Search

Matokeo

w a sardine rush in Diani led to a strange story


From the beach, Shabir hears a stir he's never heard before. Many men, shouting and barking. In a frenzy. What's going on? So early in the day? Shabir goes to the edge of the veranda of his Diani Beach cottage, and peers at the beach. A fight? No, too many voices. There are about thirty men. And they're loud. Gang warfare? There's no rage, and Diani

has no history of gang violence.

So what's the commotion? And so close to the white sandy beach? Shabir is wary, but his curiosity drives him onto the beach. There are dozens of men, about 30 meters away, up to their chests in the turquoise shallows. In the shouting, there is purpose. And through the chaos, a rhythm. All the men shouting are holding up nets. There are four nets all facing each other, forming a rough and moving square. The nets are closing in on each other, driving the square smaller and smaller. What's in the middle? Shabir can't see. The beach itself is quiet, just bystanders muttering. Shabir walks on the white, powdery sand to the edge of the warm water, and joins the mutterers to find out.


He nods at Mwadzikobe, Tortoise, who explains what's happening. "Sometimes a lot of small fish come from the reef and get near the beach. Everyone has to work quickly to catch them, because they move in a group, and can suddenly escape.”


“Why all the excitement?""A lot of fish, small fish. Fish for everyone. Anyone can join, but they must work together, and fast. So that every one gets something." Shabir looks at the huddle on the beach, and spots the middle-men who regularly come to his place to sell the daily catch. They get their cut from the fishermen, and any fishermen who sells directly is cut out. Why are these middlemen just standing by? Then Shabir sees the reason for the urgency. Silvery, slippery sardines in a huge school. Caught in the shallows. The fish are brisk and coordinated, and sense the trap. In a moment, they could turn en masse back toward the ocean. They must be surrounded, and quickly. The men, all young, are holding up the four nets closing in. Four groups, full of excitement, matching the frothing in the centre. Each group frantically clutches their nets, everyone shouting instructions. Soon, each net jerkily converges into a small square about 5 meters on each side. And the sardines know the trap is closing. Their shiny bodies froth the surface. They struggle up because zipping out is not an option.


Buckets appear as the frothing reaches a pitch. As men grab the buckets, the shouting stops. They start to scoop the writhing silver. Shabir counts the buckets. Dozens. He wants to buy. In the water, Shabir spots Matokeo, and orders two kilos. Within the hour, Shabir is back in his beach cottage, writing. He sees Matokeo walking up the path toward the veranda with his bucket, eager to turn fish into cash.


"How did you share the fish?"


"We younger men told the older ones not to get involved. We said there would be fewer fights if we shared things our way. They let us, and nobody fought,” he said with a quick smile. "How much do I pay you for this?" asked Shabir.