THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: How do you decide whether it’s a good time to go fishing just by looking at the sea? Or gaze skywards, and, without possessing even the barest notion of modern astronomy or a GPS, use distant planets and stars for navigation?
Our fishermen did all that and more, and now, the Fisheries Department is stepping in to make sure that this wealth of traditional wisdom is not lost to future generations. Last month, the department waved through a project aimed at archiving the knowledge of fishermen communities and compiling them in a book and digital format. The State Fisheries Resources Management Society (FIRMA), an agency under the department, is in charge of the `4.57 lakh initiative christened ‘Kadalarivukal’.
“There are old-timers among our fishermen who can identify the species just by studying the colour of the sea in that location. They’d look at a particular spot and say there’s ‘sardine’ or ‘mackerel’. Or sometimes they’d see that the sea is reddish and warn against going out to fish. Such knowledge has been handed down through generations, but they could soon be lost to us,” FIRMA director P Sahadevan said. He is justified in thinking so. The convenience of modern-day technology is quickly replacing the oral traditions which are the products of centuries of observation and experience. “They may not be aware of the scientific basis of their conclusions and some of them may even be based on superstition, but much of the knowledge may have a sound scientific footing nevertheless,” Sahadevan said.
The department plans to hold three zonal workshops involving fishermen, writers and researchers as part of collecting the data for ‘Kadalarivukal’. The Fisheries director is in over-all charge of the project. Isolated attempts have been made before to compile the traditional knowledge although this is the first time that the government is showing an interest. ‘Alakal’, the fortnightly of the National Fishworkers Forum (NFF), had embarked upon a similar project some time ago, said T Peter, NFF spokesperson and editor of ‘Alakal’.
“A perfect example is the ‘Kallakadal’, which has been known to traditional fishermen for generations and which many people mistake for ‘tsunami’. Then again, whenever there is a big catch anywhere along the coast, the media celebrates it as ‘chakara’. But chakara is a very specific phenomenon which occurs only north of Karunagappally and south of Thrissur,” said Peter.
Such traditional wisdom is slowly disappearing from our midst, he added. Another attempt, albeit a smaller one, was made by the Kerala State Science and Technology Museum (KSSTM) in Thiruvananthapuram some years ago.
KSSTM had organised a workshop where veteran fishermen shared their knowledge of traditional navigation methods with experts.