The Shark Callers of Kontu

Approx. 3-400 people live in Kontu. Only road access through a mudy trecht of path (Bush-Highway). No phone signal, sporadic transport system („we depend on luck“ says Ephraim Tamon, my host). Most of the men are familiar with the technique of shark-calling. Some huts have solar power, others still run kerosine-lamps during the night. The villagers it is about hunting for self-sufficient living, such as fish, dolphins AND sharks in all sizes. But also gardening, and raising pigs for sale.

Belief

Christianity, before they believed in their own god „Moroa“. Creator of the shark. Moroa advised the shark. The eyes of hunters must be clean, the shark notices if the caller is without sin!

Practice

First report was from 1603. By dutsch explorer Abal Tasman who witnessed shark calling whilst he surveyd the land. Shark – Calling is an age-old practice delivered from generation to generation. Usually from father to son, or grandfather to grandson. Only practiced here in Konto, the sharks are hunted by individuals by hand from the canoe. Everyone goes shark-calling individually. In the early morning they start paddling out, as far as 5-6 miles away from the shoreline of Kontu village. Fun fact: Back in the days a hunter attached a rope on his hand (shark-lassoing), but had to learn soon, that this doesnt’t help much, as he got dragged from the shark. So they’ve invented a floating lasso. Nowadays, a hunter rattles a bunch of coconuts in the water to improvise an irritated school of tuna. The shark, meanwhile, will notice even its many kilometers away.

Birds scout for tuna, as the fish leaves some leftovers of his prey (which are smaller fish). The tuna, meanwhile, is one of the food sources for the silvertip shark. So the shark callers check for diving birds to get closer to the sharks.

The caller awaits the shark patiently, then holds a stick with some small fish into the waters, until the shark is at his knees position. Then, he’ll sink the floater and tries to get it around the shark’s head. Then he’ll beat the shark to death. To announce the success he’ll blow into a big sea shell, so that the villagers will notice. Some sing spiritual songs additionally on the hunt. Others will mark the amount of death sharks by carving a mark into their canoe.

About the hunting tools

Wooden float called „Laaroron Saman“ (Laaroron = Piece. Saman = Float). The shark (once attached to the Laaroron Saman can’t deep dive any more. The Laaroron Saman is also choking its neck.

Plus: „Larung“ the key hunting or calling tool made of cane from the bush and several coconut shells/ A wooden club/ And Some small fish (bait) on a stick.

Custom/ Superstition

Don’t touch a baby’s waist the night before. No sex with your wife the day before a shark-call. Staying away from certain types of food such as any leftovers from flying-fox food (fruits like Guava etc.), don’t even step on it! And most important rest on a Sunday!

Shark species

Silvertip sharks. Swimming chainsaws. Floating razorblades. Swimming circular saw.

Sale

Shark fins are only sold within a set. Before the money economy arised, the people of Kontu without road access would eat the fins too. This has changed since money plays a role. Mostly since education matters, they sell the fins. Road -> Education –> Money!Only for paying off the school fees for their childrens highschool. And to store some rice (new thing, before they all depend on Taro and Kaukau (sweet potatoe). Before, they would never sell, eat it all themselves. Now the fins are sold at Kavieng market in the north of New Ireland, mostly to Chinese and other Asian ethnicites. One set includes the shark’s fin, its wings and the lower part of the tail. The shark-caller will sell this set for 40 Kina. And 100 kina for Grade „A“.

Sharing

Depending on the size of the shark. The main family will keep the whole thing if the shark is tiny. If bigger the successful hunter will share among the neighbours, but keep the set of fin/ wings for sale and the belly part and tail for his family.

Spirituality

The sharks are the ancestral spirits. As an offering before the hunt, the people of Kontu will give some of their food to the fire, and hope the spirit will offer them a gift in form of a shark in return. But since those rituals have been performed for years, the magical power is still strong enough for future hunts.

On the hunt

Obed, 67 years old. Shark-Calling since he’s 18 years old. Learned the skill from his father. As soon as the Laroron Saman was attached to the shark, Obed would use a wooden club to beat the shark to death and lift it into his canoe. Now, since he’s a bit old, he waits for the shark to tire. I’m sitting with 26-years old Samuel in a canoe, following Obed on his hunt. Obed sings. He has 3 songs in store, one for going out, one when rattling the coconut shells, and another one when he’s successful. Which he’s not today. The „Laaroron Saman“ is too tiny for the big shark whom Oden attracted by calling. I must say, it really works. But his neighbour Rudolph is successful and shares a piece of shark with all of us. Upon arrival, plankton plays in the dawn around our paddles.