Translated from Kokborok by Manisha Debbarma
In villages of Tripura where small brooks and streams dot the landscape, the indigenous people have been fashioning their own fish traps from bamboo. In tribal villages, every household is adept at making everyday items to make life easier. They are skilled in shaping and using bamboo as the primary raw material for constructing homes, baskets, beds, and mats. Among some of the ‘instruments’ for fishing is the Onchi that is used to trap fish in small streams where nets cannot be used.
First, the maker needs to fetch bamboo from the grove. The bamboo should be young and green, not more than one years old. It should be neither too strong nor too soft. The bamboo is brought to the workshop and cut into half. Then it is peeled and long splits called waaruk are made. They are long, thin, and flexible making it easy to use them for weaving.
In this way after splitting the bamboo, the work of making the Onchi starts. The base is prepared by weaving five-six strips of waaruk. After that, more strips are added and a square-shaped mat is created. The artist usually weaves the mat by inserting two strips alternatively. The name of this bamboo split is takaita waruk (a type of bamboo splits). For making fishing traps, this variety of bamboo splits are used because of its sturdiness and flexibility.
Making the initial mat requires denser weaving towards the edges so that they don’t break easily. Once the mat is ready, the leftover bamboo strips are sealed and cut off.
After completing all the steps, one of the sides of the mat is folded and tied using a string as shown in the picture. The end product should be open on one side and folded on the other. The Onchi is ready. All that needs to be done is to go fishing!
The Onchi is used as a sieve in shallow water to catch freshwater fish. The fisherman/woman dips it in the brook and lifts it up to see if any fish has been trapped. Sometimes it is also kept inside a stream overnight to trap fish.
Many bamboo artists of Tripura earn a livelihood by creating tools and items made of the material. Fish traps such as Onchi and Pola are sold in the markets. An Onchi usually cost Rs. 100.
In Tripura, people love to eat fish and the local varieties are always in high demand. The fish caught in these traps are sold in the local markets for a good amount of money. Although this method of catching fish was common before, it is rarely seen now. It is only in some tribal villages that one gets to see this practice. In fact, it is the preferred method of catching fish due to the ease and small time investment.
Note: This process was demonstrated by Mr Rajkumar Debbarma, who is an expert in making items from bamboo. He is 55 years old and lives in Lefunga, Agartala, West Tripura.
This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.