Chinese Fishing Nets in India
BY AWAKE! CORRESPONDENT IN INDIA
ON India’s western coast, 155 miles [250 km] from the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent, lies the city of Kochi, formerly Cochin. Along both sides of the tidal inlet there, the shore is lined with unusual cantilevered Chinese-style fishing nets. How did they get there?
Chinese people were living in the region from the eighth century C.E. on, and it is thought that Chinese traders from the court of Kublai Khan first brought nets of this type to Cochin before 1400. Many fish can be caught close to shore in the waters around Cochin. Thus, these tall, man-powered fishing machines served well for more than a century, until the Arabs drove the Chinese out.
With the Chinese gone, the nets were removed. But early in the 16th century, the Portuguese displaced the Arabs. Evidently, it was the Portuguese who reintroduced such nets into Cochin, bringing them back from the then Portuguese island colony of Macao in southeast China.
Although the concept is centuries old, the Chinese nets still perform well with hardly any change in the original design or operation. And they continue to provide a livelihood for many fishermen and food for many people. In fact, the catch from one net can feed an entire village. But beyond being effective, the nets are also beautiful, especially when they are elegantly silhouetted against the golden morning or evening sky.
How Do They Work?
The mammoth Chinese nets use a fulcrum and counterweights to balance the load of the net and the catch. When not in use, the net and its supporting frame are suspended out of the water. Fishing begins early in the morning and lasts for four or five hours. The nets are gently lowered into the water. To do this, either the fishermen adjust the weights attached to the opposite end of the balancing system or the chief of the fishing crew walks down the net’s central beam. The net is left under the water for from 5 to 20 minutes before it is gently raised, scooping up fish swimming close to shore. Through years of experience, the chief knows the exact moment to pull up the net.
At the chief’s cue, the rest of the crew of five or six men raise the net by pulling down on the ropes to which the counterweight boulders are tied. As the net rises, the corners of the net come up first. Thus, the net takes on the shape of a bowl with the fish inside. What excitement for the fishermen! After a good catch, they pat one another on the back to show their happiness. Later the fish will be auctioned off to traders, housewives, and the occasional tourist.
The Chinese, the Arabs, and the Portuguese have come and gone. But the Chinese nets continue to bob up and down along the waterways of Kochi, just as they did more than 600 years ago.
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