5:30 AM. I was lying inside my tent, following a rainy night. I could hear the morning wind hitting the rain cover, as the sun was slowly rising, waking up everyone on the island. As I opened my tent and stepped outside, I saw a little blue bird standing right next to me. We looked at each other for a moment, before it spread its wings and flew away. With first light, the people of the island started their day, cleaning, cooking and working. Rwanda has a tropical climate, meaning that the country has rainy and dry seasons, but the temperature remains similar throughout the year. Lake Kivu is one of the African Great Lakes, and is located on the border between Rwanda and Congo. The lake shores and some of its islands have been populated with people for a very long time.
Being a big lake, abundant with fish, it is not surprising that fishing is the main occupation of most of the people living there. The most known type of fishing in the lake is the three-boat structures that head out every night to the lake, catching a fish called ‘Sambaza’. They fish every night, all night long, before returning to shore and delivering the fish to the local market. But among the fishermen of the lake, some fish alone, using a small fishing boat and a smaller net. Doing everything by themselves, they can’t catch big quantities of fish, and therefore usually look for other types of fish in the lake. During my visit to the lake from the Rwandan side, I’ve looked around for one of these fishermen, who would agree to share his life and his story with me. I’ve spoken to several fishermen on the mainland, before traveling by boat to a nearby island, called ‘Mbabare Island’. It is a small island with no roads or any infrastructure, where the people live very simple lives, and many of them struggle to provide for their families. Some of them go fishing in the lake every day, while others grow different crops, such as Bananas, Beans, Maize and Cassava.
That’s where I met Bumari and his family.
Bumari was born on a different island, called ‘Bugarura', but moved to this island after marrying his wife. They grow their three youngest children with them on the island, while the older ones have moved to the mainland, trying to find better means to earn money. Bumari heads out the fish in the lake almost every day, and sometimes during the night as well, while his wife, Fatuma, takes care of their crops, as well as preparing food and cleaning. The fishing process is simple, but unfortunately not always rewarding, and requires a great deal of experience and luck. Bumari needs to carry only four items to be able to fish during the day:
- Fishing boat
- Umuculu - A large stick, required for hitting the water surface.
He starts his journey by searching for the right location with his boat. He will not go to the same location twice, so that the fish may reproduce. Once he's found a spot, next to the shore, he will start putting in the net. Then, standing inside the boat, he will use the Umuculu to hit the water, scaring the fish to swim into the net.
After doing that for a short while, Bumari will slowly paddle along the net, pulling it out of the water, hoping for a fish or two to be caught in it. Fishing during the day can be easier and safer, as during the night the fishermen often run into thieves. The thieves take advantage of the fact that these fishermen usually go out alone, and so they can overpower them and take their nets. However, during the day fish are scarce, and sometimes a whole day of fishing will reward the fisherman with 3-4 fish, whereas night fishing brings a lot more. It is for the fishermen to decide which risk they're willing to take - the risk of having their net stolen, or the risk of catching little to no fish. Most of them go out during both day and night, depending on their immediate needs. The small fishing boat is traditionally carved from a Eucalyptus tree, in a process that could take up to two months. In recent years, however, trees are not allowed to be cut down without supervision, and so the fishermen have started using factory-built wooden boats, for which they need to pay money.
Two fishing boat, on the island shore Bumari's children all go to school in his home village on Bugarura island. During school time, they stay with relatives on that island, while Bumari and his wife stay at home, working and supporting them. Completing school is not something to be taken for granted, as many children from the area struggle, mainly because of the reality they were born in. Bumari and his wife do their best to improve their children's lives, and provide them with everything they need to attend school, and perhaps have better opportunities for their future. The short story of Bumari the fisherman is presented in these photos, as well as in a short film (see the YouTube link above):