Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Fishermen Ply Ethiopia's Largest Lake in Papyrus Boats, but Hope for Better

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Fishermen Ply Ethiopia's Largest Lake in Papyrus Boats, but Hope for Better

Article excerpt

As other fishermen haul in their catch a little after dawn, Temasgen Zelalem is just beginning to drop his net.

Looking weary in the faint morning light, Mr. Temasgen says it's his second drop in the last 24 hours. The nets he laid out last night were still empty at sunrise.

His knees poke through holes in his pants as he feeds the net out of the boat, chunks of Styrofoam on one end to keep it afloat, rocks weighing the other down. He's trying not to go home empty-handed.

Lake Tana's fishermen slip out onto the water every morning in these flimsy boats of papyrus reeds lashed together with rope. Another cluster of reeds forms a seat, keeping them above water that pools on the boat floor.

Locals have been fishing this way since the 9th century B.C., when Egypt's Nubian dynasty brought the practice to Ethiopia and Sudan. This is the only place where these papyrus boats are still used to eke out a living, says local tour guide Tesfaye Biazen. There are about 2,000 of them on Lake Tana.

The hulls look especially archaic as they glide over the reflection of a glassy high-rise building. The vessels can't carry much, nor move quickly. The fishermen estimate they make about 250 birr ($12.72) a week out here. Many of them know only this line of work.

Temasgen grew up on one of the many islands in Lake Tana, which is the source of the Blue Nile and the largest lake in landlocked Ethiopia. His father used these boats to fish and transport firewood from the islands to the mainland, where it was sold.

"This is my life job," says Temasgen, who guesses he has been a fisherman for about 12 years. He is unsure because he doesn't know his exact age. "I enjoy it. I like it. It's in my blood cells."

The papyrus is plentiful along the shoreline. Temasgen, who made his own boat in only three or four hours, says they sell for between 150 and 250 birr ($7. …

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