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Kite Fishing in Papua New Guinea
Dobu Island is part of a group of islands situated off the eastern tip of mainland Papua New Guinea. This group is called the D'Entrecasteaux Islands. In the map above, Fergusson Island is to the north and Normanby Island to the south. To the east of the part of Normanby that looks like a lizard's head is the small island of Dobu.
A dormant volcano, Dobu (pronounced 'doorboo') from a distance looks rather like a steamed pudding that has been turned upside down and has lots of jam pouring down the sides in ridges. It is very pretty and, although small, was quite prominent in the culture of people on neighbouring islands as the Dobuans were fierce warriors, headhunters and blood-drinkers.
Today the locals are lovely, friendly people, always ready with a warm welcome. One of the things they used to do in the 'old days' was to catch fish with the aid of a kite. it was really most ingenious and I'd like to tell you about it, as I hope that some of these ancient crafts will not completely die out.
How the Kite is Made
The kite is made from simple bush materials, but I've tried it, and to make one that will fly is not as simple as it looks. Isaboma and Wesley, pictured in the photograph above, made it look easy.
- The Kite: Large leaves are chosen from the jungle and threaded together firmly by being speared with fine, pointed sticks, I think made from the spine of palm-leaves.
- The String: This is made from bush fibres, patiently twisted together by rolling on the upper leg. It is attached to the central spine of the kite about a third of the way from the top. The other end of the string is wound around a piece of wood of the kind that floats in case the fisherman loses his grip.
- The Tail: The tail, which can be seen in the photograph below, is a long piece of a palm-leaf, attached to the kite by string.
- The Lure: In the photograph below, Wesley is holding the shorter piece of string and the lure.
The lure is especially interesting. At first glance it seemed like a rather grubby piece of silk. However, it is actually a small bundle of very strong spider-web. The men told us that it is the web of the bird-eating spider that we had seen when walking along bush tracks in the jungle - and had made sure to keep our distance! I recently tried to find out more about this spider, but so far have not, but on several occasions when we were out walking it was pointed out as bird-eating and I could believe it, as it was so big.
When the kite is flown correctly, the web dances up and down on the top of the water to attract the fish.
This next bit is also hear-say and cannot be vouched for as true, but Isaboma told us that the web is sticky and contains a poison so that when the fish lunges and bites at the lure it becomes stuck, paralysed, and quite unable to escape.
Kite Fishing from the Shore
My apology for all the dust on the photograph above. It was a slide and I took these years ago, so they've actually lasted quite well.
With a good breeze blowing offshore, the kite was soon up in the air. Isaboma let it out to almost the entire length of the string, keeping it high in the air to make sure he had good control.
The Kite is Lowered
Very gradually the kite was lowered until the lure was at last dancing on the surface of the sea. In the photograph above it is almost there. Sadly, I do not have a record of when the fish was caught. The kite plunged down rapidly, and Isaboma had to take some time to fight the fish as he brought it in. By the time it reached the shore it was dead.
When it was cooked later it tasted great, but then fresh fish was always so welcome when the nearest shops were twelve hours away by boat across the sometimes rough ocean and most of our meat came from tins.
The Fish: The fish that was caught was known in the Dobuan language as a Dimwala. Later I found that we often know it as a Long Tom. They are certainly quite slender and long. I believe that they can be up to a metre and a half long, but the ones we ate were usually shorter than that. They have a very long jaw with lots of needle-like teeth and belong to the same family as garfish and flying fish.
Occasionally, when we we had time and went out fishing in an outrigger canoe, the flying fish would skim for long distances, darting across the waves and sometimes they even landed right in the boat with us, catching themselves for our dinner! In the lovely clear water once when I looked down I saw a Dimwala and at first glance thought it was some kind of a sea-snake, it was so thin.
The first time we ate Dimwala we found that they have lots of bones and that those bones are quite unusual as they are a pretty pale blue colour.
Kite Fishing from an Outrigger
When the wind was blowing in the right direction and it was rough further out, an outrigger canoe could remain in the lee of the land and use the kite for fishing. I found it quite amazing that Isaboma could get the kite aloft from the canoe.
Although the Dimwala were slender, they were so long that they still made a good meal for a family, especially when they were eaten with yams, green vegetables and coconut cream.