This CNN video showing the opening of the net fishing season (“ouverture la peche la senne”) in Rodrigues brings back childhood memories of how the family traded in fish.
Catches from the “battages” – the fishing sorties – usually reached us late in the evening. We then had to clean and pack the fish quickly before they could be put on sale in the shop freezers. Too young to handle the sharp knife used to gut fish, I was mostly a spectator. But my older brother had to contribute to this unpleasant task, which often lasted into the early morning hours.
Later when I was about twelve or thirteen, I helped my brother-in-law Bambi in his octopus trade. Once or twice every week, he set up station to buy octopus. Sat on a low bench, with a weighing scale on the floor in front of him, he waited for the fisherwomen to return from their hunts.
One by one, they came with their catch. Together with Bambi, they checked the weights on the scale. When they were in agreement, it was up to me to pay the women and to record the transactions. To save time, Bambi unceremoniously dropped the octopus on the floor behind him before calling over the next person. The motions were repeated as in a ritual, as more fisherwomen joined the queue. By the time all the weighing and paying was done, the floor was covered with slimy octopii reaching up to our ankles. Now, other employees would clean and prepare the octopii for export—gutting, cleaning, packing, and storing them in cold rooms.
Even if octopus trade was serious and haggling was fierce, the exchanges between the fisherwomen and us remained friendly. The trading sessions were filled with banter and laughter—the kind of gaiety you would imagine of islanders.