Dug-out on Praia dos Tamarinos

Dug-out on Praia dos Tamarinos

In São Tomé the fisherman’s tools are often very basic, or at least that was my first impression.

Boats are more often than not, dug-out from a large tree trunk by a local craftsman, which must be dried for months.

Boat works

Boat works

The amount of skill that goes into making a dug-out is much more than it appears, particularly the larger boats that can be outfitted with a sail or outboard motor. I found boat being prepared on the beaches, and way up in the mountains, wherever the appropriate raw material that the craftsman sought was found. Most of these dug-outs were over 14 feet long, and many were at least 20. That’s no small challenge to bring down a mountain once the work is complete.

I was also very impressed by the fishing lines. There are no fishing poles used here. Individual lines are hand tossed and bringing in the line is done by wrapping the line around a flat trip of wood. Many fishermen use multiple lines from the boat. This appeared to me to be a tangled mess of line, a nightmare for a bait-casting westerner. As I examined more closely, I could see that there was also a honed fisherman’s skill in this aspect of the activity also.

Baited lines

Baited lines

Each line is individually baited and tacked to a wood plank. The fisherman can then quickly extract several baited lines, one after the other, and put them over the side of his boat as he skims through a school of fish. The technique was remarkably effective. Each of the fishermen that arrived on Tamarin Beach (Praia dos Tamarinos) had baskets full of flying fish and small jack fish, which in some cases were as large as around 10 lbs.

The entire family gets involved in the fishing villages. The children run down the beach to meet the men and haul the boats up the beach over palm trunks as make-shift rollers.

There are lots of high spirits and boasting about each fisherman’s catch. (I guess that is universal.) Everyone is smiling as they set up to display the bounty for sale, untangle lines and bait hooks for the next trip out.

A family affair

A family affair

The women are the “matriarchs” and control neighborhood politics, and immediately take control of the fisherman’s catch when he arrives on the beach.

Several fish merchants walk along the beaches inspecting each catch and selecting the fish they will purchase. By late morning you can smell the wood fires that will prepare the mid-day meal, often served with palm wine.

Fresh fish!

Fresh fish!

In the meantime, the women delegate work and negotiate fish prices with the merchants.

The young children are mostly free to play on the beach, while the older children help with other daily chores of fetching water, washing clothes in the mountain streams or tending to infants.

The men either recline in the shade having completed their early morning task of bringing home the bacon, so to speak, or prepare their boats to set out on the water once again in the afternoon in search of what presumably will become the evening meal.

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