The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

manuscript notes on the Zemi Nagas by Ursula Graham Bower

caption: fish poisoning
medium: notes
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
date: 1939-1946
refnum: Betts papers, ring binder 1
person: Centre for South Asian Studies, Cambridge
text: Fish poisoning is now forbidden but is sometimes carried out by permission. Bamboo barriers and long chutes are built some way below the selected spot, in such a way that the river is entirely blocked along the top of a rapid, while the chutes project above the falling water and are almost dry at the far end. The men who erect these barriers must remain chaste the night before.
text: The poison is put in some way upstream from the dams and the site is usually a stony, shallow rapid above a big pool. Two kinds of 'poison' are known and are preferably used in combination. One is obtained from the bark of a tree, the other from a creeper. When used together one floats along the surface and the other seems to sink and account for the fish in the deeper water.
text: After leaving the village the men halt a little way from it and start ho-hoing, working up to a quick tempo and ending in sustained shouting and various screeches. From the ho-hoing the knowledgeable can divine the success or otherwise of the expedition. On arrival at the river the party proceeds immediately to business. The men station themselves at suitable rocks above the pool and to the accompaniment of loud ho-hos start beating their bundles of creeper and dipping them in the water. A gang of small boys armed with daos and chungas pickets the lower edge of the pool and the women and girls, who are not prohibited from attending, hunt in the shallows lower down for any fish which may have been stranded. The beating and dipping continues, the few good swimmers and the numerous bad ones go out and get what they can, the pool is white with suds from the creeper, and the fish, theoretically at least, are stupified by the 'poison' and flopping about on the surface; but often in practice everything is there but the fish. At last everyone is exhausted with beating, and the whole party hurries off downstream to see what can be had at the dams. The fish tend to escape downstream at the first hint of the 'poison' and those which have not been caught in the chutes are often found in the pools immediately above the dams. Men get into the water above the pools and drive the fish into the chutes, forming an unbroken line as they near the dam and crouching to stop the fish escaping between their legs. When all the fish possible have been secured the catch is pooled and shared out equally among the men taking part, but the women and children, who have all this time been hunting in the shallows for what they can find, keep each their own individual catch.
text: In the cold weather fish often congrugate in clefts and holes in the rock, and they are taken by fitting a trap over the mouth of the hole and putting in a little 'poison', at which the fish rush out of the hole and into the trap. To fit the trap a man climbs down a bamboo into the water, and blocks the rest of the mouth of the hole as well as he can with leaves and slips of peeled bamboo, but if the water is cold - as it almost always is - and the hole is a large one, his blocking may be sketchy and the fish escape into the river instead of into the trap. Sometimes the fish leave the hole before the trap is ready, though split bamboos are thrown into the water so that the glimmering white will scare the fish and keep them in hiding.
text: Other methods of fishing employed are weirs, by which the stream is closed at the head of a rapid, two or three gaps being left and closed by conical basket-work traps whose upper ends are fitted with a fringe of bamboo slips facing inwards and whose lower ends are clear of falling water, so that the fish are stranded; 'fish houses; casting nets bought from the bazaar; night lines; and a bamboo rod, a home-made line, and a hook bought in the bazaar. The angler stands on the bank behind some bushes and dangles hook and bait at a likely spot, being careful not to show himself or to talk. Even when these precautions are observed he seldom gets anything. None of these methods, legal or illegal, is guaranteed to produce a large catch, and fish is more of a luxury than a staple item of Zemi diet.