Iwopin 2

Meeting the fishing families of Iwopin

We asked acclaimed travel writer Pelu Awofeso to document a trip down the Lagos and Lekki Lagoon. In his first story we get to meet the fishing families of Iwopin, s-w Nigeria. 

Pelu Awofeso is a travel writer, journalist and publishing entrepreneur based in Lagos, Nigeria. For over fifteen years Pelu has been travelling across Nigeria and publishing travel writing in newspapers in Nigeria and beyond, and in his own travel books. His most recent book is Route 234 (2016). When he’s not on the road, one of Pelu’s many other projects is publishing his print and online travel magazine Waka-About. In 2010 he won the tourism category of the CNN Multichoice African Journalist Award for his travel writing. He has also worked as a tourism development officer and a journalist. In 2013 Rebecca Jones interviewed him for Africa in Words

Pictures and text remain copyright of Pelu Awofeso and the Knowing Each Other Project.

Iwopin 5

“This is the only factory that we know,” Funmilayo, 62, says pointing to the Iwopin seashore, Ogun State (SW Nigeria). “If you came earlier, you would have met the women roasting the fishes and preparing them for the market.”

Down the road at the jetty, boats loaded with blackened nets and surrounded by patches of water hyacinths, float idly. Their owners, the men of the community, are indoors this very hour taking a well-deserved rest, having been out at sea all night fishing into the small hours of the morning. Except for three kids dipping in the waters, the place is deserted but glitters in the late-afternoon sunlight.

Iwopin 4Not all the men are sleeping, I soon find out as I take a walk past the thatch houses and log-cabins, past women cooking, breastfeeding and washing dishes and infants playing with each other. Some of the men, seated on long benches, discuss amongst themselves in low tones; others are either mending fishing nets and traps or building new ones, assisted by family and friends.

“What we are working here on is called Ikin,” explains Oladele, a fair-complexion man squatting under a large shed tells. “One of these measures 48 feet in length and this is the seventh one we are producing today.”

Ikin is made from raffia and basically looks like a sleeping mat but bigger. For a fishing trip, the men will have to string many together to make a mammoth whole. And in this area, inhabited by both the Ilajes and the Ijebus, Ikin is only one of many fishing tools available to the fisherman. There is also Fatiko, Felele, Oyigi, Ebiriki and Igu. Whichever is used is a function of individual preference or affordability.

“The complete fishing implements, including the boat, costs a lot of money and only a few can afford it,” says Sunday, 24, on my second trip to the Jetty the next morning. “I’m talking of a million naira plus. Many fishermen have to loan from those who have.”

Its 8am at the jetty and the usual activity at the break of dawn is picking up: buying, selling and chit chatting among the locals. Shortly, the concrete floor is crowded with travellers who pour in with bags and sacks of garri, rice and other freight to be loaded onto two large, double-decked boats headed to Epe and Ilagbo, both in Lagos. Motorcycles ride in and out with more people and load, including bowls of fish.

Iwopin 7In Iwopin, fishing is an elaborate affair, a team work more or less. On a normal outing, a fishing trip involves as many as eight persons and multiple boats. For one, the typical net, when cast, can cover an area half the size of a football pitch; it is not a task one man can handle, so he invites his friends and family along. When it it comes time to harvest, some members of the team will pull strings to the net from the top and others from the bottom.

“Just as we come together to make the nets, we also collaborate to go and fish,” the barefoot Oladele says. “It is a practice that has been with us for many generations. It makes things easier.”

Fishing here, as elsewhere, is tied to the ebb and flow of the currents and also moonlight. And the type of net used on any outing is dependent on whether the moon is out or not. “Fishes can easily see the nets when the moon shines brightly and will avoid them,” says Saheed, an undergraduate who says he’ll quit the trade after his degree programme at the polytechnic. “On such nights, we will use the nets with the appropriate hole size.”

Few feet from Oladele, a woman is hard at work making the smaller sizes of Igu, a cylindrical trap used solely for prawn fishing. With the raw materials at the ready, it takes roughly a half-hour to make one. Beginning in the morning, she’s produced 14 of the traps at the time I find her at 5pm.

“I need about 40 of these to be ready before we go and place them on the wIwopin 6 (this trap is used for catching prawns)ater,” she says, her voice loud enough to be heard above the sound of singing and drumming coming from the white-garment church behind her.

Like the menfolk, women too set out to the sea as a collective. “After setting the traps, we will usually return to the same spot every five days to collect whatever has been caught.”

As I take my leave, I ask if she goes to church and why she isn’t joining in the service today. “I was at the morning service,” she says, smiling briefly. “I will still go at night after I am done here.”

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