Movie: Maka feke (octopus lure) by Eseta Aholelei

Eseta Aholelei tells us about the Maka Feke, or Tongan Octopus Lure

© Australian Museum and Eseta Aholelei
Finton Mahony
Eseta Aholelei


Eseta Ahohelei:

This is an octopus lure, from Tonga. My name is Eseta Ahohele. I was born in Sydney and grew up in Sydney. My mother has mainly Tongan heritage, with Samoan and Fijian. It’s made of stone, cowrie shell and a coconut centre – or part of the husk.

The way it’s used is not actually like you would a normal fishing lure, where you drop it into the water. But it would be used over reefs or sort of rocky areas where – from the canoe, this is attached to a stick, and it would be sort of hovered over the top of the water, over where octopuses are likely to be. And the idea is that the octopus would then come and grab the lure and wrap itself around, and then you’d pull the octopus. Much easier than trying to rip an octopus away from a stone or a reef.

And the idea is this is supposed to imitate a mouse or a rat, the shape of a mouse or a rat. So the body and then the tail. And the story was – the story of the feke [en gaumao] octopus and rat or mouse, the octopus saw the rat was trying to cross from one island to another and was finding it very difficult, because he couldn’t swim. Being friendly, as the octopus is, he said, oh, you can come and sit on my head and I’ll take you from this island to the next. So the rat thought, oh, I’ll come and sit on his head. And so he did that. And as he travelled over and took him to the other side, and said goodbye to the – the octopus said goodbye to the rat.

And as the octopus swam back. And swimming across the water, he felt – up on his head he could feel that the rat had left him a surprise, he’d pooed on his head. So the octopus had all these spots on his head, and that’s why we say that – that’s how he got his spots. But that’s why we use the lure in the shape of a mouse or a rat, because we say that he’s still looking for the rat. So that’s the story that I – my version, or the version that I heard.

But apparently – like in other parts of not only the Pacific but in Asia they use a similar lure, and it’s the similar story behind it. So whether that shows that we have connections to those different parts of Asia or not – yeah, I think it does, does for me. But, yeah, very interesting. And it works too, so that’s always good.

The significance of the cultural collection to the people from Tonga, and to the Tongans in Australia, to Australian Tongans, if you like, is huge. A lot of crafts and a lot of skills that have been lost to technology or new methods of weaving, or quicker methods of production, or buying things, and so we’ve lost a lot of skills in making objects, and also in fishing and in weaving and many areas.

And therefore we are in danger of losing stories and other ceremonies in our culture. And having these objects here allows people like me to come and rediscover these stories, and to share them with other people in the community.

Also I think an environmental perspective, many of the low-lying islands are going to disappear soon, or if not disappear be uninhabitable because of salinity and all different problems, so identity is going to be – it always is a big issue, but it’s going to be more difficult for future generations to find their cultural identity and heritage. And places like this is going to be even more valuable in the future.

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Tags eseta, finton, Maka Feke, Octopus, lure, cowery, shell, coconut, fishing, fish, artefact, tonga,