“Snakes and eels slithered for the water, fish flapped across the mudbank like acrobats. But for every potential escapee there was a quick scrawny Mandingo boy with a club. Thud-thud went the clubs, and a new song began, less insistent in its beat, slower-paced, methodical: a killing song. Not a fish escaped. Already the drying fires were roaring as women strung the little silver fish on lines and hung them out to toast. There was a perch in the catch that must have weighed over a hundred pounds, and a catfish-looking thing that could have swallowed it whole. Two men help up a terrapin the size of a wagon wheel, another dragged a twelve-foot python up the bank and headed in the direction of the village. Within minutes the terrapin was shelled, dismembered and bubbling away in the pot; the perch and catfish were gutted, wrapped in leaves and tossed into a smoldering pit while a pair of marabou storks fought over the remains. Jemafoo tapped the explorer’s shoulder. “Here,” he said, offering one of the three-inch fish that flashed and writhed in his hand. “Akeena” He was grinning encouragement, having learned from experience that all distress is food-related. “Watch–like this,” he demonstrated, putting his lips to the fish’s vent and squeezing it lengthwise to draw out the roe. “Go ahead, try it.”

Posted June 26, 2003

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