Tete Mozambique – Pedro’s tiny boat dugout looks like a brown ant against the expansive blue backdrop of the lower Zambezi River. He is twenty years old and although his hair is black, fluffy and plenty, the weary lines around his brown eyes make him look like he was born in 1976 and not 1996.
‘Mulungu!’ God! Pedro shouts in Sena. This one-word prayer is his way of starting the day. The orange sun looks so happy as it rises that some of this joy makes its way into Sena’s heart and he flashes a brief smile before launching into furious rowing of his boat dugout.
The waters are calm at this early hour of the day. Every time his singular wooden rowing paddle hits the waters, they protest with a rustle that disturbs the silence. The rustle feels like a lonely voice, so he decides to sing his favourite part of nita mukuma kwini, the popular song by Lizha James.
Esta doer o meu coração, this hurts my heart so much... his deep voice erupted into an off-tune rendition of the song but the dynamic tune energizes his hands to row faster and faster.
The fleshy, slippery body of a large vundu catfish descends into Pedro’s mind. He knows that these large vundus can be caught in this part of the lower Zambezi River because his father caught them severally. But he has never been lucky to catch one and it is his ultimate dream. Such a large fish would fetch him anywhere from 2 – 5 thousand Mozambique meticals.
Capturing such a giant fish is a dream, but what he does hope to capture are other relatively profitable fish like the tiger fish, kurper, nchenga, and cornish-jack. He doesn’t like the Zambezi barbell fish because the whisker like organs that dangle from its mouth give it a scary look. As a child, his father would threaten to show him a barbell every time he cried.
Other artisanal fishermen in the area like kapenta, the little fishes of the river but Pedro doesn’t fancy them much. Kapenta from lower Zambezi are exported to as far as Zimbabwe often eliciting protests from Zimbabwean fishermen who find it difficult to compete against the cheap imports.
Pedro has two friends who make thousands of Metical from kapenta exports. They keep urging him to join the kapenta bandwagon but he usually retorts that, ‘why catch small fish when you can catch big fish?’ Because the small fish fetch big money. Their answer leaves him speechless but still, he goes for the big fish.
A gentle staccato hum interrupted Pedro’s melodic hum and even before he glanced to his right where the staccato hum was coming from, he already knew what it was – a fishing boat.
Recreational fishing is common in the lower Zambezi. It is definitely more lucrative than Pedro’s artisanal fishery but not as timeless. Centuries before the first recreational fishing enthusiasts came along, Pedro’s ancestors were already fishing in the great river. He is following in their footsteps but unlike them, he fishes to earn a livelihood, and not just to have a good meal or because he can.