• Lorraine Johnson

[74] Waiting for Sunrise

They used to go early in the morning to the beach. They used ndala—prawns—as bait for fishing off the coast, casting the line and hook with their hands. And when the line was cast they would sing an alluring tune hoping to lure the fish that would bring life to the day. When nothing would bite, they would gather the line, rebait and cast the line once again.


On other days they would go out into the ocean in their dugout canoes and use mihamba—small crabs—which during those times were plentiful. When the tide was low they would go on foot dropping nets around the rocks and quickly lifting them up to pick out the catch, then drop again. And so determined hands continued throughout the days.

But when the sea began to fill, and the sun grew closer to the horizon, they would turn toward the shore and make their journey home. If they arrived too late where the river meets the ocean, they would have to swim back with their catch of the day tied on long strings around their waists—trailing about two meters behind them as they made their way through the salty water. With high waters came the whales and when they tried to eat their catch they would simply cut the line and swim rapidly back to shore—no one would be left behind.


And at the end of each day, when the sun grew weary, as their hands, they would leave their boats on the sandy shore with all their gear—waiting for the next sunrise to start all over again.


The dugouts were never stolen. They would paint them with tradition—using color from tree roots found in the bush, burying the roots in the sand where they were kept. No one would disturb the area or steal the boats, not even another fisherman—for when they tried they would become frozen in the spot until the boat's owner arrived. Sometimes they said the person would become sick or even go crazy.


And when the owner arrived in the early morn to start their day, and found someone frozen in place, they would call a curandeiro—a traditional healer—and with a combination of plants from the bush and the sea—would reverse the spell. And as such the would-be thief would be brought back to the village and judged for their crime. People were afraid of being caught in the spell, so the boats would safely sleep and continue to do so until today, along the sandy coast of Mozambique— waiting for the sun to rise on the horizon and the strong and determined hands of their owners to carry them out to sea.


It was 1995—Jatila Aiuba was 67 years old and she used to fish the shores of Pemba on foot or in her dugout canoe, full of tradition and hope.