Wednesday, 28 September, 2022

Bote People's Hard Life Catching The Sun In Net


Persijs Muiznieks

One of the marginalised groups, the Bote, is struggling for its survival and cultural preservation. The living conditions of the Bote children and the primitivism of the dwelling show their desire to be distinguished from the outside world.

Extreme poverty is an obstacle to creating elemental living conditions. It can be said that the life of Bote people runs from the sunrise to the sunset along the banks of the river which generously feeds their families.
I had an opportunity to observe the daily rhythm of the Bote tribe, from sunrise to sunset at a small village near the Chitwan National Park on the banks of the Narayani River.

The fog had not yet dissipated, and the rays of the early morning sun were already beginning to reflect on the waters of the Narayani River, creating a dazzling mosaic in its calm waters. Large flood waters had drained, leaving ashore small water basins where fish were still splashing. The bend of the river, surrounded on both sides by thick bushes, was completely windless, and the surface of the mirrored water indicated that nature was just beginning to wake up. Through the fog, human voices could be heard roaring around the boat, disrupting the surface of the calm waters. This is how Krishna remembers his first day of work, in the cool morning, fifty years ago.

With the help of adults, the ten-year-old boy broke overboard for the first time and took a seat in the middle of the boat. As a child, he watched the river mainly from the shore. Like all the boys, they spent all day by the water throwing rocks and swimming.

Catching Fish
From then on, a completely different daily life began, full of worries, which did not always yield the expected results. Krishna still remembers the years when the boat was flooded with fish when it was necessary to put in great boating skills to keep the fish ashore. It was fifty years ago that the old man remembered with joy but also with sadness. There were a lot more fish at that time, so you didn't have to spend all day on the river.
So what has changed in the river?

The men honestly did not know the answer. Maybe the growing pollution of the river? This prompted me to ask a rhetorical question. Are there any other ways to catch fish that compete with conventional ones? The men denied that, on the opposite bank, from the National Park, there is a strict observation.
I mentioned the illegal method of fish-catching, brutally with electric shocks or harpoons, causing irreversible damage to the fauna. Men knew these and other techniques, through illegal activities. However, there is a 99% chance of being caught, and then, say goodbye to a licence that costs 100NPr. for six months.

Plus, you will have to pay for the fish caught and a severe fine. With today's catch, you can just make ends meet. As you can see, the risk is too great. How many fish do I have to catch to meet the family's needs? He made me calculate if 1kg of fish costs 400Rp. The family needs to catch around 5kg of fish a day. It comes out about 2000Rp. family budget per day.
The man just claps his hands and sadly makes it clear that sometimes he has to return home with a few hundred grams of fish. What, then, has been the biggest catch since you started working? The question on his face caused a smile. Oh, I will never forget that moment!

My fishnet, Daria, was thrown into the shallows, near the shore an hour earlier. Once again, I was getting ready to pull it out. However, something showed that something heavy was caught in the net. At first glance, I imagine that a piece of underwater wood is caught there, which often happens and causes damage to the net.

However, after a moment when the net was almost pulled out, the water shook violently, and a huge fish's head stared at me from there. In contact with the air, it began to convulsively twitch and tore a huge hole in the net. I hurriedly jumped out of the boat into the water and tried to catch the monster. The water was turned into foam. The fight lasted less than a minute, and with the help of my co-pilot, the huge fish was thrown ashore. When we weighed it, it was a 43kg catfish with a scary moustache.
This fish is a popular delicacy, but it can rarely be counted as a daily catch. In the lower part of the Narayan River, where its depth is as high as 30-40 m, it is possible to find “such insects” weighing 60-70 kg. These are real monsters of the river, Krishna joked.

Our boats are too narrow, so encountering such monsters in the middle of the river is extremely dangerous. Also, many crocodiles live in the lower reaches of the river.
What are the fish caught daily and their prices?
Common fish like Sahar, Tyangva, Gardi, Ban, Prans, etc., cost around Rs. 400 - Rs. 500 per kilo. The catfish I mentioned - Rs.2000 per kilogram.

Fish Nets, Traps
Are fish sold there on the shore? If there is a small catch, and the fish is tiny, then the deal takes place even on the spot. All the items were delivered to the local store, weighed, gutted at the buyer's request, cut into pieces and sold. This shady shelter under the roof is like a small factory where fishing gear is repaired. Torn nets are patched up, new traps are braided, and all this is entrusted to women.
Near the house, by the riverbank, there is a temporary shelter where carpenters work on boat making. They are about 6-8m long and no more than a metre wide. It has no seating, just a floor where to place the nets (gauka), traps (daria) and caught fish. The boats are heavy, designed for shallow waters with a small draught, so they are quite unstable. However, there is excellent manoeuvrability even during floodwaters.

Their shape resembles a North American Indian canoe. The boat is made of waterproof wood (saal or simal), the service life of which can reach 25 years and is made of a large block of wood. First, the edges of the block are trimmed to obtain the shape of a boat. When this is done, then with an axe, cut the inside of it, forming a wall about 3 cm thick. Such boats do not require repair during their entire working life.
On the opposite bank of the river is Chitwan National Park, and many animals graze nearby. I watch the frivolity as the locals play and swim in the river, and right on the other side, sunbathing crocodiles. Sometimes a huge rhino swims across the river.
You are sometimes surrounded by wild animals. Isn't this too risky?

We grew up on the banks of the Narayan River. It is our daily life to be a part of nature. We do not disturb each other. We do not feel worried about their presence. However, there have been dangers, because crocodiles and rhinos, for example, are very territorial.

It happened twenty years ago, more downstream. Early morning, a man decided to swim in the river to bathe himself and suddenly disappeared. Only later, when the army was involved in the search, the missing person was identified by his clothing - sandals and trousers. His remains were not found either. Locals speculated that huge crocodiles might have dragged the man into the river.
In nature, balance is always maintained. Perhaps, this misfortune should have been seen as a requesting fee for the Narayan River, which has always generously donated fish.

(The writer is a Latvian photojournalist currently staying in Nepal)