Ricardo Idagi

Community / Language Group: Meriam Mer, Mer (Murray) Island Saposar/Aukiskir (Sargeant Fish/Old Woman) 2014 ceramic, clay feathers and wood metal stand 42 x 33 x 33 x 100 cm (approx)

There are three worlds that Islanders inhabit, the earth, sea and sky. These worlds are closely connected. Our dancing imitates birds, the blooming yellow hibiscus signals certain fish are around, gardens and reefs share names and even people and fish can share names. If you want to understand this sculpture, you must know about my Mother’s fishing stories.

My mother was a very good fisher, catching fish for us every day to eat. She would tell the family about her fishing expeditions at the end of her long day and I would listen. Every day, you would see men and women fishing from the shores with their hand lines. Mum always had two constant companions with her when she went fishing, her two cousins, my Aunties.

One day, the three of them found themselves fishing from the beach directly in front of the old ma’s house. The man kept throwing rocks on the water to chase away their fish and they hurled rude comments back at him. Later on, when they talked abut what had happened, they realized they needed to give him fish. After that, they were allowed to fish on his beach.

One afternoon, after school, there was excitement down at the beach. Everyone ran down to see huge groper lying on the sand and someone said to me “your mum caught that big fish.” Well, my chest grew a few inches as I was so proud of her.

On another day, a huge crowd was on the beach fishing but nobody was catching anything except mum. She had noticed the bubbles that the fish were making as they ate the bright green algae floating with the tide. So, she secretly put her hook around the algae and let it drift with the tide and fish took it in no time at all. Meanwhile, everyone else was using flour dough for bait and catching nothing at all.

Sometimes, I would hear her complain, “I went to fish at that rocky outcrop but there were too many aukoskir, old women, there, so I moved to another spot.” I often wondered why she would do that and sometimes she would just pack up her fishing lines and go home. At first I thought it was because of the dead coral. As I grew older I became aware that the old woman were the saposar, Sergeant fish, and no self-respecting fisher would have a saposar in their basket. I found out much later that Sergeant fish are very aggressive and territorial. My mother had known that the saposar would chase away any fish that went for her bait.