April 2011


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One of our favourite contributors Tony Tame is back in Spirit with his observations on Janga Fishing


Tony Tame

Twists in Rivers and Janga Fishing

Tony Tame


It’s a perfectly understandable, human-nature based, project; this disciplining of water. The mountain-grown rivers in any country like Jamaica, which goes up and down more than it goes sideways, alternate between flood and slack quite violently and carve new banks accordingly. That’s why local authorities have been at river training for ages, trying to apply some kind of restraint to this uncivilized way nature has of ignoring mankind’s need for control and exploitation of everything. The forest intrudes – cut or burn it down. The mangrove swamp is inconvenient for our new beachfront development – drain and fill it and let the crabs and alligators take a hike. The lobster seeketh refuge from our harpoon in the depths of the coral head – poke a glass or plastic bottle of Clorox in there after him and break it with the spear-tip and see how fast he comes out where we can nail him and all his blinded family. It is unfortunate that the whole reef dies from the bleach, but omelets require the breaking of eggs. And so on.

  So this business of river training is obviously the right and proper thing to do. Can’t have uppity streams with ambition doing what they feel like. Ideally it would be best to straighten them out literally. But that’s out of the question since the stupid old mountains keep poking their inconsiderate heads up all over the place. Therefore we must do the best we can. And for the moment, (well, the last forty years or so,) one of the most feasible containments we have come up with here in paradise are rock gabions. We have lots of rock around and plenty idle people with nothing better to do than wrap them up in galvanized mesh-wire boxes and cotch or tie or wedge the encasements along any bit of watercourse bank we deem unstable. And look at all the votes that should bring. After we teach the river some manners the folks can live right next to it and they will see how managed the water has become. Surely you remember our campaign slogan. ‘We are the party with the skill at managing.’ The water shall stay right where we order it and you can just lean out the window and toss refuse directly onto the moving surface and afterwards you can put a little short pipe to carry the bathroom by-products (which we, being polite types, will refrain from naming) to a point below the water top where nobody will see what is coming out. Then the current can hurry up and take it downstream to where old Miss Maggie uses the water to boil those big pots of soup that she sells at her cook house and, after that, even further on down to where the Water Commission intakes are.

   All this is excellent for the prospects of the bottled-water entrepreneurs. And for those who find that expensive? – Ah well, they must depend on the (#) municipality who assure the customers that the piped stuff they get from their taps is ‘treated.’ Let’s hope they have adequate stocks of treatment at the purification plant. If so they are one of the few government divisions that are not suffering shortages.  

   Janga fishing is not what it used to be. Lots of things are that way, but, for a moment, let’s just take a glance at this particular industry. It was always a bit on the small scale side of commercial fishing - even by Jamaican standards. To be fair, even when there were a relatively large amount of these diminutive river crayfish living among the polished, riverbed stones of yesteryear, the harvest was primarily a business enterprise for youngsters. A few stuck with it longer and there were some ‘gangs’ which worked at catching and selling them under adult supervision and sometimes coercion, exercised by the older and stronger group leaders. .

  Now the poor old Janga – hardy and resilient though he is – has encountered a lot of trouble along the way. Intrusion from agricultural chemicals (must have those, absolutely indispensible) have poisoned him, new species of fish and freshwater lobster from half-witted experiments decimated him, and then, most serious of all, mankind has an insatiable need for his very element. You see these rivers have greater value if we divert them and irrigate our farms and wash tourists and if, when a normal dry time rolls around, there’s not enough water left to keep the stream going, well, – it just dries up, or becomes a series of forlorn, disconnected pools. That’s O.K. too, actually. At least it’s O.K. once. Because the first time it happens we can slip a little cash to the fellows over at the Public Works office who have a big, four-inch, gasoline engine driven, water pump and we can borrow it and pump the pools dry and look at what is in the bottom! Just take a peek at all these Janga, river mullet and eels! Never knew there were so many of them left and quite a few really big ones too. It’s no good picking up all those tiny ones. Leave them there. They will stink up the place for a while but we can’t do anything about that. The old broken egg and omelet argument again

  Still, the tough little Janga sticks around. A few kids keep at it too, catching the remnant survivors and searching more and more diligently for retreating and secretive colonies which might have found new ways to survive and even multiply. And that brings us back to the rock gabions.

   Wow, look at this! That’s where the cunning little buggers are hanging out. It’s a freaking Janga nursery! Take a real close look and you can see them back there with their claws poking out. Safe as houses they are with that mesh all over their artificial, reef-like home inside the protection of the galvanized cage. So come on guys. It’s only a tiny investment. Any little backcountry hardware store has a wire cutter or, at least, ordinary pliers for sale. That’s what you need to hold the mesh with and twist it till it breaks. Then we can get at them and, when you really inspect inside closely, you find that the thing to do is pick out some of the stones because smaller crayfish are in there. The big old mommies and daddies are in front guarding them. I told you it was a nursery.

   Now we can get every living thing. It’s good, honest work –certainly a damn sight better than breaking into people’s houses and risking a homeowner or a policeman shooting you when you are running away. They shot that boy **Dexter like that. Him thought him could escape from town and get along out here in the country. You should have seen the body. Just a little hole by the shoulder blade and a big old piece gone from out the front of his chest. Mus be one copper shot. Awesome! Like in a movie! Mary took a picture of it with her cell phone but the sergeant policeman took away the phone. Now she can’t get it back. The cop said it gone to *B.S.I and them lose it. She shoudda know better. She can use camera phone but she is still a fool.  

Thus there came upon the heels of this wire cutting discovery a little up-turn in the Janga harvest and a few more dollars seeped in and some of the riverbank people put on an extra room. Or two. Often this brought the wall boundary of the house a little nearer to the river but sometimes you couldn’t build in any other direction because somebody had built there already or there was some equally good reason. Thank the Lawd, boy, you catching them Janga good now. Go see if you can get plenty more. No matter the size these days. Try further upstream. *** Massa God Janga caaan’t done! 

   Eventually some money might be found to put in new gabions - after we pay to remove the tangled, cut-up remnants of the old ones, mostly sliced to fragments now. Especially when enough voters get washed away and it becomes politically inconvenient to ignore a particular piece of waterway that has suddenly been released from proper, Jamaica House management and gone and drowned potential supporters.. In the meantime the kids will go on cutting the metal cases of the remaining intact (or semi-intact) fortifications and the Janga will retreat deeper into the backfill until you have to physically dig away the banks to get a few. Dig it away, yes. The part underneath!

   But, it’s still better than housebreaking. When you break the house you might get shot. When the river breaks the house they can’t do anything to it. It’s carrying out an ‘Act of God.’ And we haven’t figured out how to shoot Him yet. Not even in the back.    


       (#) The story goes that at a town hall type meeting (in Portmore) a representative of the Water Commission was challenged by a citizen to drink a glassful of his own product. He declined politely saying he had become ‘accustomed’ to bottled water. The challenge arose because the water was blackish in color from what the Commission claimed was “iron.” The representative said it was O.K. for drinking although he suggested that it might be best not to wash white clothes (or light colored cars) with it.                                                                 


*B.S.I. Bureau of Special Investigations. A division of the Jamaican Police Force charged with enquiry into possible police wrongdoing. Often shortened in local conversation to B.S. Division in order to describe it more precisely.   

** Dexter, a fugitive youngster from Diana McCauley’s novel Dog Heart.

*** A reference to an excellent local documentary Massa God Fish Can Done




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Click here to read Tony's interview from 2007

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