Posted by: koolwine | November 23, 2016

Tonga: Harpoon in My Hand

img_3213The author’s account of a season spent whaling with native Tongans using traditional hunting methods.

Country Focus: Tonga

Harpoon in My Hand
By Olaf Ruhen (1911-1989)
Published by Tower Publications, 1967.
185 pgs.

Genre: Nonfiction

About the author:  Ruhen, an adventurous New Zealander, traveled extensively throughout New Guinea, Australia and the South Pacific. His many works of fiction and nonfiction were inspired by his journeys.

World Lit Up Rating:
(On a scale of 1-5, with 1 book = turned off and 5 books = lit up)

Olaf Ruhen

Olaf Ruhen


In a finishing operation I started punching the heads of the nails that secured the gunwale  capping, but David stopped me.

“It makes a good job, Olefi. But then I have to use putty to fill the holes up, and I can’t afford putty. Drive the heads flush and leave them. They’ll rust, but they’ll last the season.”

It was the same with every finished job in Tonga. Americans particularly were quick to criticize and comment on inadequacies they saw. But these inadequacies arose not from laziness or ignorance but from the impossibility of buying supplies.  They were caused by poverty, for which Tongans have always learned to find a compensation. Not a pound of putty was bought for Velata. The small amount we used was contrived by finding old hardened chunks of putty about the site, where people had worked vessels for a century, by pounding these to a powder, and by working the powder again to the appropriate consistency after adding fresh oil from coconuts and candlenuts and the rest.


  1. That’s an intriguing quote. It’s interesting to that the New Zealand author seeks to argue against seeing Tongans as lazy or ignorant. The book I read by a Tongan author, Tale of the Tikongs, frequently satirized Tongans for just that.


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