without permission of the iroij. The spirit Lawilele is said to serve as guardian of the palm frond weir.
Bobo (flying fish net fishing)
Ok in bobo are nets used to catch jojo (flying fish). The nets are 10 feet long and are shaped like a lacrosse stick. The nets are made from lo (hibiscus) fiber threads, coconut fiber threads or other material. Several strands are knotted in sheet-knot fashion to form meshes. The net is fastened to a wooden oval frame. The jojo are caught on the lee side of the atoll at night with coconut torches on canoes. The torches attract the fish and when the fish jump they are caught with ease in the air or water with the lightweight ok in bobo scoop net. This method was used mainly from December to May. Several dances mirror this fishing method, especially on Ailuk Atoll.
Ekkoonak was considered sacred and unique to the southern atolls, particularly Jaluit.
Me (Stone fish weir)
Using coral stones, 20+ Marshallese men would create me or stone traps to trap schools of fish. These were typically built on the reef in an arrow shape, or a semi-circle with an opening for the fisherman to chase fish in. When the tide was going out (ebb tide) fisherman would chase the fish into the entrance of the me. After the fish were trapped , various tools like spears or nets were then used to capture the fish.
In general, the me were located close to a channel or pass and were most productive during months May til November.
Some other communal methods were: kōttoor, jabuk and ittuur.
The above is adapted the sources below and from the Marshallese consulate in Honolulu, Hawaii. In the Fall of 2018 the consulate posted several pieces on culture to celebrate Manit day on their facebook page. w
- Marshallese Consulate in Hawaii, Face book page. www.facebook.com/rmi.hcg Sept 2018
- Allele museum, Majuro, MH
- Etto n̄an Raan Kein: A Marshall Islands History. by Julianne M. Walsh, Ph.D.; in collaboration with Hilda C. Heine, Ed.D.; with the assistance of Carmen Milne Bigler, Mark Stege. 2012. 526 pp.
- Pacific Digital Library: Marshallese Traditional Fishing Methods. http://www.pacificdigitallibrary.org/cgi-bin/pdl?e=d-000off-pdl–00-2–0–010—4——-0-1l–10en-50—20-text—00-3-1-00bySR-0-0-000utfZz-8-00&a=d&cl=CL1.8&d=HASH01e304140308e8542cdc3ae6.1