Into the Pokomo Land: Fishing Expedition


The Pokomo were, and still are, skilled fishermen. They caught fish literally on a daily basis. Group fishing expeditions were normally done twice in a week, preferably in the middle of the week and on Saturdays. Generally speaking, fishing was at its peak when the flood waters started to recede thereby enabling the fish to take refuge in the numerous lakes.

Fishing expeditions were conducted in a simple way. They were not as dangerous as the hippo expeditions. Even small boys were allowed to go fishing. The fishermen were equipped with long-sheathed spears (nsoma) and sharp knives. The fishing expeditions started early, normally at cock crow. The young boys walked in front while they cleared the way by beating the morning dew with sticks.

On arrival at the fishing ground, one of the elderly people in the group blessed the fishermen. Each person then prepared himself by removing any unwanted clothes and tying a rope made from palm leaves round his waist. This was to be used later when tying the fish that would be killed.

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The fishing ground was in shallow waters of lakes or swampy areas. The hunters moved to place themselves in a circle. They made sure they were close enough before each hunter dipped his long-sheathed spear into the water at random. When a fish was speared, it was removed and tied using the rope. Fish killed this way were mainly mudfish (mamba), and cat-fish (nswii).

Sometimes a crocodile could be trapped in the circle without the fishermen’s knowledge. People were supposed to be firm and conquer it. Running away would mean letting the crocodile escape. Spears were thus thrown at the crocodile till it died. Like in the hippo hunting, the first to hit it was said to be the killer and he got a bigger portion of the meat. People from the same family got one share and children were not included in the sharing.

Before a crocodile was shared, its bile was removed and destroyed in front of all the hunters since it is highly poisonous. This was done to prevent anybody from taking it for witchcraft purposes.

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“We eat crocodiles and crocodiles eat us”, is a common saying among the Pokomo. This shows the importance of the crocodiles to the Pokomo. In fact, they have been known to protest against the destruction of crocodile eggs as way back as during the colonial days when the colonial administration in Tana-River tried to reduce the crocodile population by destroying their eggs.

Every year when there were floods, the Pokomo made maximum use of the waters in terms of fishing. As the flood waters filled the tributaries and the lakes, the Pokomo would at times have a special fishing expedition known as hankwa. This entailed the opening of canals to allow the flood waters to pass through. As this happened, the fish also followed the water through the canals. After enough water had passed through, the canals were then closed. As the water on the plains receded, the fish would be left struggling to swim up in a desperate attempt to reach the main river.

The Pokomo would discriminately choose the fish to kill since they would by then be exposed with little water to hide in. Hankwa was very popular because it was easy to kill the exposed fish. People carried as many fish as they could.


People did not always go fishing in a group. Individuals discovered other means of getting fish without depending on group fishing expeditions. They used fish traps. The most common one was the no-return fish trap. The Pokomo called it mono. Firm sticks were woven with wild ropes and rings of thinner sticks. It was made in such a way that when it was immersed in the river, a fish could enter it easily from the wide entrance but once inside, it could not find its way out. Any big fish in the river could be caught using this trap but it became famous for catching the rare but delicious fish called mpumi i.e. silver fish. This fish trap was also famous for catching the cat fish (nswii), tilapia (ntuku) and the snake-like eel (nfyoka).

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Edward M. Yesse is a Pokomo from Ngao. He was born on 18th December, 1957. He passed through Ngao Primary School, Tarasaa High School and the University of Nairobi where he graduated with an Upper Second Class Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Public Administration in 1986. In addition, he has a First Division Diploma in Constitutional Law and a First Division Diploma in Parliamentary Institutions and Procedure from the Institute of Constitutional and Parliamentary Studies, New Delhi, India, which he obtained in 1990. He is also a Parliamentary Fellow from the same Institute. He passed the Administrative Officers' Examination administered by the Public Service Commission in 1990. He obtained a Diploma in Business Management from the Kenya Institute of Management (KIM) in 2003. He attended numerous other courses. He is currently pursuing his MBA. He opted for an early retirement in June, 2013 as Regional Manager with the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) due to personal reasons. E-mail: Mobile No: 0722647327 or 0733860825


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