Volume 87 1978 > Volume 87, No. 4 > The ecological aspect of Lau (Solomon Islands) ethnoichthyology, by Tomoya Akimichi, p 301-326
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The problems of how people conceptualise and exploit their ecosystem have been dealt with in ethnoecology as a part of ethnoscientific inquiries. 2 In a number of investigations, the major concern seems to be semantic analyses of classificatory structures in biological domains. 3 However, studies of how elements of these cognitive domains are used in actual transactions and embodied in concrete behaviours are, both theoretically and methodologically, little refined.

This may be attributed to the original theoretical distinction between cognition and behaviour as two alien systems: ideational versus phenomenal; 4 nevertheless, it must be admitted that the initial interest in demonstrating a correlation between native conceptions and environmental behaviours 5 has not yet been adequately examined or systematically advanced. In fact, analyses have been confined to the particular domains of colour, disease, and plants. 6

Recently, Johnson 7 gave some data on slash-and-burn agriculturists in north-eastern Brazil, showing that a relatively simple cognitive paradigm may predict actual events with a considerable degree of accuracy. Nevertheless, the native conception is by no means transformed, in any simple way, into the actual activities, or vice versa. Keesing pertinently asks: “. . . to what degree human action actually is guided by a general conceptual code. . . . Do human actors conceptualize ‘the system’ in some systematic way and use this generalized model to guide and understanding in concrete social situations?” 8

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We need to, therefore, go beyond the analyses of simple taxonomies and paradigms to seek another model which may contribute to understanding both cognition and activity of the people.

Fishing normally forms the core of a maritime people's life, embracing an adequately elaborated combination of technical activity and discursive knowledge of marine ecology, particularly of fish. The study of ethnoichthyology offers rather a different perspective from botany and terrestrial zoology since the nature and identity of marine life are rather obscure and uncertain until they are captured. 9 Firth also states: “With food plants the social emphasis is on their growth, with fish it is on their capture. The harvest of the one is already foreseen, that of the other is uncertain until the canoe returns.” 10

It is thus suggested that folk knowledge of fish is applicative or behaviour-oriented. In other words, the native concepts are empirically directed towards how particular fish or animals are caught at specific times, in specific locations, and by using available technological strategies. These are essentially based on fish lore, particularly concerning ecology, or to be more precise, the ethnoecology of the people being studied. Thus knowledge of when, where, and how fish behave is applied in fishing in such a way that it is possible to concretely observe its intensity, frequency, and kind from our own perspective.

I have previously written about the relationships between cognition and catch in tuna trolling strategies of Japanese fishermen. 11 Here I consider how human activity is organised or guided by certain conceptual codes in the ethnoichthyology of the Lau, who are excellent fishermen living on north Malaita in the Solomon Islands. The first goal of the study is to examine the Lau ethnoecology of fish, particularly those aspects in which ecology is related to the behaviour of fish: the second goal is to give a set of behavioural data on Lau fishing as an activity; lastly the correlation between Lau conceptions and concrete activity is examined in its ecological significance.

Fish names were collected from informant fishermen soon after or during fishing activity. This information was supplemented by the identification of colour photographs and by reference to fish books. Several local informants were used and numerous questions were asked of each one. Finally, the information was cross-checked and confirmed by two persons, John Kii and Kisi of Funa'afou, where the author stayed.

The scientific identification of fish was by reference to three fish books, 12 and from colour photographs of specimens from catches, and were later checked by Yasuda and Mochizuki. 13

Maps (1:5,000) based on air photographs were used by the author, the two Lau men mentioned above serving as informants, for plotting the fishing grounds. These maps were obtained through the courtesy of staff of the Department of Lands and Survey, Honiara.

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Lau lagoon and artificial islands.
Locality and the Lau people

Lau-speaking people live on tiny man-made or semi-artificial islands scattered throughout the Lau Lagoon along the north-east coast of Malaita, Solomon Islands (Fig. 1). These islands were built in the shallower lagoon by piling up coral stones (suka) and are inhabited by about 5,500 people. The climate is equatorial with heavy rainfalls and high humidity, and there is no definite seasonality. The Lau people divide a year into ara and koburu, according to the prevailing wind direction; from April to October the south-easterly trade wind prevails while from November to March the wind directions are unsettled, but north-west wind predominates about January and February.

Vegetation on the man-made islands is scanty, with only a few types of plant, coconut, croton, orchid, hibiscus, etc., and these being sparsely found. However, some semi-artificial islands, partially enlarged by human action, are in places densely wooded. Animals found on these islands are pigs for ceremonial use, chickens, dogs, and sea birds whose nests are high in the big trees.

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The Lau people, of Melanesian stock, are of medium or rather short stature, and are brown-skinned. They mostly have frizzly brown hair, but blonde hair often appears.

Linguistically, Lau constitutes one branch of Cristobal-Malaitan, which, together with Guadalcanal-Nggelic, forms the larger subgroup of South-east Solomonic among Eastern Oceanic languages. 14 Lau islanders are basically fisher-folk and they call themselves wane i asi ‘salt-water people’ as distinct from wane i tolo ‘bush people’ who dwell in the interior of the Malaita mainland.

Because of their small size, the islands are crowded, offering a very restricted living space for the people, and the population density must be among the highest known among free-living peoples. Nevertheless, they are relatively healthy in comparison with the inland dwellers. 15

The study area of Funa'afou island administratively belongs to the Ward Foueda (population: 1,691 in 1970), a part of the Council Area (Malaita-III) of Malaita District. 16

Field work was undertaken at Funa'afou from January to March in 1975.

Funa'afou is an egg-shaped semi-artificial island, situated near the edge of the Makwanu Passage. It has about 200 inhabitants. The island has an ordinary residential area and a taboo area. In the ordinary area, huts for both dwelling and cooking, big canoe houses, cemeteries, and men's club houses are radially arranged around an open plaza; they occupy the western half of the island. On the eastern half are taboo places both for men (maanabeu) and for women (maanabisi); members of the opposite sex are prohibited from entering the respective taboo areas. Maanabeu includes shrines, sacred huts for clans, sacred stones, places for preserving skulls and long bones, and latrine areas. Maanabisi contains huts for parturition and menstruation, and latrine areas. 17

Economy of the Lau people

The economic activity of the Lau people falls into three major spheres: fishing, slash-and-burn agriculture, and local marketing. Fishing forms the basis of Lau subsistence, affording not only the major source of protein nutrients for the people, but also the essential items for selling at the market.

Large repertoires of fishing techniques and strategies, approximately 100 in number, are employed throughout the lagoon, open sea, and brackish water within easy access of the islands. A variety of coral fish, turtles, and invertebrates are caught from plank canoes using seines, fixed nets, suspended square nets, hand nets, rods and lines, spears, sago palm leaf kites, and fish poisons; they are also caught by walking, wading, and swimming. Fishing is primarily men's work, but molluscs, sea-urchins, mangrove seeds and small fish are frequently gathered by women and children.

Slash-and-burn agriculture is practised on lower hillsides of the Malaita mainland where many kinds of root crops including taro, sweet potato and - 305 yam, as well as coconut, banana, cassava and sugar cane are cultivated. Swamp taro or kakama (Cyrtosperma spp.) is considered the basic vegetable food in terms of availability and dependability. 18 Apart from the main cultivated plants, Canarium almond (Canarium spp.) or ngali, and seed of mangrove trees (Rhizophoraceae spp.) or koa are important foods; they are served pounded up as meal which is mixed with root crops and fish. Areca palm nuts (Areca spp.) are also important as a stimulant (betel chewing). Horticulture requires cyclical land rotation.

Since the Lau people do not have sufficient land to supply their needs for plant foods, they must purchase vegetables from the ‘bush people’ at the local market. In return, the ‘bush people’ may buy fish from the ‘salt-water people’. Thus, the local market contributes towards the balance of the dietary life of two economically distinct groups. 19 At the time of this research, marketing took place on two days each week, at Sulione and Takwea respectively. A pile of root crops or a cooked fish in a leaf package was sold at a cost of A¢ 20-30 on an average, but some larger fish, such as spanish mackerel about one metre in length, were A$3.00. Other everyday commodities sold were stick tobacco, soap, chewing gum, biscuits, and mosquito coils.


Lau natural history of fish is extensive and elaborate, including a set of named categories related to lore on fish that are definitely adaptive for and ingeniously incorporated into the multiple facets of actual activities such as fishing, gathering, cooking, and magico-religious practices. In order to clarify how the Lau conceptualise and act, I directed my concerns to the analyses both of Lau ethnoichthyology (ethnoecology), and of Lau fishing activities (human ecology). The first set of data are cognitive, and concern kinds, behaviour, and habits of fish domains, and the categorisation of the environment by the Lau; the second ones are behavioural and concern the diversity, kinds, and frequencies of the observable fishing activities. Lastly, the cognitive bases of the actual activities are discussed in an effort to provide an effective guide towards understanding how the Lau perceive and act.

Lau Lore on the Marine Ecosystem

The Lau categorise the space around them into several categories. The simplest distinction is asi ‘sea’ versus tolo ‘land’ that distinctively brings out the habitat segregation between ‘salt-water people’ or the Lau and ‘bush people’ such as the Baegu, Baelelea, and Fataleka. 20 The Lau exclusively exploit the sea and the river in their subsistence pursuits, and their folk knowledge of the marine environment is extensive.

The lagoon is termed as asi namo or asi hara (literally ‘sea land’). In fact, most parts of the lagoon are shallow places where men can walk at low tide. The micro-environmental features of the lagoon are distinguished by depth, nature of the bottom, and so on. The shallower water is termed mai or fafomai ‘shallows’, fafobusu ‘intermediate’, and lobo ‘deeps’ in increasing - 306 order of depth; the much deeper abyss in the lagoon is termed mae matakwa. The outer border of the lagoon is fringed by fafo ile ‘barrier reef,’ the outside of which reaches asi matakwa ‘ocean’. Beyond asi matakwa there extends unexploited liu ‘deep sea’. The reef is, in places, cut by fakali ‘deep lateral passages or passes’. Connecting the ocean and the lagoon are dari ‘gullets’. A kind of channel in the lagoon which is termed tafa'a is used for canoe traffic at low tide.

Rarabala is applied to the places where the passes and the lagoon meet and the shelf area between the ocean and the lagoon, and where the depth is 6-7 m. Fakana aba also is applied between passages and the lagoon, but only to those 4-5 m deep, that is, areas shallower than rarabala. Fafona ou is particularly applied where the lateral pass is constricted reaching a depth of 8-9 m, deeper than rarabala.

Areas of the lagoon where the depth and the nature of the bottom changes are also named. For instance, fakana matakwa indicates the area intermediate between rarabala ‘reef shelf’ and asi matakwa ‘ocean’, fakana lobo is the off-shore border between lobo ‘lagoon deeps’ and fafobusu ‘intermediate’ (fakana ‘outer terminal’), raona lobo is the in-shore border between lobo and fafobusu (raona: ‘inner terminal’).

The bottom of the sea is classified into one ‘sand’, fou ‘rock’, and afu ‘algae’. Sand is further divided into three types: one kwao ‘whitish sand’ (of the lagoon and the sand of the middle part of the river), one mamago ‘greyish sand’ (around the river mouth), and mamago ‘blackish sand’ (of the mangrove swamp). The distinction between rock and coral is not clear, but several categories are given to corals; the general term for the barrier reef is walo. Ile is one of the sub-categories of walo, lade is applied to living coral, ladelade to dead corals, fou ni hata to table corals, and fafote to ramified corals. As for sea-algae, various kinds, such as alanga, aama kukusu, aragaimai, aama ile, are distinguished.

Oosia is applied to a sandy area encircled by algae which is only 1-2 m in diameter, tete'ea to sandy areas within the coral reef which are wider than oosia, while lobo is the largest sandy area of the lagoon.

The hydrosphere is distinguished as kafo ‘fresh-water’ and asi ‘salt-water’. Tide or tidal movement (afe) is divided into lua ‘flux’ and mai ‘reflux’, and these are further subdivided into several phases, given here in a sequential order. The lowest phase is termed mai langa, then the tide starts to come up (lua kariabulo). Then the inter-tidal rocks become invisible or submerged (lua e fakaelua), and soon disappear under the water (lua e dalafa). The fullest phase is termed lua e hata. Then the tide begins to go out (gouna asi mangoli), and it ebbs to a slight degree (mai toli). The rocks emerge from under the water (mai tarafafoa), and they come in sight completely (mai tete). Then the tide turns to be the lowest phase (mai langa) again.

The things in the world are generally divided into two: things that are free moving (doe gelo), such as pig, fish, bird, and mollusc, and things that are not free moving (doe to'ongado), such as stone, tree, and sand. Most of the marine creatures exploited belong to the former category, except for algae. Fish (ia) hold an eminently important position in the Lau conception of the marine ecosystem. Apart from fish, many kinds of marine organisms are - 307 known to the Lau: turtle (fonu), mollusc (karongo), sea-urchin (takomai), mantis shrimp (ura), crab (karu or mude), cuttlefish (waki), squid (nuto), sea-cucumber (lamela), octopus (kokola), starfish (takwa ni belobelo), sea-anemone (mamailade), and others. Most of these are further subdivided into several ethno-biological categories.

Exploitation patterns of the marine ecosystem differ according to the habits, habitats, and mobility of marine creatures. Roughly speaking, free-swimming fish and mammals are sought in fishing activities exclusive to men; those creatures that are immobile or less mobile are gathered by women and children, and sometimes by men.

Classification of Fish

Lau taxa for fish are generally organised into a hierarchy consisting of three or four levels (see Fig. 2). A very general taxon ia is applied not only to

Schematic representation of the hierarchic classification of fish.

a wide variety of fish species, but also to large marine animals, such as dugong (iatekwa), porpoise (kilio), and whale (gwahasu).

At the lower levels, each term is applied to particular groups or kinds of fish. Terms at the second level correspond to larger sub-groups or kinds of fish such as shark, rays, snapper, and coralfish. For instance, baekwa is a general term for shark, fali for rays, bebe for coralfish, matasi for goatfish, and so on. At the third level, terms are applied to more specific groups or kinds of fish; the label bebe fakatekwa covers long-snouted coralfish Forcipiger flavissimus Jordan & McGregor, bebe goumatanga hunchbacked coralfish Heniochus varius (Cuvier), bebe adikwelao saddled coralfish Chaetodon ephippium Cuvier & Valenciennes, all of which are included into bebe at the higher level.

Terms at the third level are not always applied to Linnaean species or genera. For instance, aaragwala is applied to Plectorhynchus polytaenia (Bleeker) and P. celebicus Bleeker; leto initoo is applied to P. lineatus Linn, P. goldmanni (Bleeker), and P. cuvieri (Bennett); both aaragwala and leto initoo are included in leto at the higher level.

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Akwasimai is applied to four species of sea-perch: Lutjanus russelli (Bleeker), L. fulviflamma (Forskål), L. monostigma (Cuvier & Valenciennes), and L. rufolineatus (Cuvier & Valenciennes).

Uulumaio is applied at least to the following three species of sea-perch: Lutjanus bohar (Forskål), L. vaigiensis (Quoy & Gaimard), and L. janthinuropterus (Bleeker); while uulumaio kekede at the lower level of uulumaio is applied to one species of sea-perch L. chrysotaenia (Bleeker).

Hau corresponds to mackerel-like fish, such as tuna, skipjack, marlin, wahoo, at the second level, and it includes more than 10 sub-categories: hau initoo, hau kale, hau falata, hau mela, gwalafeta, filufilu, diadia, alinga, alinga bulu, angili, gela, and so on. Most of these correspond to Linnaean species; hau initoo is applied to Euthynnus pelamis (Linn.), gwalafeta to Thunnus thynnus (Linn.), and gela to Thunnus albacares (Bounaterre). Diadia is, however, applied to three kinds of marlin or swordfish: Makaira audax (Phillipi), Istiompax marlina (Jordan & Hill), and Xiphias gladius Linn. which resemble each other in morphology; while filfufilu corresponding to Pacific sailfish or Istiophorus orientalis (Temminck & Schlegel) is differentiated from diadia, obviously on account of its sail-like dorsal fin.

Even at the higher level, taxa are, in no simple way, identical with Linnaean taxonomic groups. Taifasolo corresponds to white-spotted shovelnose-ray Rhynchobatus djiddensis (Forskål), a cartilaginous fish of an order distinct from both rays and sharks, but the Lau regard it as a kind of shark (baekwa) due to its morphological similarity to shark.

Sometimes, a single Linnaean species is divided into two or more Lau taxa. Large-eyed sea-bream Monotaxis grandoculis (Forskål) has two names according to the developmental stage of the fish, i.e., aalauo for the immature stage and maasulua for the mature one. Other examples are as follows. A kind of sea-perch Lethrinus xanthochilus Klunzinger falls in the taxa hare ia and goufu. Double-headed parrotfish Bolbometopon muricatus (Cuvier & Valenciennes) are labelled rarasi fou and gwaila. Two species of barracudas Sphyraena picuda Bloch & Schneider and S. forsteri Cuvier & Valenciennes have the same common names according to the developmental stages: ono, mamalito, and ili. One kind of sea-perch Lutjanus sebae (Cuvier & Valenciennes) also has three names: kokohale, malifu, and raualite. It should be noted that malifu is sometimes replaced by the name for another taxon, hale. In other words, members of a single Linnaean species at the same stage of development can in some circumstances be allocated to two contrasting and separately named taxa.

Most fish are classified hierarchically into three levels, but certain fish are further positioned at a fourth level; suruakalo, one of the sub-categories of suru has two varieties: suruakalo kwao (kwao: whitish) and suruakalo mela (mela: reddish). Emperor are generally allocated to suru which, besides suruakalo, include surugou, suru kekede, suru i matakwa, hatemela, fotobala, etc. It is not, however, known whether the two varieties of suruakalo correspond to different species or to different sub-species (Fig. 2).

Hierarchic sorting is also applied to other marine life. A general term for mollusc is karongo, being applied to a group with two internal levels of differentiation. For instance, clam shell or Tridasca spp. is referred to as kiki - 309 which has more specific sub-categories such as dolo, takalade, ababuli, unu, u'ura, and anoasa.

Crab is, in general, called karu or mude. It has more than 10 sub-categories, such as kaka, kasusu, alimango, uasu, uatotou, uafou, ogala, tatafela, etc.

Other marine creatures are often sorted at two levels: for example, ura (mantis shrimp) includes ura ni one, ura ni fou, sikifaifou; lamela (sea-cucumber) includes lamela fouboso, lamela faisusu, lamela rafu, waauniu.

It was mentioned before that fish domains and some marine creatures are hierarchically sorted into three or four levels: general, fairly specific, very specific, and varietal. Although this principle might have broad similarities to Latin, English, Tahitian, and Cantonese classifications, 21 it is clear that the Lau taxa for fish are not necessarily identical with those of Latin nomenclature, for instance.


Some features of nomenclature of Lau fish classification may be described as follows. At the first and the second level, terms usually consist of single-word primary lexemes: ia at the first level and fali, bebe, matasi, etc., at the second level. 22 Some, but not all, terms at the third level are secondary lexemes with noun + modifier constructions. For instance, boe kekesi (black-spotted toadfish; Tetradon nigropunctatus (Bloch & Schneider) and gwagosi kekede (two-line monocle sea-bream: Scolopsis bilineatus (Bloch)) are compound, while others are single such as takwalao (poll unicornfish: Callicanthus lituratus (Bloch & Schneider)) that is included in the higher category ume, together with ume hango (Naso unicornis (Forskål)), ume akweo (N. brevirostris (Cuvier & Valenciennes)), ume bulo (N. vlamingi (Cuvier & Valenciennes)), etc.

The noun in a noun + modifier name is often identical with the name of the higher category in which taxon concerned falls; boe and gwagosi are second level categories roughly corresponding to the groups of toadfish and to those of monocle-bream, respectively. Sometimes, the noun denotes the highest category, namely ia, as in ia gwali (black kingfish: Rachycentron canadus (Linn.)), ia ha'afa (sharp-nosed rainbowfish: Chelio inermis (Forskål)), ia ni galua (Jordan's parrotfish: Scarops jordani (Jenkins)), ia lao (razor trevally: Mene maculata (Bloch & Schneider)).


Apart from the hierarchic classification mentioned above, a number of intermediate and cross-cutting categories related to fish ecology and behaviour are distinguished. Each term is, for convenience, here specified by reference to habitat, feeding, sheltering, escape, spawning, swimming layer, schooling of fish, although how these are arranged is by no means how the Lau arrange them.

1. Habitat and the feeding of fish

Fish in diverse habitats are classified into the following categories.

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  • 1.1 ia na matakwa liu: Deep-sea fish, particularly those that are rarely caught.
  • 1.2 ia i matakwa: Fish of the open sea, mainly surface swimming species such as tuna (gela), skipjack (hau initoo), barracudas (mamalito), marlin (diadia, filufilu).
  • 1.3 ia i namo: Fish which are resident in the lagoon, and those that move between the lagoon and the open sea for feeding, including a large number of coral fish, dugong (iatekwa), sharks (baekwa), rays (fali).
  • 1.4 ia la kafo: Fresh-water fish, most of which move between the rivers and the lagoon, including ponyfish (roro), trumpeter perch (uulumuu), riflefish (ngisunikore).

The above categories correspond with Lau space perception of major ecological spheres: river, lagoon, and open sea. In Lau, crab (karu or mude) is also cross-sectionally sorted in terms of ecological habitat into three categories: land crab (mude la gano), mangrove crab (karu la lolo), and salt-water crab (mude la asi). A similar sorting of fish by habitat is reported in Hawaiian classification of fish; there i'a o ke ko'a referred to reef fishes and i'a o ke kai uli to fish of the deep sea. 23

As for the feeding of fish (ia ania), it is noteworthy that they are organised according to the gross change-over system in terms of time and space. According to the Lau, the lagoon is regarded as ‘the cultivated field for fish’ (raoagi ala ia). Raoa literally denotes land or garden for cultivation, so that the lagoon is the exploitative field for both fish and the Lau themselves. Referred to this point, fish are classified on the basis both of habitat and feeding habits as follows:

  • 1.5 ia ni fou: Fish which live in a rocky habitat and feed on polyp, fish, and small animals peculiar to rocks and corals. These include rock cod (ulafu, eeno, bilau), surgeonfish (maeto, bolo), triggerfish (bubu), sweetlips (mumu, leto).
  • 1.6 ia ni afu: Fish which live in a grassy habitat and feed on sea-algae. These include spine feet (muu), wrasses (da'afi, maelafu), flathead (aifatarao).
  • 1.7 ia ni one: Fish which live in a sandy habitat and feed on small animals in the sand. These include emperors (fotobala, suru, ugwago), goatfish (kwaibia, matasi), silver-biddies (raemae).
  • 1.8 ia ni hao: Fish which feed on smaller fish, particularly surface swimmers in the open sea (hao ‘to float’). These include tuna (gela), skipjack (hau initoo), barracudas (mamalito).
  • 1.9 ia ania ia: Piscivorous fish, the concept of which overlaps ia ni hao, though the former also involves rock cod (ulafu), for instance.
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It is explicit that these categories do not coincide with those of the biological ecology in terms of feeding habits and habitat; properly speaking, ia ni fou and ia ni one should be placed within carnivorous fish, but the two are distinguished according to habitat rather than to food items. Ia ni afu may roughly correspond to herbivorous fish while omnivorous fish are not perceived as a class by the Lau.

Apart from the above categories, similar correspondences are found between a particular fish species and its food items. For instance, the unicornfish (ume) is believed to depend for its food upon specific algae termed alanga; likewise it is believed that dugong (iatekwa) depend on specific algae termed kukusu, and one variety of parrot fish (kurubulu) on a certain kind of rock termed fou buli which is flat and round, usually 1-2 metres in diameter.

Fish feeding and associated activity cycles are perceived in terms of time orientations.

  • 1.10 ia la dani: Daytime feeders (dani ‘day’) including goatfish (matasi), surgeonfish (bolo, maeto), parrotfish (mara, moua, magali), rock cod (ulafu, eeno).
  • 1.11 ia la rodo: Night-time feeders (rodo ‘night’) including squirrelfish (rada, alulu), sweetlips (mumu, leto), emperor (fotobala, suru, hale, ugwago).

In connection with the daily change-over of fish, it is recognised that the feeding habits change according to the life-cycle stages of fish. Briefly, smaller fish inhabit lagoons, feeding in the daytime. As they become older, a drastic shift in feeding habits occurs in terms of time and space; larger fish inhabit deeper water and feed at night. Some fish live and feed on coral when they are young and, subsequently, live among rocks when they reach adult stage.

This local lore is reflected in the terminology; some fish have two or more names according to their developmental stages, as mentioned before. For instance, large-eyed sea-bream Monotaxis grandoculis (Forskål) has two names: aalauo and maasulua. The former is applied to those that live in the shallow lagoon, feeding diurnally, the latter to those that live in deeper water outside of the lagoon, feeding nocturnally. Other instances are shown in Table 1; nevertheless, further inquiries are needed into Lau knowledge of the developmental stages of fish, and into the circumstances in which they give these separate names.

Developmental change of fish names
Young fish   Adult fish Scientific name
arodo   suru arodo Gnathodendex spp.
rarasi fou   gwaila Bolbometopon muricatus
kwatoa   ugwago Lethrinus spp.
kakalai   muu sio Siganus spp.
mumu   mumu galau Plectorhynchus spp.
ono ili   mamalito Sphyraena spp.
fafawai leto   leto i matakwa Plectorhynchus spp.
unuunu   tamara Hemirhamphus spp.
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2. Sheltering

The sheltering or sleeping behaviour of fish is distinguished in relation to their shelter sites and sheltering time.

  • 2.1 ia e teola matakwa: Fish which sleep in the deeper water.
  • 2.2 ia e teola fakana matakwa: Fish which sleep around the boundary area between the lagoon and the deep sea (fakana ‘alongside’). For instance, one variety of squirrelfish called alulu i aba (Myripristis spp.) is believed to inhabit the boundary areas between the lagoon and the deep passage (aba ‘part or side’).

It is implicit that the above two categories correspond partly to the fish which ascend towards the lagoon for feeding and partly to the fish restricted to deeper water.

  • 2.3 ia e teola kafo: Fish which sleep in the river, roughly corresponding to fresh-water and brackish water species.
  • 2.4 ia e teola fou: Fish which sleep under rocks and in the crevices of corals.
  • 2.5 ia e teola afu: Fish which sleep in a grassy habitat.
  • 2.6 ia e teola one: Fish which sleep in a sandy habitat.
  • To some extent the above three categories (2.4 to 2.6) correspond to 1.5, 1.6, and 1.7 (see above), respectively; but this does not mean that the feeding area is the same as the shelter site.
  • 2.7 ia e teola dani: Daytime sleepers corresponding to ia la rodo.
  • 2.8 ia e teola rodo: Night-time sleepers that correspond to ia la dani.

In a particular case, anemone fish (Amphiprion spp.) are called ia la mamailade ‘fish of the sea-anemone’.

3. Escape

The escape responses of fish aroused by natural or artificial disturbance differ according to the type.

  • 3.1 ia lae o'olo: Fish go straight. These include trevally (edaeda, modomu, borabora) and emperor (ugwago, bilu). Sometimes long-toms (bokofu) and half-beaks (unuunu, niginigi), behave in this manner.
  • 3.2 ia siru: Fish wander about or go around. Such behaviour is believed to be characteristic of most fish when they are encircled by a net. Especially, it refers to mackerel scad (buma) and striped mackerel (ro'oma).
  • 3.3 ia lofo: Fish jump. These include milkfish (hakwa), mullet (kalua), sardine (kefo), long-toms (bokofu), and half-beaks (unuunu, niginigi).
  • 3.4 ia agola fou: Fish hide under rocks or in the crevices of corals. These include unicornfish (ume), parrotfish (moua, magali, babali), surgeonfish (maeto, bolo), and goatfish (matasi fou, foukwai).
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  • 3.5 ia agola afu: Fish hide in the algae. These include spine feet (muu), goatfish (matasi abu), and wrasses (mamada, maelafu, da'afi).
  • 3.6 ia suruba e ano lao one: Fish burrow in the sand, including emperor (surugou, goufu, fotobala, hatemela).
4. Spawning

The spawning behaviour of fish is classified according to spawning sites:

  • 4.1 ia kwalala matakwa: Fish spawning in the open sea, such as spine feet (muu), emperor (suru), long-toms (boboku).
  • 4.2 ia kwalala kafo: Fish spawning in a river; these are fresh-water and brackish water species.
  • 4.3 ia kwalala fou: Fish spawning in a rocky habitat, including rock cod (ulafu, eeno), parrotfish (mara, moua).
  • 4.4 ia kwalala afu: Fish spawning in a grassy habitat, including wrasses (maelafu, da'afi), rainbowfish (ha'afa).
  • 4.5 ia kwalala one: Fish spawning in a sandy habitat.

At present, there is little information about the spawning season of these fish. Spine feet (muu: Siganus spp.) are known to migrate to the open sea for spawning (see ia kwalala matakwa) on the fourth midnight after a new moon, and return to the lagoon on the next morning. The young muu, called kakalai, are also known to return to the lagoon 15 days after spawning.

5. Swimming layers

Fish are distinguished in three groups according to their swimming layer.

  • 5.1 ia i langi: Fish of the surface-zone, including skipjack (hau initoo), long-toms (bokofu), half-beaks (unuunu, niginigi).
  • 5.2 ia i ogotou: Fish of the middle zone. The details are unknown at present.
  • 5.3 ia i ano: Fish of the bottom or the ground. The details are unknown, but fishes such as baekwa malau, kakaboa i malau, hakwa i malau may be ground species since malau denotes ‘a deep hole, depth in the sea’. 24
6. Schooling

Coral fish communities are characterised by high densities of individuals belonging to many species. 25 Some form schools consisting of single species or mixed ones, other are solitary. According to the Lau, five types of schooling are distinguished as follows:

  • 6.1 ia didiu: General term for schooling fish. 26
  • 6.2 longa: School of fish, particularly of trevally and emperor. Specific schools are called longa e bilu, longa e borabora,
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  • longa e lakwalao (Caranx spp.), longa e ugwago, longa e alakwago (Lethrinus spp.). These run quickly if threatened (see 3.1: ia lae o'olo).
  • 6.3 ala: School of fish, particularly of parrotfish. Specific schools are called ala e moua, ala e mara, ala e alingafalu (Scarus spp.).
  • 6.4 asi: A school of turtles, consisting of a few individuals, is called asi i fonu.
  • 6.5 aida'ari: School of fish, particularly of unicornfish and drummers. Specific schools are called aida'ari ume (Acanthurus spp.), and aida'ari leleko, aida'ari unasi (Kyphosus spp.).
  • 6.6 gwagwai: School of fish, particularly of herring, sardine, milkfish, and mullet. The general term for those fish schools is gwagwai ia, including gwagwai kefo (Elops spp.), gwagwai buma (Selar spp.), gwagwai hakwa (Chanos spp.), gwagwai kalua (Mugil spp.), gwagwai ro'oma (Rastrelliger spp.).

We must now examine the systematic relationships among the enumerated categories mentioned above (from 1.1 to 6.6) and their implications. First, major aspects of fish ecology and behaviour are cognitively distinguished, based on named categories, in terms of time/space orientations. In particular, it has been observed that fish behaviours are categorised according to space factors. Second, the daily activities of fish are characterised by the cycle of feeding (ania) and sleeping (teo). This cycle is temporally shared by diurnal and nocturnal species, and also by young and adult fish. It spatially occurs between the shallow and the deep water of the sea, or between fresh water and salt water. 27 Third, categories of fish schools are particular rather than general, in comparison with the others, i.e., several terms for fish schools distinctly differ from those for the other aspects of fish ecology in terms of nomenclature. The former consist of a single word; the latter are compound in form and sometimes descriptive. In relation to this, it is apparent that certain groups of fish at the second level of the hierarchy do include members with quite different behavioural characteristics. It will be sufficient to mention that suru i matakwa (Gymnocranius spp.) and suru arodo (Gnathodentex spp.) live in the deep sea (see ia i matakwa), and surugou, suru kekede, and suruakalo (Lethrinus spp.) live in the lagoon (see ia i namo); all of these are included in suru at the higher level. 28

As a whole, several categories of fish ecology are formed according to broader aspects of total ecology rather than according to fine distinctions. None the less, it is important that the Lau concept of marine life is characterised by spatio-temporal orientations, suggesting that the relationships between the fish community and the natural environment are perceived integratively. Now we have reached the point where we can discuss how people perceive and act.

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Temporal frequency of net-fishing methods.
Season   wet season   dry season   wet and dry season     Total
Daily periodicity   day night day night day night wet/night dry/day  
Tidal - (2) (6) (9) (0) (10) (5) (13) (45)
rhythm +/- (6) (0) (2) (0) (2) (0) (0) (10)
  + (2) (0) (3) (0) (1) (1) (1) (8)
Total   (10) (6) (14) (0) (13) (6) (14) (63)

Key: (); number of net-fishing occasions

-; low tide, +; high tide. +/-; low and/or high tide.


It is possible that certain ecological factors that restrict and permit diversity in fishing are relevant to and founded on fish lore in terms of time and space. Our purpose here is to examine the ecological aspects of concrete fishing activities with regard to their spatio-temporal differences. 29 The following analysis is chiefly concerned with the techniques and strategies in fishing with nets as to when, where, and how the Lau make decisions. Net fishing is here given special attention because of the numerous and varied techniques, amounting to more than two-thirds of all local fishing methods, and because it is carried out in a wide range of ecological zones.

Temporal orientations in net fishing

Net fishing methods can be temporally distinguished on the basis of season, daily periodicity, and tidal rhythm, each of which is dualistically divided; a year is divided into dry and wet seasons, a day into daytime and night-time, a tidal cycle into low and high phases. Consequently, they can be schematically assorted into several sections at three levels (Fig. 3 and Table 2). This suggests several points with respect to the fishing techniques and the underlying fish ecology involved.

Daily rhythm: Visual conditions are decisively different between day and night. Searching for fish shoals is possible in daytime only, as it depends on visibility of the potential catch. As an exception, turtle fishing (raraia, falitala i ile) is done even during the night by relying on respiratory sounds for detection, rather than on visual shapes. Several kinds of seine nettings, aiming at fish schools (ia didiu), are called mamala in general (ma: ‘eye’). Typical correspondences are found between the named categories of fish schools (see 6 above) and the relevant fishing methods. For instance, daudaula aims at longa (schools of trevally and emperor), ulula i ile at ala (schools of parrotfish), falitala i ile at aida'ari (schools of unicornfish and of drummer) and asi i fonu (schools of turtle), raraia at asi i fonu, ala kefo at gwagwai kefo (schools of sardine), ala buma at gwagwai buma (schools of mackerel scad),

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Schematic representation of the temporal allocation of the fishing method by nets.

ala hakwa at gwagwai hakwa (schools of milkfish), and ala kalua at gwagwai kalua (schools of mullet) (Table 3).

Techniques for detecting fish underwater also differ between day and night. Fish that take shelter under rocks or in sea-algae, or burrow in sand, are relatively easily detected visually in the daytime, while at night they are found only by searching with hands or feet.

Spearing for fish in the daytime is called suusuula; that done at night kwesula (kwesu ‘to set alight’). In the former, spearing is usually done by a

Schooling of fish and the corresponding fishing methods (mamala).
Fishing method School Fish   Note (time/space)    
    lakwalao, bilu Caranx spp.      
Daudaula longa edaeda, modomu, borabora, ugwago Lethrinus spp. D -/+ fafo busu
Ulula'i ile ala moua, mara, lilifu, gwaila, alingafalu Scarus spp. D -/+ fafo ile
  aida'ari leleko, unasi Kyphosus spp. W + fafo ile
    ume Acanthurus spp.      
Falitala i ile asi fonu Caretta and Chelonia spp. W + fafo ile
Raraia asi fonu Caretta and Chelonia spp. W + asi namo
ala buma, gwagwai buma, kefo Clupeidae spp.      
ala kefo,   kalua Mugil spp. D/W - fafo busu
ala kalua,     Chanidae spp.      
ala kakwa            

Key: D = dry season, W= wet season, - = low tide, + = high tide, -/+ = low and/or high tide, fafo busu = shallow place in the lagoon where men can walk at low tide, fafo ile = surf place, asi namo = lagoon.

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single person, but a number of people often organise co-operative spearing or lafi oko, in which two persons holding the ends of a long rope (oko), usually more than 50 metres long, swing it up and down to make a noise while a number of participants dive and spear the disturbed fish that have concealed themselves in the sand or among the algae. Night spearing is done with the aid of a coconut torch around the reef flat, and with underwater electric lights in the deeper water of the lagoon.

Table 4 shows the fish obtained by different methods and at different times. From this, it is suggested that the fish that are caught in the daytime roughly correspond to ia la dani, those in the night-time to ia la rodo.

Tidal rhythm: According to the native ideas, the times of fishing with nets

Fish catch composition by fishing method and by time.
Fishing method   Time   Date  
  net-in net-up   Fish composition
soko i ufu ca. 3am 0648 22/2 eluelu, unea, akwago, ia mela, kweo, mumu galau 30, hahango
kwai alulu ca. 4am 0705 09/2 alulu*, rada*, mumu*, leto*, hale*, gwareo*, rido*, foukwai
hahagala 0534 0555 29/2 alingafalu, aalagwala*, muu, fola'abe*
  0550 0620    
take gwagwasu 0826 0950 27/2 matasi, gwagosi, muu, moua, suruakalo *, surugou *
eli ngula 0925 0950 09/3 bebe, kelakela, diu, Leto*
gilola 0910 1110 03/2 magali, babali, moua, bebe, bokofu, bubu, goufu*, ugwago, ragaraga, matasi, angafa, boe, daluma
ala buma 1010 1037 28/1 buma, kefo, maremare, bahaula
  1050 1115    
kusukusu fou 1226 1229 15/2 mara, nara, diu, alulu*
  1234 1235    
  1240 1242    
susubolo 1554 1642 11/2 bolo, maeto, magali, mara, matasi
  1647 1705    
falitala i ile 1624 1631 31/1 fonu ia, fonu bara
  1713 1715    
lilila 2050 2150 11/2 geru, gwareo*, sisifo, tereuo, fali, baekwa, rada*
  2213 2312    
take sinalitala 2053 2400 01/2 hale*, leto*, fotobala*, alulu*, fola'abe*, gwareo*
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converge, as a rule, on the two distinctive phases of tidal phenomena that are given the name of mai toli and lua e fakaelua; the former appears to correspond to the time when fish start to retreat downwards or to deeper places, the latter to the time when fish start to come into the lagoon shallows. Gathering activity is undertaken at the lowest tide (mai langa) when it is quite easy to conduct.

In fact, 87.3 percent (n=63) of net fishings are carried out during the ebbing phase. Fishing at ebb tide takes advantage not only of fish movements that are induced by tidal flow, in particular fish turning back from the feeding areas, but also the ease of the activity in the shallower water. Turtle fishing is exclusively done when the tide is rising, since turtles come close to the reef to eat algae from the deep ocean.

In net fishing, generally called takela and sokola, two strategies are fundamentally related to fish behaviour. One is time-reckoning related to the cast and haul of the net, the other is the use of several broken pieces of mangrove branches as artificial shelter sites for fish. In take maasia sinalitala and take maasia sinalifufu, two varieties of takela, the net is set, in both cases, at high tide, and mangrove branches are thrown into the water around the central part of the net. The net hauling time differs between the two techniques; in the former, the landing of the net starts at moonrise (sinali ‘moon’, tala ‘to rise up’); it starts as the moon sets in the latter (fufu ‘to sink down’). In a similar way, when take maasia bura i ubongi is practised, the net is set at high tide at night, and it is hauled up at morning low tide (ubongi ‘morning’).

In shallow water at ebb tide, smaller equipment and associated threatening techniques are employed for fish that take shelter in the sand or among the sea-algae, and under rocks (see 3.4 ia agola fou, 3.5 ia agola afu, and 3.6 ia suruba e ano lao one). Those that are camouflaged by having been covered with sand are felt for with the feet, poked out by a stick, or paralysed by poisonous roots of Derris spp. (uka). Small nets can then effectively be used to catch them.

Wing-shaped hand nets (moge), of which there are two types, are manipulated by a single person. Such nets have two wooden frames, the interesection of which is held by the operator. The larger type is called moge baita (baita ‘big’), the smaller one moge to'ou (to'ou ‘small’). The former is usually handled with both hands; the latter is held in one hand. Both are wielded for scooping smaller fish when they are flushed out or paralysed by fish poisons. Sometimes moge to'ou is used in ala buma fishing, as when a school of buma (gwagwai buma) is confined within a large net.

A suspended square net or furai la'a is used for scooping up shoaling fish, when they run through a small channel at ebb tide. Codrington described this net as follows:

. . .[it] has four corners kept apart by two diagonal elastic rods, at the intersection of which the line by which it is lowered is attached; when a fish is seen above the net the line is hauled up, the ends of the rods come together, and the net forms a bag containing the fish. 31

The rather small net, called furai rasi, is used for surrounding one side of a - 319 round rock or shutting fish shoals in a small fish trap. In the former case, fish that are hidden under the rocks are driven out; in the latter, schools of striped mackerel (gwagwai ro'oma) are chased into a fish trap.

Seasonal rhythm: Seasonal changes of the environment most significantly affect the pattern, intensity, and frequency of marine exploitation. For instance, kite fishing (fafalehaola) is apparently suited to the dry season when the trade wind blows constantly. It becomes inefficient in the wet season when the wind direction is unsettled. As is shown in Table 2, fishing by nets is of almost the same frequency in the two seasons, but the incidence of night fishing differs considerably between the two (in the wet season 26 events were recorded, in the dry season only 6).

The gross condition of the sea differs between the two seasons; 32 the open sea is rough and the water temperature is rather low in the dry season, and in the wet season the water is quiet and the water temperature is rather high. Because of the strong winds and heavy rainfalls that prevail throughout the month of May, many fish in deeper water are driven ashore, so that a large catch is expected about June and July, Although climatic factors generally condition the types of fishing undertaken at different seasons, the explanations for some seasonal changes in technique are not yet fully understood. For example, it should be noted that some fishing is seasonally shifted from daytime to night-time. This may be because in the daytime during the dry season and in the night-time during the wet season the ebb tide is greater than in the other periods of the year. Large-scale fish drives such as gilola, tae matakwa, aasila, and kwakwaela are conducted, day or night, only in the dry season. This subject merits further inquiry.

Spatial orientations in net fishing

Fishing grounds extending through the various ecological zones, such as the wide lagoon, open seas, mangrove swamps, and rivers, are clearly distinguished as owned area (gulagera wanegi) and unowned area (gula e mola), in a sociological sense. Ownership of the fishing grounds is established through most parts of the lagoon and in the rivers of Malaita's mainland within the territorial boundaries of Funa'afou and Foueda islanders. The owned area is demarcated into fishing areas or alata by the individual possessors. Each owner has authority to prohibit any fishing in his area during two or three months (early March to April or May). Unowned areas are free from such regulations, and any fishing at any time is allowed there. These facts explicitly suggest that fishing in the owned areas is far more important than that in the free areas.

Gouna alata: Fishing areas contain some specific fishing spots, generally called gouna alata (gouna ‘head or centre’), a phrase also used for the central part of the large net when it is cast into the water. Distribution of gouna alata is largely at the periphery of the reef and shows a marked tendency to localise consecutively along specific contour lines in terms of sea depth. Sites can be divided into three categories according to their location: (1) between the side passage and the lagoon, called fakana aba; (2) boundary areas between the

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Distribution of gouna alata fishing spots.
  • 1. Asia olu fou (Site-name) Aasila or kwakwaela 33
  • 2. Asia kwaete balia (Site-name) Aasila or kwakwaela*
  • 3. Asia ngongola nanala (Site-name) Aasila or kwakwaela*
  • 4. Suru baita (Site-name) Gilola
  • 5. Fou ia (Site-name) Gilola
  • 6. Bala (Site-name) Gilola
  • 7. - - Gilola
  • 8. Bali afa (Site-name) Tae matakwa
  • 9. Foua (Site-name) Tae matakwa
  • 10. - - Gilola
  • 11. Abe tafa'a (Site-name) Gilola
  • 12. Soko na lade (Name of technique) Sokola
  • 13. Soko i aba fai au (Name of technique) Sokola
  • 14. Soko i takwea (Name of technique) Sokola
  • 15. Soko i maanabuno (Name of technique) Sokola
  • 16. Soko i ufu () Sokola
  • 17. Soko ana fou i ali (Name of technique) Sokola

shallow and deep water in the lagoon, called fakana lobo (lobo ‘pond’); and (3) around the periphery of the abyss in the lagoon (mae matakwa), 34 also called fakana lobo. These spots have particular significance for fishing strategies that take advantage of fish movements. It is well known that fish never fail to move through these spots for feeding and sheltering, and sometimes also for retreat or spawning (Fig. 4).

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Distribution of sites for fish drives.

It is worth notice that more than one-fourth of a total of 147 gouna alata investigated so far are designated simply by the name of a particular fish, or by the term for a physical feature plus a fish name. For instance, fish names for gouna alata include matasi (goatfish), amera (parrotfish), isiofu (flute-mouth), gwagosi (monocle-bream), maelafu (wrasse), and rido (sea-perch), and so forth. Compound terms often applied include fou ia (lit. ‘rock-fish’), fou ulafu (lit. ‘rock-rock cod’), alata ime (lit. ‘fishing ground-unicornfish’), and aba nara (lit. ‘side-spine feet’). Other site names relate to a wide range of semantic fields that need further investigation in their ethnogeographical contexts.

Localisation of gouna alata signifies the adaptive assignment of the fishing activity corresponding to the fish movements aroused by the tidal rhythm. Particular relationships between gouna alata and fish species are found, to some degree, but possible correspondences between particular fishing techniques and gouna alata where they are operated have not yet been investigated in detail. Nevertheless, some fishing techniques are already known to correlate exclusively with particular fishing sites; gilola, one of the largest fish drives, requiring 50-100 participants, is operated only at six of the sites marked in Figure 5. Kwakwaela and aasila, two varieties of fish drive, are carried out in shallow water of sandy habitat with sparse corals and rock. Site names applied are asia kwaete balia, asia olu fou, and asia ngongola nanala (asia ‘sea’). In tae matakwa, three nets tied together vertically are used in the deeper water of the lagoon 35 in order to drive a lot of fish towards shallow water. This technique is carried out only at the peripheries of mae matakwa. - 322 Sokola is specifically operated only at two gouna alata and at four sites at the river mouth. Each site has its own named fishing method; site-12 corresponds to soko na lade, site-13 to soko i aba fai au, site-14 to soko i takwea, site-15 to soko i maanabuno (Fig. 5). One possible explanation for the specific correspondences between particular fishing techniques and fishing sites may be that larger catches require selection of the specific fishing ground.

Gouna alata are not found where the surf breaks (fafo ile) on the barrier reef or in the shallow water of the lagoon, where different techniques and strategies are applied. First, several seining methods aiming at fish schools are practised around the reef and in the shallow water of the lagoon. It is quite natural that fishing spots are not fixed in these techniques. Second, larger nettings are practised in the shallower lagoon and around the reef. But in this case, sandy and grassy grounds are preferred to the coraline habitat, since nets tend to become entangled with corals and rocks. Kwakwaela and aasila, mentioned before, are done specifically in sandy areas with few corals and rocks. Third, smaller nettings are carried out in lagoon shallows, directed at catching concealed fish. In this fishing, specific rocks where fish may be hiding, such as fou buli and fou aliali, are located. A small fish passage in the lagoon, which is called tafa'a, is also used for awaiting fish shoal.

Fish Selectivity in Fishing Techniques

A variety of fishing techniques, numbering about 100, can roughly be grouped in terms of ranges of fish obtained. According to the Lau, a general term for their fishing is deela, as distinct from that by the bush people which is termed raraela.

Hypothetically, any fishing has, more or less, its own selectivity on fish taken. In other words, it is expected that each fishing technique aims at a particular group or kind of fish. Some take specifically one or two kinds of fish, others catch many varieties of fish at one time.

According to the Lau, a simpler division of the fishing methods used falls into four: dee ni fou, dee ni afu, dee ni one, and mamala. Dee ni fou is applied to fishing activities which are held at the rocky grounds. These include several kinds of fish drive into nets which take place in fakana aba areas, ukala to catch the paralysed fish 36 under rocks by fish poisons or uka, kwaifoula and kusukusu fou to catch under rocks by driving away with sticks (kwai ‘to hit’, kusukusu ‘to poke’). Dee ni afu is applied to fishing that is undertaken at the grassy grounds such as take da'afi, lau maelafu, kwai bokofu, ala buma, ala falata, ala muu, ala kalua, and lafi oko. Apart from lafi oko fishing (see 5.1), each of these terms for fishing includes a particular fish name as follows: da'afi (Scarus spp.), maelafu (Scarus spp.), bokofu (Tylosurus spp.), buma (Selar spp.), falata (Siganus spp.), muu (Siganus spp.), kalua (Mugil spp.). Apparently, fish taken by dee ni afu are those that are peculiar to a grassy habitat. This corresponds quite well to the Lau conception of ia ni afu (see 1.6 above).

Dee ni one is applied to those that are held at the sandy grounds such as kwakwaela, aasila, take matasi, take fonotala, toriura, and sisiki. The last two are to take mantis shrimp (ura) hidden in the holes in the sand with fish bait - 323 and line. Fish species taken by the above techniques are not yet ascertained, except matasi (Parupeneus spp.). But it is thought that these fish fall into the category of ia ni one (see 1.7 above).

As mentioned before, fish taken by mamala include several kinds of fish schools (see 6). It should be noted that some overlap with those taken by dee ni afu.

Particular correspondences between fish species and the associated fishing methods are also found in other examples. As for the fishing by net, susu bolo aims at bolo (Acanthurus spp.), lau rada at rada (Holocentrus spp.), lau maelafu at maelafu (Scarus spp.), kwai alulu at alulu (Myripristis spp.), kwai unuunu at unuunu (Hemirhamphus spp.), kwai kakalai at kakalai (young fish of muu: Siganus spp.), eli ngula at ngu (Abudefdef spp.), kwai bokofu at bokofu (Tylosurus spp.), and so on. Susu is literally ‘to poke out with a stick’, lau ‘to seize’, kwai ‘to kill’ or ‘to pull up a net’, and eli ‘to dig’.

As for the fishing by line, generally called aola, selectivity in fish taken differs to a considerable degree according to the techniques employed. The most typical example may be a kite-fishing (fafalehaola) aiming at bokofu (Tylosurus spp.) using a spider's web as bait. Apart from this, gwanula aims at buma (Selar spp.), aofa'aula at fa'au (Choerodon spp.), falitaalulula at alulu (Myripristis spp.), aosurula at suru (Lethrinidae spp.), gwanalela at gwanale (Holocentrus spp.). Although these fishing methods are specifically directed to particular kinds of fish, the actual catches do not always prove to be as expected. Rather, a mixed catch very often occurs, as is shown in Table 4.

As a whole, major aspects of the diversity/specificity in the fishing techniques can roughly be ascribed to the diverse and periodic nature of the ecosystem, with particular reference to fish habits and habitats. When, where, and how different fish behave are cognitively distinguished; and thereby the Lau make decisions about when, where and how to catch them.

How people perceive and act has been dealt with in the case of Lau ethnoichthyology from an ethnoecological perspective. How do Lau conceptualise their ecosystem, particularly the biological domains or biota on which they depend for food, and the associated natural phenomena? Fish, the staple food resource of the Lau, are not easily seen, so the harvesting of them requires knowledge of when, where and how to catch them, which is quite different from knowledge required to exploit plants and terrestrial animals.

As we have seen, several named ecological categories of fish not only occupy an important part of the cognitive realm of Lau ethnoichthyology, but also prove to be applicable to various kinds of fishing activity. In others words, it is demonstrated that actual fishing activities are, in fact, guided by conceptual codes related to fish ecology. It may be natural that social emphasis demands cognitively based postulates before enactment or capture.

As concluding remarks, some theoretical points in the present study may be mentioned. In the study of the way people perceive and act, the earliest concerns by Conklin and Frake, 37 seem not to have been rightly advanced or examined, and inquiries have been, in fact, largely confined within the taxonomic realms of particular domains. As Johnson points out, 38 attention - 324 should be paid to the daily life of the people being studied; furthermore, the ways that particular domains are classified are not restricted within simple taxonomies, but extended in various ways. 39 The taxonomies in themselves do not contribute to understanding when and where a people behave, and how they make decisions, as the present study indicates. Moreover, mere studies in taxonomies of the natural and biological worlds do not afford us an effective guide towards the understanding of the total conceptualisation of a people. On the other hand, we cannot know how people conceptualise without analysing how they behave.

It is also important to make clear the viewpoint from which one sees the folk knowledge of the people being studied. It should be noted that this attempt to investigate the nature and principles of the Lau ichthyological system differs from evaluating ethnoichthyological knowledge in terms of scientific ichthyology or the bio-ecological approaches. 40 Confusion between the two approaches must be avoided, although it is sometimes useful to take account of whether and to what extent the folk concepts coincide with or differ from those of academic science.

These aspects are theoretically significant for the study of ethnoscience. However, the coverage of the present paper is limited, and it is to be seen as only the first step towards understanding the complexity of Lau lore of fish. This is because of the range of attributes, natural and supernatural, with which fish are vested in Lau culture relate to both the cognitive and the practical realms and in no sense are limited to taxonomic criteria. Far more inquiries on how fish are caught, cooked, preferred, or prohibited, referring to both the people's perception and their treatment of the fish, are necessary for completing this study.

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  • BARRAU, J., 1958. “Subsistence Agriculture in Melanesia.” Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin, 219:42.
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1   This study was conducted with the permission of the Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs, Solomon Islands. I am very thankful to Mr H.K. Paia, Permanent Secretary of M.E.C.A., and Mr F. Bugotu, the former Permanent Secretary. I am deeply indebted to Dr Ralph Bulmer for his comments on a draft of this paper, and for suggesting that it should be submitted for publication. I am very thankful to Dr Roger Keesing for his kind comments and advice on theoretical points of this paper. Many thanks are also given to Dr Eugene N. Anderson Jr., Dr Harold Ross, and Dr W.C. Clarke for their kind comments.
2   Conklin 1954; Frake 1962.
3   Berlin, Breedlove, and Raven 1973; Bulmer, Menzies, and Parker 1975.
4   Goodenough 1968; Tyler 1969.
5   Frake 1962.
6   Conklin 1955: 339-44; Frake 1961: 113-32; Berlin, Breedlove, and Raven 1974.
7   Johnson 1973: 87-101.
8   Keesing 1974: 83.
9   Morrill 1967: 405-16.
10   Firth 1930: 390.
11   Akimichi 1975: 83-101.
12   Munro 1967; Hiyama and Yasuda 1972; Masuda, Araga, and Yoshino 1975.
13   Yasuda, Assistant Professor, Tokyo University of Fisheries. Mochizuki, Department of Agriculture, University of Tokyo.
14   Pawley and Green 1973: 26.
15   Damon 1970: 191-215.
16   Groenewegen 1970.
17   Maranda et Maranda 1970: 835.
18   Barrau 1958: 42.
19   Ross 1973: 91-4.
20   Ross 1973: 72-3.
21   Anderson 1972: 76-8.
22   Berlin, Breedlove, and Raven 1973: 217-9.
23   Titcomb 1972: 50.
24   Fox 1974: 128.
25   See Smith and Tyler 1972: 126.
26   According to Fox's dictionary, two more names for fish schools are given and ōto-fā e i'a, fā e baekwa, and ōto ni kirio, etc. (Fox 1974: 49, 157).
27   See Collette and Talbot 1972: 98-124; Smith and Tyler, 1972: 125-71.
28   Young fish of suru arodo, which are called arodo, live in the lagoon, so that they are included in ia i namo.
29   Watanabe 1977: 3-6.
30   Fish taxa known to be nocturnal feeders. (Those not marked with asterisks include both diurnal and nocturnal feeders.)
31   Codrington 1891:317-8.
32   The dry season is called ara (lit. ‘south-east trade wind’), and the wet season is called koburu (lit. ‘north-west wind’).
33   Fishing method
34   The open sea is distinguished from the abyss in the lagoon, and is called asi matakwa.
35   This fishing method is practised only at the abyss in the lagoon, and a large catch is expected from its use.
36   Fish that are paralysed by uka are called ia na ukala.
37   Conklin 1954; Frake 1962.
38   Johnson 1973: 87-101.
39   Anderson 1972: 76-8.
40   Malkin 1958: 73-90; Sturtevant 1964: 120.