Top > African Study Monographs > ASM Supplementary Issue Back Number > No.9 (1989)
pp. 1-88

Folk Knowledge of Fish among the Songola and the Bwari: Comparative Ethnoichthyology of the Lualaba River and Lake Tanganyika Fishermen

Faculty of Liberal Arts, Yamaguchi University

   A field survey in collaboration with Institute de Recherche Scientifique (presently Centre de Recherche en Sciences Naturelles) was carried out near Kindu and Baraka, Région du Kivu, République du Zaïre (Sept. 1979-Feb. 1980 and Sept.-Dec. 1983).
   The fork knowledge of fish is described in detail for the two areas. The author identified 100 species from the Lualaba River and 97 species from Lake Tanganyika.
   Songola fishermen (Enya subgroup) along the Lualaba (upper reaches of the Zaire, formerly the Congo) River have 108 vernacular names and 12 inclusive folk categories of fish, consisting of six levels of categorization. There are 18 series of "growth fishe" fish which have two to four different vernacular names according to their life-cycle stages. All the "growth fishes" of the Enya are large-sized fishes and their names change by growth size. The thresholds for the different names seem to be related to the mesh sizes of traditional fishing nets.
   Bwari fishermen of northern Lake Tanganyika have a simpler system of folk classification than the Songola-Enya. They have 79 vernacular fish names and 4 inclusive folk categories, consisting of three levels. There are 8 "growth fishes." They were diverse in body size and a small clupeid ndagaa, one of the most abundant and important fishes for the Lake Tanganyika fishermen, has as many as four life-cycle stages that determine its market price.
   The difference in the folk knowledge of the fish between these two peoples might be understood by the difference in the composition of the fish fauna of the two areas; in Lake Tanganyika while small-sized cichlid species (called inclusively as .LENDA by the Bwari) are abundant, it is the ndagaa that prevails in today's catch.
   A comparison of the fish names among 15 peoples of Central Africa suggested that fish nomenclatures of Bantu societies have little similarity between independent water systems. I found only two stems having a universal distribution in Central Africa: .nyik. for electric catfish and .sembe for lung-fish.
   Fishermen of Central Africa have an accurate and rather objective knowledge of fish on which they are dependent. As yet some of the fishes are regarded as special. Some are regarded as taboo, others used as charm medicine. Having an intermediate character between fish and other creatures (bird or tree) and having anomalous features are good reasons to regard them as special.
   Where do all these differences come from? In order to consider the problems concerning the comparative ecology and epistemology of African peoples more properly, we must be equipped with a better knowledge on the environment (fauna and flora), linguistics, and ethnography.

Key Words: Ethnosciences; Folk classification; Freshwater fish; Lualaba River; Lake Tanganyika; Bembe; Bwari; Enya; Songola; Vira.

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