Austronesian words for seahorse (Hippocampus spp.)

Robert Blust blust at
Sat May 8 03:36:44 UTC 1999

Dear Bruce,

I've looked farther afield that you (at Austronesian as a whole) without
success.  The general principal for flora and fauna seems to be that if it
was economically useful or dangerous it was named, and the more useful or
dangerous the more stable the name historically.  The hippocampus is a
curiosity to those of us familiar with horses, but probably didn't hold
much interest for Austronesian-speaking peoples.


On Fri, 7 May 1999, Bruce Biggs wrote:

>         Sea-horses are striking looking creatures, widespread in the Pacific.
> Why can I not find Polynesian names for them? Mele woose t'tai and Tongan
> hoosi-tahi don't count. I know the missionaries who wrote many of the
> dictionaries didn't spend much time at the beach. And you can't eat a
> sea-horse as far as I know and Polynesians were not neurotic about their
> sexual prowess. (New Zealand is farming sea-horses to supply the Asian
> aphrodsiac market).
> The few modern Maori I've asked have not been able to give me a name, but
> Williams's Dictionary of the Maori Language (5th and later editions) gives
> several terms, all but one equivalent to "sea-rat". The exception is manaia,
> a word that usually refers to a beaked, one-eyed carved figure that features
> in house-carvings here.
> Does Hippocampus have a name in other Austronesian parts?
> Bruce Biggs

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