Book on indigenous fishing techniques, Tokelau
ECHOES AT FISHERMEN’S ROCK
ELDERS FROM ATAFU
Edited and translated by Antony Hooper and Iuta Tinielu
The unique value of this book is that it was originally written wholly in Tokelauan by migrant elders from Atafu atoll as part of what they saw as their duty to pass on their knowledge to younger generations. They worked on it for 12 years or so, holding regular meetings in their community hall in Porirua. Some of them died or returned to Tokelau over those years. Others took their places. One of their number recorded the discussions in longhand, passing on the work to a computer-literate relative.
By 2008 the work was virtually complete. and a small grant from Creative NZ allowed the book to be published by Steele Roberts Wellington as Hikuleo i te Papa o Tautai. Most of the edition sold out, with the proceeds being used for improvements to the Community Hall.
The elders’ work was done entirely at their own initiative and without payment of any kind. There is no other Pacific community which has taken the initiative to record their traditional knowledge of fishing and has had the persistence to carry their work through to publication. It is a unique enterprise.
Other important features: (1) Throughout the Pacific, traditional fishing knowledge is usually kept strictly secret, being passed on only from fathers to favoured sons.. The Atafu elders abandoned this convention and the present translation makes the information more accessible to younger migrants whose knowledge of Tokelauan may be inadequate. (2) The information is also of interest to general readership because it records details unknown to fisheries scientists and those concerned with climate changes.
UNESCO is not marketing the book directly. Instead it has made copies available to each National Commission and major research libraries round the world. On page iv there are instructions about contacting the email address in Paris to ask for either a pdf or for a free copy (copies?) of the book to be mailed to you.
Antony Hooper is an Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the University of Auckland with wide experience of Tokelau. He lives in Wellington. Iuta Tinielu was born in Atafu and is one of the group of elders who wrote the book. He is a graduate of the Fiji School of Medicine and has had extensive postgraduate education in New Zealand.
The three tiny atolls of Tokelau are about 500 kms north of Samoa, and form part of what is known as the “realm” of New Zealand. The people have been NZ citizens since 1949. Many have migrated here, leaving a population of about 1400 in the home atolls. There are now estimated to be about 800 people of Tokelau descent in this country, with the great majority of them settled in the Wellington area, in Porirua and the Hutt Valley.
Much has changed in Tokelau life – in the atolls through developments brought about by New Zealand aid and for the migrants through the need to adapt to a wholly wage economy. Nevertheless Tokelauans in general maintain the overriding authority of elders, cooperative efforts and egalitarian distribution. What has also persisted, in both the atolls and NZ, is the way that men remain absorbed in the details of traditional fishing.