The “Hei Matau” to some people also called a Maori, Tahitian, Hawaiian, or Polynesian fishhook. I first came across this talisman while reading some sailing logs and books back in the early 1990’s, a symbol to the wearer of a safe journey while at sea. I found one made out of shell at a surf shop in Coco Beach Florida, while I was stationed aboard the USCGC Vigilant, out of Port Canaveral. I began wearing it as a symbol, to remind me that to have safety at sea, I needed to play my part and be prepared. I continued this tradition as I furthered my maritime career, next onboard the USCGC Munro out in the Pacific and aboard multiple commercial vessel commands in California.
There is deeper meaning and cultural importance to this symbol passed down from the Maori people of New Zealand. They hold that Maui the Demi-god used the hook to land a giant fish, which is now the North Island of New Zealand. If you have seen the Disney movie of “Moana”, Maui is the same Demi-god and his magical fishhook plays a huge role in this film.
I have had a fondness for this symbol and back in 2008 my good friends Rich, David and I tried to get a Rum Company started in Palm Beach Florida, called “Watermen Rum”. Some times, timing is everything and it was just not the right time. I designed a “Hei Matau” to reflect our business model using a Polynesian fishhook design on one side with a whales tail on the other, forming a “W” for “Watermen Rum”. Our idea was to promote the Watermen lifestyle through our rum, to “Celebrate the Spirit of the Sea”. Still slowly working towards this concept, hopefully some day.
In 2017 when I left Hinckley Yachts and went to work on my own as a maritime consultant, I used my “Hei Matau” for “Watermen Rum”, as my symbol for my consulting business “Watermen Marine, Inc.”, to provide a safe voyage for my new endeavor and my clients marine assets.
What I really love about this symbol is what is represents as a time piece, a connection of the history of what it means to be a Watermen. Culturally passing down not only skills, but a passion for a life on, in, below this World covered by 70% water. Some people may never get it. The beauty of the worlds oceans and seas, the smell of salt in the air and the feeling of it on your skin. Part of being a Waterman is the passing of the art and artisan ways, of this passion and lively hood. Some of these artisan ways are dying off, some most likely are already forgotten. We need to capture these connections to our past and preserve these art-forms, cultural treasures. It is recorded in some anthropological papers that human kind has been spear fishing for 50,000 years, fishing with nets & traps for 40,000 years. Look back at ancient Sumerian, Egyptian pictographs and we can see documentation of this from 5,000 years ago, as well as fishing with hooks. Ancient navigators crossing oceans and seas, then returning safely, long before GPS. Vessel construction with hand tools, dugouts, viking long boats, proas, dhows, junks and clipper ships, long before modern day CNC machines.
This is the beauty of being a “Watermen”, the passion for this art of a lifestyle of the sea. We need to capture these stories, to share with our future Watermen. If you know someone like this, an ancient mariner, Watermen or just a Watermen still carrying on an artisan skill. Please send me a way to contact them, I would love to find a way to interview and talk to them about their passion. Anything related to a lifestyle around the sea, (spear fishing, boat building, sail making, cast netting, surf boards, cooking, ANYTHING). If they are passionate about what they are doing in their Watermen Lifestyle, I want to talk to them. I appreciate any and all help with this project, please pass on my request.
As always, “I wish you fair winds and following seas.”