Life on the Lagoon
AS TOLD TO “AWAKE!” CORRESPONDENT IN GHANA
I SOMETIMES stand on the old bridge at night, watching the Ebrié fishermen slip away in their tree canoes for a night’s fishing. As I see them paddle off under the bridge and disappear into the night, I occasionally wish for the chance to go with them and spend a night on the lagoon once more. For I, too, am an Ebrié and the lagoon was once my whole life.
I now live in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, a bustling and prosperous city. However, I often long to be free of the dirt and noise and cement walls of the city and out in my pirogue once more, gliding between the rushes at the lagoon’s edge.
Many exquisite nights I spent with my father on the water. The lagoon, fringed by sand and sea on the one hand and the green jungle on the other, was peaceful, with no sound but water lapping and the occasional call of a fellow fisher. Sometimes a full moon would seem to turn everything to silver: silver droplets of water shining on silver nets, silver fish, and across the black waters of the lagoon the moonlight would make a silver alley for our boat.
Different Fishing Methods
We had many different ways of catching fish. My father and I would generally leave as darkness fell. Some kilometers from the village we would set the nets. We would retire a short distance and wait for ten minutes or so. Then we would start to beat the water with our paddles, and the fish, frightened from their holes, would swim into the nets. One or two times would generally bring in enough food for the family for that day.
The cast net is very popular. It is circular and weighted with pieces of lead or small rocks around the edges. After having spread manioc crumbs, our usual bait, on the water and marked the spot with poles thrust into the sandy bottom of the lagoon, we would retire for a short time and then slip back to cast the net over the area where the carp had gathered to the bait.
Throwing this large net while standing upright in a small pirogue is an art. Many a novice spends much of his time down among the fish, instead of catching them. But to hear the net go whistling out over the water and to watch the beautiful curve as it falls around the fish is exciting.
The villagers often go out in groups of ten or twenty since they can then use the larger nets and take the really big fish, some up to a hundred pounds in weight.
When there is fishing by hand in the mangrove swamps, many villagers participate. Leaving their boats some twenty meters from the designated spot, they swim swiftly toward the mangroves, simultaneously throwing up handfuls of mud from the bottom. The carp, unable to swim through the muddied waters, are trapped in the holes between the mangrove roots, and the fishermen can take them with their bare hands. It is a bit nerve-racking though, sticking one’s hand into that dark hole, hoping that it is just a carp that will be found!
Banishing Fear from Lagoon Legends
Though nowadays I would rejoice in the peaceful evenings in the silence and darkness of the lagoon, I must confess that many times when I was out with my father I was afraid. In the mangrove swamps, for example, I was often frightened because we believed some of these places to be the haunt of strange monsters, capable of changing themselves into a crocodile or a big fish, lying there in wait for the unwary fisherman.
Another legend concerns Akou, thought to be a huge fire genie, covered with long hair from head to foot. I was taught that if I heard a strange whistling at midday or at midnight it was supposed to mean the approach of Akou, and I would have to jump on a piece of wood to protect myself.
All these stories were frightening for a young lad. But some time ago I learned the truth from the Bible about such tales, and now I can laugh at the fears I once had. Now I know that any strange whistling at midnight is likely to be some late night reveler returning, who has consumed more than his share of bangui, our local palm wine. And in the event that the local sorcerers and village seers have endeavored to contact the wicked spirits, I know that being a servant of Jehovah will protect me.—Ps. 23:4; Jas. 4:7.
Although I miss the simple life of the village, I have much for which to be thankful. I have been freed from many enslaving superstitions and am able to use my time more profitably. Here in Abidjan I was contacted with the Bible’s message of truth, and here are many people who have yet to learn its comforting truths, so I am happy to stay and help them. However, the life of a fisherman is in many ways a happy one, so who knows? Perhaps one day I will have a boat again and can go and search for my daily food as before. Until then I am content with the view from the bridge.