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Let’s Go Fishing, Assam Style!

Let’s Go Fishing, Assam Style!

Partha-Pratim-Sharma
two women fishing in a pond
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Fish is one of the oldest sources of food, especially in riverine Assam, and the techniques and instruments of catching fish vary according to the water body and season. In parts, this is a grand community activity as well!

by Partha Pratim Sarma

Fish is a given!

Unless there are vegans, a rather strange category of humans, unless they are pulling at your toes, fish is a must, almost all over northeast and east.

You perhaps know we humans have a part of our anatomy called the Appendix. Which was an organic integrity with our body system that dealt with raw flesh.

But ever since we learned to roast or boil, or fry and eat non-vegetarian stuff, we did not need the appendix. Useless, bereft of logic, but still hanging around!

So we come to fish, the first of its kind of animal protein that did not need running around to be hunted, but most Assamese, Bengalis and lots of Keralites and Tamilians realised eons ago that it was good for their health.

The question was how to catch’em?

Fishing is one of the ancient skills of hunting. And hunting is what some people do not agree with, denying human history.

fishing net selling shopCatching fish is not only to partake of them, but it is an integral part of the livelihood of millions of people.

Which became a tradition as well as a profession for some of the people of our land.

The food habits of people of Assam – largely of east and northeast as well ‑are mostly non-vegetarian, and the main food of the Assamese is rice with fish curry. Much the same with Bengalis and some other communities.

Now let me tell you the art, craft and science of fishing in Assam!

People of Assam fetch small and big fishes from ponds and rivers. Different types of indigenous fishing techniques are used to catch fish. Fish and fishing had a role in Assamese culture through the ages.

Assam is a land of rivers,the mighty, almost oceanic in size, Brahmaputra and Barak.

Community fishing is a traditional practice and a common culture across Assam to capture fish in the beels. Community fishing mostly happens after the flood water recede and post-harvest.Men, women and children in rural Assam are seen taking part in this community activity in large numbers in beels and other water bodies when the waters subside

The valleys of the two rivers occupy an area of around 80,000sq km, with their many tributaries, swamps and beels (very large wetlands) and ponds, which give fish throughout the year.

The valleys have different ethnic groups and cultures, with their varying fish capturing techniques and gears, some of which are common and some are specific.

The use of fishing gears and applications are dependent on various factors, such as types of water body, shape of the water body, types of fish, nature of fish and season etc.

Villagers fish for themselves or sella portion of it. And from place  to place, season to season, the gears differ.

Fishing gears local shopThese gears are mostly made by villagers themselves with bamboo and cane and are available to buy in local weekly markets also.

Community fishing is a traditional practice and a common culture across Assam to capture fish in the beels. Community fishing mostly happens after the flood water recede and post-harvest.

Men, women and children in rural Assam are seen taking part in this community activity in large numbers in beels and other water bodies when the waters subside.

They all use traditional fishing gears made of bamboo and cane like Polo, Jakai, Juluki, Khalai, Chaloni to trap the fishes.

Some of them also use small fishing nets.

On the eve of Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu – the post-harvest festival, community fishing is a must, when the villagers enjoy a community feast.

This community fishing in the beels also shares an old system of selling and buying fish that is called aska (wholesale) in Assamese.

According to this system of buying and selling, fish is sold without being weighed.

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Debojyoti Mishra with his wife Jonaki

Bargaining starts based on the size of the fish, without weighing it. This system goes on by the banks of the water bodies in the fishing season and at the Godhuli Bazar (evening market) all throughout the year.

Because of this age old tradition and practice, there is a continual demand of fishing gears in Assam, and making them is a livelihood for bamboo craftsman who make these traditional fishing gears.

In Assam, fishing is done mainly in five methods: Nets, Traps, Filtering, Hooks, and De-watering. Each method has a variety of gears.

 

Nets (Jal):

  1. Ashrajal (casting or throwing net)
  2. Koilengijal (Gill net)
  3. Parangeejal (Lift net)
  4. Thelajal or Ghokatajal (Pushing or scooping net)
  5. Tanajal (Drag net)
  6. Chackjal (Round net or circular’ net)

Traps (Fanda):

  1. Chepa (Busket trap or cage trap)
  2. Chahara.(Conical trap)
  3. Polo (cover pot)
  4. Juluki (Cover pot)
  5. Jakoi (Conical basket)
  6. Bana (Wall trap)
  7. Saloni (Filtering trap)
  8. Sunga (Pipe trap)
  9. Dingara (Box trap)
  10. Dalanga or Jhapa or Dewo (Fitting trap)

Hooks (Barashi):

  1. Single hook.
  2. Multiple hook.
  3. Line hook or floating hook
  4. Fixed hook
  5. Wheeled hook

Weapons:

  1. Jathi (Spear)
  2. Soli (Harpoon)
  3. Konch (Harpoon)

Gear for De-watering:

  1. Siyani (half cone shape bamboo basket)
  2. Roped tin-basket
  3. Mechanical water pump

Gears for night-hunting (Jhoracutta):

  1. Balida (‘Dao’ for sacrificing)
  2. Kanchi (Sickle)
  3. Khaloi or Koke (Stocking pot)
  4. Jhor (Source of light)

Fishing with no gears:

  1. Hand practice
  2. ‘Lati’ (Muddy bundh)

 

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