Material culture of traditional fishers on the Rufiji River floodplain, Tanzania

By Marie-Annick Moreau | 12 August 2022

Fishing with woven traps was once widespread across the world’s lakes, rivers, and coasts, from the weirs of medieval Europe to the salmon fences of the Pacific Northwest. The introduction of nylon nets, among wider economic and societal changes, has largely displaced such practices. However, on Tanzania’s Rufiji River floodplain, people continue to make and set a variety of traditional fish traps, adapting their form, placement and management as flood levels rise and fall and fish move across the shifting waterscape.

This project will document the material knowledge involved in making and using such traditional fish traps among communities of the north-central Rufiji floodplain. The Ndengereko are the dominant ethnic group in the area, and are recognised as skilled fishers, practicing a flood-adapted farming/fishing livelihood system. Historically, the Ndengereko did not accumulate material possessions, investing instead in feasts and ceremonies to secure social prestige. As a result, there are few physical manifestations of Ndengereko culture, with fish traps and woven baskets notable exceptions. Values of reciprocity associated with trap fishing—of labour, fishing sites, and catches–between and among communities remain central to people’s understanding of fairness and belonging, and influence attempts to manage local fisheries resources today.

This project will systematically document: how materials used to make fish traps are collected from the local environment; the various types and purposes of the traps; the steps in their construction and who is involved; where traps are sited in the landscape and why there; and traps’ cultural significance. I will collect: personal narratives of how people came to learn how to make and use the traps, and of the value they assign to them; specialised vocabulary in the endangered local language (Ndengereko) as relates to the objects and their use; and, as appropriate, recordings of songs and stories relating to the objects studied. Archival material will be deposited in the EMKP repository, and offered to the University of Dar es Salaam and/or the National Museum of Tanzania. Information on the cultural value of Rufiji traditional fishing practices will be shared with local institutions, academic audiences, and the general public through publications and a dedicated webpage.

 

PI:
Marie-Annick Moreau

Location of Research:
Ruwe village, Rufiji District, Pwani Region, Tanzania

Host Institution:
Anthropology Department, University College London (UCL)

 

 

Top Banner Image: Men working together to move a fishing fence across a floodplain pond in Rufiji District, Tanzania, while one fisher prepares to beat the water with a stick to scare fishes into the trap’s chamber (Photo: Marie-Annick Moreau)