Flamingo - Art, Craft & Culture - You’re not Caprivian if you can’t catch fish…
It’s a sunny, luminous Sunday afternoon. I’m back in Mubiza to conduct
a random survey on Melissa Fraser’s research topic: “Why Caprivians
fail to prosper amidst the abundance of natural resources in their
Melissa equates most Caprivians to Hetty Green, a multi-millionaire of
the 1900s who had the resources to live well but didn’t use them. Green
wore the same shabby clothes over and over and lined her threadbare
coat with newspapers to keep warm.
I sit on the rock outside Mubiza Primary School to restructure the
survey questions and strategise on how best I’d approach the
The villagers walk past, some silent and others asking loudly, “Where are your makuwa (white) friends Jessica and Melissa?”
“Back in the US!” My response is beginning to sound like a refrain.
An hour whirls by with no interview done.
I dust myself down and decide to visit Banda, the butcher. I’m sure
I’ll find him sharpening his knife against a stone, promising jokingly
to use it as a guillotine on his impatient customers.
“Banda doesn’t work on Sundays,” answers the wife, stirring a hot soup outside the hut. “He’s taking a nap inside.”
“Hasn’t he ever considered making more money on Sundays, since everyone would be…”
“Yeah, he has looked into it, but we all need to rest,” she smiles. “In
Caprivi we don’t search for riches but for security and sufficiency.
Anyway, I’ll inform Banda that you were here.”
As I leave the homestead, a hen near a mopane tree blocks my way and
begins to squawk, spreading its wings, guarding its chicks. I try to
walk closer but it squawks more fiercely in a way that would make a
child weep hot tears of frustration.
With no cars in sight and no more passersby, I find myself on a lonely path towards the Zambezi River.
I wander under green foliage, sidestepping thick roots and dodging wild
fruits that droop like earrings. All I now seek is a quiet grove by the
Suddenly, I hear a creak, a foot moving and snoring that can register a 7.0 on the Richter scale. My heart begins to jog.
I peer under the bushes and spot a fisherman sleeping in the shade. He’s as relaxed as a dozing cat. I move closer to him.
“Sinvula! Sinvula!” I shake him.
His eyes are red. “Oh! Cecil, what are you doing here?”
“I’m here for the hippo ride you promised me in 2006,” I joke. “And why
are you sleeping under so many trees? Aren’t you afraid of snakes?”
“Snakes? No, no, not at all. They don’t move around in groups like startled ants.
“But why aren’t you fishing?”
“I’ve already caught six and that’s enough for my family’s evening meal,” he replies.
“Don’t you think that with a bigger net and longer hours at work you could catch fifty?”
“Fifty?” he rubs his eyes, puzzled. “What would I do with so many fish?”
“You could sell forty-four. If you do this every day you could generate enough money to buy a boat. The more you…”
“You must be kidding!” he cuts me short. “I don’t even know how to handle a boat. How would that help me?”
“It’s simple business principles…with a boat you can catch thousands of
fish and establish a big company. Then you become rich, my friend!”
“Then you become rich my friend.” Sinvula mimicks me in a voice that’s
stretched like an overused cassette. “What would I do with all that
“A lot, man. You’d have fun and plenty of time to sit around and enjoy
yourself.” I sound like a teenager excited by a phone call for a joy
ride. “And get to sleep in the shade in resort places like…”
“Sleep in the shade?” he mimicks me again, pride lighting up his face. “Isn’t that exactly what I’m doing now?”
“Yeah, but with riches you’d…”
“Then why don’t you write more books and get rich?” he asks, his face all polite curiosity.
“In my case, I’d have to…”
“In Caprivi we say ‘You’re not Caprivian if you can’t catch fish. And you’re not Caprivian if you catch too many and…”
“OK, OK, but you see…”
“No, no, no, my friend,” he shakes his head as if water’s stuck in his
ear. “In the Bible it says in Isaiah, ‘Give me neither riches nor
poverty, but enough for my sustenance’.”
I look down like a child who’s been reprimanded.
“And if I may, I’d like to go back to sleep, please.” The fisherman’s voice is as heavy as a coffin lid.
“Sure,” I say, unfolding the survey questions and scribbling a few notes. “Thank you for the interview!”
He doesn’t respond. He begins to snore louder than a diesel engine.