Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Fishing - a way of life for Okavango people

In an exclusive email interview, Dr Robert Hitchcock asserts that the human inhabitants of the Okavango region support themselves through combination of strategies, among them fishing, agriculture, livestock rearing, and wage labour.
''An important source of income for the people of the Okavango region is the sale of fish, firewood, thatching grass and palm leaves which are used for making baskets,'' Hitchcock goes on to say.
Approximately 20 kilometres north east of the tourist town of Maun lies the small village of Sexaxa. This is the village of the Wayeyi people, commonly known as as the Bayeyi. On the side of the tarmac road stands a small market comprising two corrugated iron shelters and makeshift wooden racks erected just beside the road. Fresh fish hang on the racks, while several man sit under the shade of mophane tree. More fish hang from tree branches. Occasionally vehicles stop and customers pile out to purchase fresh fish.
Traditionally, the Wayeyi were were a river people. That is, they built their homes near a river and explored its aquatic resources. When they built they migrated south from Zambia to Botswana in the mid - 1700s, they settled in the Okavango Delta. Sexaxa is located on the edge of the Thamalakane River, a tributary of the Okavango Delta. Fishing here is not just a cultural activity: it is a means of sustenance.
Sexaxa resident John Thewa, a merchant at the fish market, says virtually every man in the village household catches fish for his family: ''Fish is our staple food here, and there are many species of edible fish in the river. Fishing is a culture we have been born into.Our great grandfathers were fishermen. It is in our blood'' Thewa reveals, noting that the local fish market is thin on the ground.
''We live in a region with an abundance of fish. Visitors can get their fish supplies anywhere - from Xhana to Maun to Sehithwa, and all the way up to Shakawe. We try to keepour prices low so as to attract buyers.''
An old man squats by the river edge, both feet submerged in the water. ''Ni tishire, Na tambuka?'' he greets in Shiyeyi, a local vernacular. As he speaks, he continues spliting open the bellies of the still writhing fish, eviscerating them with his small, sharp knife. He passes them to the two boys by his side to scrape off scale.
Although the fishermen fish mainly for home consumption when fish is caught in substantial amounts, it is usually bought to Maun to be sold. The Sexaxa villagers cook their fish in different ways, such as frying and grilling, but boiling is the favoured method. As one walks through the village, a smell of fish lingers in the air. A visit to this small, pictureresque Okavango village reveals people still proud of their traditions. Extracted from The Midweek Sun.

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