The Kachari Fishing

The Kachari often varies his diet by adding to it the proceeds of the chase and by fishing in the numerous shallow hill-streams in which his country abounds…In this, as in almost all else, the Kachari is clannish and gregarious in what he does; and regular hunting parties are duly organised to carry out the work in hand. Much the same system is observed in conducting fishing operations, though here the leading part is commonly taken by the women. On certain prearranged dates, the women of a village, sometimes of a group of villages, will fish a certain stream, or a  number of streams, for a distance extending over several miles.  The fishing implements used are of a very simple character, and are commonly prepared from materials found in almost every village. Nets are but rarely employed, as the water in these hill-streams is in the cold weather, i.e., the fishing season, usually very shallow, rarely exceeding two or three feet in depth.  The implements commonly used are mainly two, i.e., (1) the zakhai and (2) the palhay the former being employed chiefly, but not exclusively, by women ; and the latter by men. Both implements are made of split  bamboo work fastened together with cane. The zakhai is a triangular basket, open at one end, the three triangular sides closing to a point at the other.  The whole is attached to a bamboo handle some three or four feet in length. Grasping this handle firmly, the holder enters the river, usually only two or three feet deep, and lowers the basket to the bottom, keeping the open end in front of her person ; and then making a splashing with her feet, she endeavours to drive her prey into the open mouth of the basket, which is then quickly lifted and its contents rapidly transferred to the fish- basket.  The system seems to be a very simple and even a clumsy one, but is far from being wholly ineffective. Armed with this zakhai, a  number of women, sufficient to extend across the entire width of the stream, enter the river together, whilst another party commence operations fifty or a hundred yards away.  The two parties work steadily towards each other, so that such fish as are not caught en route are gradually driven into an ever narrowing stretch of water : and as a rule not many fish would seem to escape. The whole scene is a very merry one, accompanied with much laughter and pleasing excitement ; and more particularly, as the two parties of fish-catchers approach each other, and the fish make frantic efforts to escape their doom, the fun becomes fast and furious. A fish-catching expedition of this kind is invariably looked upon as a village holiday, the entire population not infrequently taking an active part in it.

A second popular method of catching fish is the use of the palha, which is not very unlike an ordinary circular hencoop. It is made of split bamboo fastened together by cane work, and is about 4 or 41/2 feet in height and about 3 feet in diameter at the base. The upper portion is drawn somewhat closely together, leaving an open space at the top sufficient to allow the admission of a man’s hand, the whole structure being quite light and easily manipulated by one hand. Armed with this, the fisherman quietly enters the shallow water at any likely spot, and whenever his quick eye detects the presence of prey, the palha is at once placed over it, the lower surface of the basket-work closely clutching the ground, and the fish so enclosed are then withdrawn by the hand through the opening in the upper part of the instrument. This too, like the zakhdi, seems a very primitive, unsuitable contrivance, but in the hands of men trained to its use from earliest childhood it is quite capable of being made to bring about very useful results.

A third instrument used by Kacharis in fish-catching is a small, pointed, metallic spearhead attached to a light bamboo. This is thrust rapidly and firmly into soft mud or other like places where eels, &c, are supposed to be concealed; and the fisherman occasionally succeeds in transfixing and drawing out one or more of these, which form a welcome addition to his daily diet.

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