Night fishing on Lake Kivu in traditional fishing boats

Since my first trip to Lake Kivu, I’ve been fascinated with the beautiful wooden fishing boats that set out each night in search of sambaza, the little fish. I didn’t expect to end up on one of those myself, but there I was, a few months later boarding a traditional boat in the middle of the lake in pitch black darkness – yet again, this was all thanks to VAYANDO. My partner in crime was Marybeth, the Ghana Kiva Fellow!

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We decided to start the day in style, enjoying a pitcher of wine, fried sambaza and fish brochette at the Cormoran Lodge in Kibuye. As the darkness set in, we headed to our motor boat that would bring us to the traditional fishing boats, which had already made themselves comfortable in the middle of the lake.

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We gracefully (not) got ourselves from the motor boat to the fishing boat without falling into the lake and sat down next to the captain, Aphrodite.

The guys set off every night at 6pm and stay on the lake until 5 am – each night they put their nets in twice. The boats come in sets of three and each boat has 3 guys on it, manning the nets. The captain is in charge of choosing the destinations for the night, refilling the petroleum lamps and managing the crew throughout the night.

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The guys pass time by taking naps and having some beer, so the general mood was nice and merry. Not to mention the petroleum fumes, which will get anyone slightly tipsy! These lamps are used to attract the sambaza; additional halogen lights are also dropped in the water to attract more fish to the nets underneath the boat.

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Pulling out the nets was hard work as they go well into the depths of the lake and even after a solid 30 minutes of watching the guys do it, I still don’t understand how the boat operates! After all that hard work, the guys ended up with a modest 3 kilos of sambaza, which would get them roughly 4000 RWF (that is about £4!).

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As Lake Kivu is a methane lake, fishing can sometimes be tricky – some men have day jobs for additional income and look for further work during the week off they get every month. It is however a beautiful tradition that is passed on from father to son and the captain proudly hopes to see his boy take over his position in the future.

As we left the boat to head back to solid ground, we wished them luck with their next destination for the night – I hope they got more kilos that time!

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