Michael  |  He/Him

Come Back Another Day

Tropical and Subtropical Grasslands, Savannas, and Shrublands

Session 5: February 2, 2023

In a nutshell, my story is about how the land, environment, and weather connect us to certain traditional and cultural practices here in Zambia. In the southern central part of Africa is a landlocked country called Zambia, a peaceful nation with more than 72 tribes. Zambia is divided into ten provinces, and some of these provinces are named after their geographic relation to the capital city, Lusaka. Mine is called Western Province, because it is on the western side of the country.

This province is well known for a tradition called the Kuomboka Ceremony, which happens annually because of the rains. The word “Kuomboka” simply means “coming out of the water,” signifying what happens during the ceremony: the king moves from the lower, flooded side of the plain to the upper side during the rainy season using a mighty boat called the Nalikwanda. The scenery of this colorful event is canoes and water in the floodplain; that already tells you a little bit about how the people of the land are connected to water.

I spent much of my childhood and teenage years in Western Province and was accustomed to the traditions and culture of the land. In a typical Zambian setup, a village is made up of different households comprising children and their parents—mostly mother, father, auntie or uncle. As a child, I was lucky to be in a household headed by my mom and my dad, and we used to do a lot of fishing.

Fishing is a part of our culture: it’s a way of knowing that we are in a land with an abundance of water. And there are different types of traditional fishing methods. In this story, I will share one type of traditional fishing mostly practiced by women and children using traditional fishing baskets. This type of fishing is common when the land is flooded, and it is practiced in the shallow, fresh water, which has a lot of fish. As children, we used to go out with our aunties, our moms, and our sisters in the afternoon. Our job as kids was to carry the calabashes and buckets where we put the fish we caught. We could not even carry the traditional fishing baskets because they were so big: like one or two meters in length!

What you do with those baskets is you go out into the shallow water. You immerse your fishing basket there, and then you move away about three to five meters away, and then you start disturbing the water and the grasses to push the fish in the direction of the basket. And when you reach for the basket and lift it out of the water, there are fish inside! Then you pick the fish out and put them into a calabash or a bucket. I used to enjoy this practice of fishing, because it was more than just an activity: it was such a happy experience. It was fun. You laugh as a family. You chat as a group. When you catch a big fish, and it tries to escape, then you start smiling and laughing. In other instances, dogs will accompany you as well, and will be walking by the riverbanks. It was a wonderful community experience that brought families together.

One day when we went fishing, I noticed that after just the first basket immersion, the people said, “Let’s go home!” and we went back. This kept happening, and at first, I didn’t understand. Eventually, however, I asked why. And I learned that, in our tradition, whenever your first catch is either a catfish or a tadpole, an eel or a very small fish (or if your first basket is completely empty), your day is jinxed, and you will have a very bad catch that day. So to avoid a bad catch, and a waste of time, families will decide not to continue fishing and will just head home. For us kids, this was not funny: to be looking forward to a great day of fishing, only to be told, “Let’s go home! We will come back another day!”

This tradition is still being practiced today, although some people have stopped. And although I was not originally a fan of this practice, because it deprived me of the joy of fishing, now that I have grown up, I have come to really cherish and enjoy it. This act connects us to the land and the fish and water, and it conserves the fish indirectly: when you return the small fish into the river and go back home, you allow those fish to grow and breed.

So today, I’m proud of this tradition, and I no longer mind hearing the words, “Let’s go home—we will come back another day!”

Michael is a storyteller, poet, lover of nature, and student at the University of Zambia, currently based in Lusaka, Zambia. He is passionate about poverty eradication, climate adaptation and mitigation, social justice, education, and equality. If he is not working, he is jogging, writing something, or exploring nature.