Gang Fishing in Teso
Gang Fishing is a cultural practice in Teso where families, neighbours and villages come together to fish in the large swamps.
Throughout generations, this practice was meant to unite people through combined efforts of catching fish. The exploits were largely for subsistence consumption but has gradually taken a commercial step in the recent years.
It usually happens when the dry season is taking shape where swamps are shallow and the water levels are below the knee to prevent drowning and also to reduce the surface area for fish.
With large numbers of people stamping on the water to a near muddy state, visibility under water reduces for the fish, limiting their movements. The muddy water also traps out air from underneath forcing the fish to float to the surface for fresh air, making easy for them to be trapped by baskets.
Fish retreats to the shoreline once the water has been intruded with gangs of locals. Here, a woman is attempting to trap fish at the shoreline using her fishing net-basket made of locally materials.
The more numbers, the better the chances of catching fish. Your next fish depends on collaboration. Confuse the fish and then trap them into the baskets or simply catch them with your hands-whichever is easier. The two ladies here seem to be enjoying every second of their team effort- even throwing in some smiles along the line of duty.
A shadow of a woman is cast on the muddy waters. The composition of the gang is very much a mixer of both men and women. Some families come along with everyone-who cannot be swallowed in the shallow waters.
HOW IT WORKS:
A fish’s eye is sometimes comparable to humans. Though fish has a comparably stronger adaptation in low light, gang fishing aims at reducing visibility, increase the amount of debris in the water to prevent an easy swim for fish and also polluting the water.
When hundreds of people have facilitated these conditions, the different fish species will slowly come to the surface at intervals to catch fresh air. In this first illustrative picture, the Kedi George takes sneaking steps, scanning the water of any fish floating on the surface.
He identifies the target, positions the locally made triangular fishing tool at a higher level, preferably above the fish in order to limit the fish’s vision. The fish in this shallow swamps do not have aerial visual advantage. Look at how calm George approaches his target. The water remains calm. That is very important in order not to scare away the fish.
And a splash of water debris goes flying in the air as the fish is trapped. Yes, it looks like a catch. However look at his position. He remains a step or two away from what I would like to call, the fish trap zone. He pushes the trapping tool further down the surface of the water to prevent fish from slipping through underneath.
The fish, now trapped is in a state panic and stress. It knocks the walls of the fishing tool vigorously in an attempt to escape. But no, its trapped. And that is how George gets to know whether he managed to trap it or not.
Sometimes, even without the alert the fisherman gets from the fish attempting to escape, he checks anyway. And also some fish species are small to exert noticeable force on the fish tool. And after hours and hours of trampling on the water, some fish remain weak and vulnerable and thus may not make a rush dash as others.
And it’s a catch. With beaming face, he successfully traps one. Seemingly small, he is happy anyway. Catching immature fish was initially forbidden and clan heads would punish any one found. Today though, the cohesion is barely existent. Clan heads no longer wield as much power as they did decades ago allowing more random fishing unabated.
“Today, has been a good day,” Kedi George tells me in his native local Ateso language. “I wonder where the fish hides because sometimes it can be frustrating. I can go home now.” Looking at his greased-like polythene bag, he indeed got something. “We are very poor.” He continues. “This is the only few times my family gets to change diet”.
Life is full of contrasts. On one hand, a blossoming flower survives hundreds of pounding steps from families who indiscriminately search for fish, catching or killing anything on their way. Except dirty splashes of water on its shoulders, the flower survives for another. BESIDES the flower is a lifeless fish. Dead out of consistent invasion of its territory, its home by ruthless humans who will stop at nothing to have fish on their table meals.
A quick snack of raw cassava is what most of these families eat during long hours of fishing. Kedi George (in the background) together with a family member re-energizes with a bite of cassava after an exhaustive day.
George Kedi, can now ride his bicycle home-in Wera, some 15km away from the fishing swamp. His other family members composed of mostly women, will walk that stretch. It’s a normal walking distance for most of the people. Another day gone. Another water family reunion made. The tradition of gang fishing lives on.