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Shark Caller's Tools

Shark Caller's Tools, 20th century
Kontu culture, Island of New Ireland, Papua New Guinea
Wood, reed, bamboo, coconut and paint
Bowers Museum Purchase courtesy of the Trude Jordan Fund

The Kontu people of the Island of New Ireland, Papua New Guinea use ritual customs to capture and kill sharks. Shark Callers believe that ancestral spirits reside within Mako sharks and that they will respond to men who call them under the right circumstances. Men spend three days in spiritual preparation, abstain from eating certain foods, from sex, and anoint their canoes and themselves with specific herbs. Their ritual preparation ensures that any contact with sharks will bring them no harm. When ready, the men climb aboard canoes armed with the physical and spiritual tools necessary to entrap and kill the shark. Out in the water the men begin to "call up" the sharks by singing as they place and shake a ring of dried and halved coconut shells (called a larung) on the surface of the water. If a shark answers the call it is then coaxed to the side of the canoe where it is caressed before the noose from a propeller-like device is slipped over its head. The propeller is spun to tighten the noose before the shark is dragged on board where it is bludgeoned to death. Today tourists can experience ritual shark calling themselves for the right price. In Papua New Guinea many of the old customs are mixed with new that were brought from the Catholic missionaries to the islands. Whether or not the ritual preparation will remain part of the shark calling custom is uncertain. The modest size of the propeller and the flimsy gaff on the pole probably indicate that the objects pictured above were most likely made for the tourist trade. Regardless, they give us an insight into an amazing cultural practice from the island of New Ireland.
All images and text under copyright. Please contact Collection Department for permission to use. Information subject to change with further research.

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