by James J.Z. Phiri, MMD chairman
My friends and I used to go to Kabango Brook to fish when we were little boys. Usually we used homemade fish hooks enabling us to catch a few matemba (small fish) or mlamba (mud fish) — just enough for a day’s meal for the family. I still practice this kind of fishing whenever I get the opportunity.
Sometimes, up until 1971 when my community was forcibly removed from the Nkhotakota Game Reserve, I would join a group of adults, both men and women, going to bigger rivers — the Lifumbizi, Liravwa or Liwalazi. Occasionally the adults walked as far as Bua River, but my father would not allow me to join them, to avoid the burden of carrying me on the long journey.
At those bigger rivers, our fishing method was as follows:
1. Identify a natural water reservoir in the river, swarming with fish.
2. Construct a biyo (dam) down the river, leaving openings where each member sets his/her mono (fishing basket with a large mouth and a narrowing trap enclosure preventing fish from getting out once they enter). There might be three or more biyos, depending on the number of people. Usually the uppermost biyo carries the monos of the most influential persons — village heads and counselors. Children like myself set our monos in the last biyo.
3. Apply katupi (smelly leaves from katupi shrubs, crushed with wooden mortars). The fish try to swim away from the strong smell and end up in our monos.
4. Harvest! The monos are full of fish, usually enough to last a month. We would dry the fish for preservation.
At that time there was a balance of man and nature and plenty of fish in the rivers. God provided so many fish that the children were always healthy with no lack of nutritious food.
In the game park, we co-existed with elephants, lions, leopards, many kinds of snakes. Going to the rivers put us at risk of attack. Therefore, fishing was always team work. Starting from young ones like me and my friends fishing in a nearby brook like the Kabango, to groups of adults and children traveling to the larger rivers, there was a sense of protection in working together. This was the beginning of a life lesson for me: I believe in team effort towards work.
I savor those childhood memories, and I continue to love traditional Malawian fishing.