Our village is called Tounga. Our parents came from Ambalia in Nigeria.
We came here about 50 years ago.
Our parents settled here while on the search for fish since we don’t practice agriculture. Even us as the younger generations only practice fishing. In the past, our father would leave us here to fish as he continued to Mali to fish. He has passed away.
Our father would leave us here and continue to Mali. When returning, he will take the fish that we have smoked and add it to his smoked fish which he sold in Nigeria.
In the past, when our father left us here to continue to Mali, we weren’t numerous. But nowadays there are many people and we’ve established a full village. When necessary, people travel back to the original village to visit family.
In our culture, fishing is an activity handled only by men. We fish in the morning and in the afternoon. In the afternoon we cast our fishing nets in the river and in the morning we check them to see what we captured. When we come home with our catch, women take care of the rest. They smoke it and are also in charge of conserving it just like a farmer would store his harvest in a granary. When we’re able to store a large quantity of fish, we sell it. The income is spent on rations and foodstuff which are stocked. We then save the rest of the money.
We engage in all of our fishing activities with our children so they can learn.
Fish is more available during the rainy season; it is abundant. It is during the cold season that fish becomes rare and consequently fishing becomes just barely sufficient to feed our families.
Back when we first settled here, there were a lot more fish because the river was full of water.
We have a “master of the waters” who lives in Boumba. His name is
The role of the Sarkin Rua (master of the waters/leader of the fishermen) is to provide solutions for every difficulty faced by fishermen. When rangers arrest us and we can’t free ourselves, it is Sarkin Rua’s responsibility to negotiate with the rangers and come to beneficial solution. It is also the Sarkin Rua that represents us in any gathering concerning fishermen.
The Sarkin Rua must be a fisherman who, contrary to younger generations, can handle certain difficulties and obstacles that fisherman face on the river while fishing. For example, Sarkin Rua must be capable of expelling a caiman or hippopotamuses causes damages to the community. Those are some of the criteria that the Sarkin Rua must satisfy. He must also be courageous, not cowardly. Therefore the role of Sarkin Rua is not suited for anybody.
We pay taxes to the leader of Tanday, a Zarma village.
The leader of Tanday also plays an important role concerning our fishing activities. Often times when the village leader notices us encountering difficulties with rangers, he intervenes in our favor to Amirou, the canton leader, who works towards a solution for the problem.
Therefore whenever there is an issue between rangers and us, the village leader intervenes by finding a solution to the problem.
We have some family among those journeying fishermen from Nigeria that sail to Mali each year. These fishermen that go to Mali are all Hausa.
We call these traveling fishermen “zani Gao”, “I’m going to Gao“. They are all Hausa.
When such fishermen travel to Gao, they stop by here (with us) for some time. Some spend the night with us and others spend the day before getting back on their route.
When the fishermen come here, we take benefit from the experience of the older ones by taking the opportunity to enrich our own knowledge regarding fishing and the river. Sometimes we observe them doing things just to learn from them.
In the past, there were many more fishing boats journeying because fish was abundant. During those times, one could observe canoes in groupings of 7, 8, or even 10. Nowadays however, there is less fish available and the groupings have decreased to 2, 3 or 4 canoes. This diminishing of the number of canoes is also due to the fact that many of fishermen have gotten too old and can no longer sail. Among these aging fishermen, some have children who are also incapable of handling the journey, but others have children who they can depend on to participate in the journeys during fishing seasons.
The number of fishing canoes during fishing seasons has decreased because the quantity of fish has decreased. This decreased in the quantity of fish is due the lowering of the river’s water level. In the past, “black water” or “hari bio” was abundant and therefore so was fish. Nowadays we notice that such water is diminishing each year and consequently, there is less fish. This is why many fishermen prefer staying home and resting; because partaking in the fishing season journey incurs suffering and not enough gains through fishing.
For example, when you’re a journeying fisherman and you have two youngsters with you, you buy a canoe and a set of fishing instruments for each. Before leaving for the journey, fishermen bring rations and goods for the entire fishing season. They return home before the provisions are finished.
Journeying fishermen don’t sell their caught fish on the spot; they smoke it so they can transport it back home with them.
Thank you infinitely for your time.