The Fish and the Net

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~ the good and not so good of capitalism~

The Beautiful Island And The Large Blue Sea

A long time ago when the world was a still and beautiful place there was a small island set in the middle of a large blue ocean. The ocean was so large that as far a man could see there was nothing else. Also as long as men could remember there was never anything other than the beautiful island and the ocean stretching out forever. The island was surrounded by gorgeous reefs, had white sandy beaches and palm trees were scattered all over it. If you climbed to the top of the only mountain you could see the whole island sitting peacefully in the large blue sea.

Life was uncomplicated for the 20 members of the small Mawengi tribe who had lived there as long as they could remember. Their memory was based on the stories that were told to them by their fathers and which had been passed on from their grandfathers, who got them from their great grandfathers and so on. The tribe lived in harmony with each other as life was uncomplicated and very pleasant.

Their days consisted of the men going fishing and the women staying home to watch the little ones and looking after the small huts made of palm tree leaves and the clay they found near the river bank.

When the sun set the wives would prepare dinner which was always the highlight of the day. Traditionally they had always eaten fish and the family would gather in front of their hut and enjoy their meal as the sun slowly dipped into the ocean. Sometimes they would get together with other families and share the food and have a party. This was usually on special days, like the start of the new rainy season or the beginning of the full moon.

Ndio, a young boy who was 16 summers old, thought a lot about fishing. How for the first time this year, just after the rainy season, they had got together to build a new fishing boat. It was very exciting. Five of them had set out to find the right tree. Boats had to be made of the hollowed trunk of a Caripa tree, a tree that grew in the small forest in the middle of the island.

It was a serious expedition as the men had to track deep into the forest to find the tree. After two days of searching they found the right one, chopped it down and hollowed it out. Once it was hollowed and light enough, they dragged it to the beach where they finished the work on the boat.

They then spent time on crafting the paddles; this was also something that had to be done just right. The paddles could not be too heavy or too large, they needed to have the right shape and the right length in order to power the boat and steer it easily. They used these simple paddles to get through the surf and row to the fishing spots that were scattered around the island.

The boat belonged to the five men who built it and they would share it and go out fishing together or they could use it separately if they wished.

Fishing had always been carried out in the same way and by the men only. They would take off before sunrise in their boats as this was the best time to go fishing.

They would paddle with two on each side. The other one would sit in the back and steer the boat using his paddle. They would discuss what fishing spot they should go to and this could turn into quite a debate as there were many things to consider like tide, current and the position of the moon amongst others. They enjoyed each other’s company and they enjoyed the sea. They had never known anything else!

Ndio was part of the group of five and, although he was the youngest, he was good at fishing and usually caught a fish before the others did.

Ndio liked his life which was exciting and fulfilling. This morning they rowed to the spot just left of the big reef where the fish came to feed and rest from the strong currents that were normal for this time of year. The ocean would pound against the outside of the reef and the dark blue water would turn into white foam. It was a dangerous place, but luckily their fishing spots were all on the inside of the reef and well away from the dangerous currents.

They fished using spears made of a powerful lean wood that had to be just the right weight. The point of the spear was very sharp. If you threw the spear with the right force you would stab straight through the fish; little ribs cut into the wood prevented the fish from escaping. It was a real skill and something that you would not master easily. Only by practising and listening to the elders had Ndio perfected his waiting and throwing skills and he was proud of being a successful spear fisherman.

On average every man caught one fish a day. One fish could be enough to feed a family. And as there was often more than one man in a family, the family meal would consist of one or two fish a day.

They would fish all morning and then return before the sun got too high in the sky, as this was the time the fish rested and it became very hot in the open boat on the blue sparkling ocean. The men would row back and spend some time in the village. They would have some food and rest or look after the kids. Once the sun was no longer so high in the sky they would go out again if they hadn’t caught enough fish in the morning.

A New Idea Is Born

Hakana, a young boy from another family had also mastered his fishing skills. He was a member of another boat and enjoyed his time on the water. Hakana was the sort of boy that thought about things a lot and wondered why they were as they were and if they could be different or better. He often spent time by himself on the island walking along the beach just thinking and looking for things to do. Although fishing was fine and it had always been done in the same way he sometimes wondered if there could be other ways to catch a fish.

On the eastern side of the island diving and swimming was great as the sun heated the pools and fish glided around and basked in the warm water.

Hakana was there one day and swam underwater which he loved to do as that was when he saw the most beautiful fish, radiant with colour as the sunlight reflected off the water and the fish. As he approached a school of fish and startled them, they swam away, as usual well outside his reach. One fish however in its fright swam through the thick seaweed and, as the weed was in a tangle, trapped itself. Hakana swam closer and although the fish was trying to escape, he managed to get his hands onto it and brought it to the surface.

That night he thought about what had happened and discussed it with his family. His dad thought it was a hilarious story and had not heard anything like it before. A fish that could get itself caught! They thought that Hakana was very lucky to find the fish and thought nothing more of it.

Hakana though could not let the thought go; it stayed in his mind and he didn’t know why. The next morning the thought was still there and he knew he had to do something about it. He knew he needed to find out if he could repeat the catch. He went back to the pool, to the same area as the day before. He inspected the seaweed, twisted it and put some knots in it. It wasn’t a good day as there were hardly any fish around. He tried to scare some fish into the weed but none were caught. He came back every day after that and tried to scare the fish into the weed. It was on the seventh day when he had nearly given up that it happened again. A large silver-blue fish swam into the strong and ropey weed and got both its fins caught. He approached the fish and although it twisted and turned, Hakana again got his hands on it and took it out of the sea. That night he couldn’t wait to tell his story and there was more laughter, but his mother was very happy as the family had three fish to eat that day. That had only happened once before.

His dad was more concerned, though. He told Hakana that he should not do it again as it was distracting him from his normal fishing. Hakana agreed that his spear fishing had not gone that well as he was no longer concentrating, thinking about the pool and the silver-blue fish.

Every afternoon and at night he went back to the pool and kept trying different ideas. He collected thin threads from a special tree that could only be found on one place on the island. These threads were super strong and became very flexible in the water. He used them more and more and constructed a net pattern. The net was made so that the fish would hardly see it and, if startled, would swim into it.

He spent many nights working on the net and placed it in amongst the seaweed. He became quite good at it and knew when the fish would be there and how to startle them. Twice a week he arrived home with a fish and although he thought he was making everyone happy, it didn’t turn out that way.

The Pain Of Change

Hakana arrived home one evening with a bigger fish than normal. Once again his net had worked and he had found the fish in the net without having to startle it. When he showed the fish to his mother she hugged him and said that she was so proud of him. She was not an expert on fishing as the men were, but was happy for her son and told him that dad would in time be proud too.

Dad however was very unhappy when he saw the fish. He called his son and told him that he could not continue catching fish in that way. Other families had heard about this new type of fishing and they were all concerned about it. No one had ever caught a fish without a spear and it was not the way it should be.

Things got worse when Dad was called in to see the council of elder men who were responsible for the wellbeing and survival of the tribe. They told him that Hakana was causing concern and should focus on his spear fishing. They didn’t go so far as banning this odd way of fishing, but they cautioned the father and told him that it could lead to lots of trouble for the tribe.

Hakana listened to his father and was confused. He thought he was doing the right thing but now was being punished. He was happy that he was allowed to continue with his net as long as it was not interfering with his normal spear fishing time.

Hakana had spent many nights working on the largest net he had ever made. His thought was to put this net in one of the fishing channels where a lot of fish swam through on the east side of the island. He could reach there by foot.

It took him three weeks to craft the net and by that time he had become very good at tying the threads with a special knot at exactly the right distance from the next knot. It was very time consuming but he was driven by the thought of making life better for himself and his family and tribe members. When he finished the net was eight metres wide and two metres deep — the same size as the main corridor of the fishing channel.

He set off by himself the next night to install the net. He tied the net to the coral reef and used rocks to make sure the fish could not swim under it. He left the net after he was sure it was secured tightly and came home tired but at the same time excited. The next night he returned and could not believe what he saw. There where five fish caught in the net. Five fish! That was as much as a whole day’s spear fishing by five people. Hakana put the fish in a bag he carried at his side and returned home.

Hakana was both thrilled and afraid. How was his Dad going to react? He sat down at the fire and opened the bag and the five large fish rolled out. There was a long silence, something that had not happened in the family before. Never before had there been a situation where so much tension was in the air. Finally Hakana’s Dad spoke: “You will not be welcome here if you continue catching fish the way you are.”

“Why not?” Hakana asked, and a long discussion followed.

The result was that Hakana left the next day and moved down to the next beach to live by himself. He was angry and confused. He caught more fish than a whole boat of spear fishermen and he was being punished for it.

The Bright Side

He kept fishing his way and every day he brought back at least five fish and sometimes even 10. It only took him 20 minutes all up to wade to the net, collect the fish and set the net up for the next day. He would come back and cook the fish for himself. Instead of sharing a fish he now had as many fish as he could eat.

He was enjoying his life. For one he had more food than he had ever dreamed of. He liked eating and every day he cooked up a storm. He fried the fish or boiled the fish and sometimes he even did both. He ate the best part of the fish and did not have to suck on the bones or eat the less tasty bits.

He also enjoyed having so much more free time than before. He could, for the first time in his life, sleep in and see the sun come up only if he chose to. He spent the whole day doing things he liked to do, as he knew that by the end of the day there would be new fish in the net. He spent time on working on his hut and making some simple furniture, something that was normally not possible as he would be out at sea most of the day fishing with the others.

Ndio, who had always been a friend of Hakana, had followed the developments with great interest. Although his father had forbidden him to visit Hakana, he would arrive after sunset and spend time with him. Hakana offered him some fish and one night Ndio said that he would be happy to work for Hakana as there was far less work involved in catching fish this way.

Hakana agreed that Ndio could collect the fish and set the net and in return would get one fish. Ndio happily agreed as he now only had to spend 20 minutes a day to get a fish.

Hakana’s life improved even further: he didn’t need to do anything and still had four fish a day.

This was more fish than any one man could eat!

The Not So Good Side

Hakana slowly but surely became well recognised for his new fishing methods and in the village more and more discussion went on about Hakana and his fishing net. The villagers saw Ndio coming back every day with one fish, and sometimes two, and for that he spent just 20 minutes working. Half the village started to defend what Hakana was doing and the other half, particularly the elders, was strongly opposed.

Things did start to go wrong though; for one, Hakana caught too many fish. He caught so many that he couldn’t eat them all and the fish would start to rot. Every day new fish arrived while there would still be fish from the day before. Hakana couldn’t do anything else with the fish but to let them rot. He was not going to give them to his father or the elders as they had hurt him very badly by sending him away.

Another problem was that in the village things were getting worse. For the first time there was a lot of unrest among the villagers. Families where becoming unsure about their future and how life should be. They were used to their normal routines but they felt that change was in the air.

Also the spear fishing became harder. As men knew how easy it was for Hakana, they were wondered what they were doing wrong. They struggled to concentrate as hard as they used to, which was essential to catch fish using a spear.

The council of elders still ignored Hakana’s fishing technique and kept others from talking to Hakana. But as some families started to suffer, a few men went over to the bay where Hakana was.

They couldn’t believe their eyes at what they saw. In the area where Hakana was living there were large numbers of fish discarded, some just lying around, some thrown in a big hole in the sand just to keep the smell away. This had never happened on the island before.

New Times Arrive

The fishermen approached Hakana who was sitting in front of his hut. He greeted them and welcomed them in. They looked at a bowl of fish that had been caught overnight and asked Hakana if they could have some. Hakana had to think about this for some time.

It was he who had discovered the working of the net and it was he who had spent all that time perfecting it. He thought about all the nights he had to sneak away from the village at night to go to the pool and test his net. All the frustration of it not working and how disillusioned he had been after seven days of not catching one fish. All that time the other villagers had ridiculed him or made him feel silly. If it wasn’t for his determination there would be no new fishing method and no new way of getting more fish out of the water while doing less. Also he felt that the nets and the new way of fishing were his and his alone.

A warm feeling came over him though and for the first time he felt proud inside for what he had achieved. For the first time in his life he felt he was the master of his own destiny.

He made his mind up and turned to the other fishermen.

“No,” he said, “you can’t have any fish as these are my fish and mine alone.”

The other fishermen stared at him in disbelief. They knew Hakana was right and that he alone could decide if he was going to share any of his fish.

They left the hut and Hakana watched them walk back over the beach to their village. The men were clearly upset but also confused. How could things come to this? They were hungry and needed to feed their families. Hakana had plenty of fish but they were his and his alone.

Hakana himself was also in two minds. On the one hand he felt good that he had all these fish and even more so that the other fishermen had started to look up to him and wanted something from him. On the other hand he had always been friends with them and it was normal in the village for people to help each other.

The next day two of the fishermen returned and again sat down with Hakana. They said that they didn’t want a fish for free but wanted to work with Hakana so they too could catch fish with this new method. They sat around the fire and asked Hakana how he did it and if they could be involved.

Hakana thought for some time. He still felt hurt having to live by himself for all this time but he also felt appreciated and recognised for what obviously was a great achievement. He said that he was happy helping the others and that they could be involved with making new nets and finding new spots to put the nets. He agreed to repay them all with two fish a day. This was twice the amount of fish that they would normally catch in the good times so the fishermen were more than happy to accept.

After a while about half the village became involved with working for Hakana. The other half was still fishing the old way. To some extent the village split up and in one bay the elders lived and kept fishing using their spears. In another bay the younger group lived and they set their nets at night and caught lots of fish without having to work during the day.

Another Turn For The Worse

Time went on and everybody adapted to the new life. In the new village they lived a life of luxury as they had all day to do what they wanted. New nets were made and before long fishing nets were placed in all the obvious places and hundreds of fish were being caught a day. The new villagers started to discard their food and appreciated the abundance of fish they got less and less. They were catching much more fish than they could eat.

At the other village things were much worse. The elders who had held onto their spear fishing methods were struggling to get a fish a day. Not only were they bothered by the success the others were achieving, it actually became hard to find any fish in the good fishing spots. The fact was there was a large number of nets set up all around the island and the number of fish were rapidly decreasing!

Some boats returned home with one fish or sometimes with no fish at all. Life became very hard and some of the elder fisherman were so starved that they struggled to paddle to the fishing spots.

The Solution That Would Make The World A Better Place — Even Today

The eldest member of the council knew that he had to do something. He knew that things were going wrong and if he didn’t act quickly someone would die of hunger soon. He knew he was at fault as he had been so stubborn and had not appreciated or allowed for change. But he also knew that what Hakana was doing was not right, as slowly and surely less and less fish were found in the sea around the island.

Hakana was in the same frame of mind. He too knew that having so much fish would only lead to them rotting, and he also realised that less fish in the sea was not a good thing.

The eldest member of the council decided to visit Hakana and discuss these things. Hakana welcomed the elder’s initiative as they sat down under a big tree between the two bays.

The elder was first to speak. He said that he had been wrong not to recognise Hakana’s new methods and that in the world things always change. Hakana thanked him and said that he too had been wrong by fishing so much that now there were less fish in the sea whilst he had more fish than he could eat. He also apologised for not giving the elders some of his fish and explained that was because he too had been stubborn.

They both laughed and looked each other in the eye and discussed how they could make the island into a place where everybody was happy. And maybe even a place where everyone was happier than before. The elder suggested that from then on using nets would be an accepted way of fishing. They also agreed that the total number of nets had to be reduced as it was of no use to have fish rotting or the sea being emptied of fish.

They decided to reduce the number of nets by half. With half the number of nets they caught enough fish for the whole village without any fish going to waste. Also with half the nets gone, the amount of the fish around the island quickly recovered.

Hakana joined the council of elders and became one of the most prominent members. He owned most of the fishing nets and was therefore highly respected. He also had a lot of extra fish to share with his family.

The whole island became a better place as there was more fish for everyone and the men had extra time to do other things like relax, work on a hobby or even turn their hobbies into new jobs. No fish were being wasted and the people lived in harmony again as they had done before.

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©Arjan Bartlema 2005