Luck and leadership: traditional fishing in Mananioy Bay, Batanes, Philippines


Mangahas M. Luck and leadership: traditional fishing in Mananioy Bay, Batanes, Philippines. In: Robinson G, King T At Home on the Waves: Human habitation of the sea from the Mesolithic to today. New York: Berghahn; Submitted.


In Mananioy Bay, Batanes, the Philippines, traditional fishing practice holds that the person chosen to initiate the three-month fishing season for a particular vanua ('port' or 'way to sea/land') has power: influence over, and responsibility for, the welfare and fortunes of other fishers in the vanua; authority to lay down rules; potential to set precedents for the season. The selection of this 'Leadfisher' called Mandinaw nu Vanua, involves recognition of the person's sagal, or 'ability to catch many fish'. The Ivatan often gloss sagal as “suerte” (luck), although the term refers to fishing only. Sagal however does not distinguish between luck and skill, environmental knowledge or experience, innate talent, physical strength, perseverance or hard work, but may incorporate any or all of these in a person's quality of being good in catching fish. Traditionally, magical 'knowledge' could also be accessed by the leader-fisher, who participates in rites on behalf of the vanua such that he has, or is expected to have, essentially a “skipper effect” on the entire vanua's success in fishing. Harkening to Austronesian maritime themes, the Mandinaw nu Vanua reproduces an ancestral sea-landscape wherein the leader plays a regulating or calming role between the agencies of fish, of ancestral fishers and invisible 'spirits', of the human members of the vanua, and even of the elements (like weather, wind and waves). This chapter describes the experiences of local mataw fishermen over the course of a poor fishing season in 1997. When comparing notes after a day of fishing, typically socially over alcohol, fishermen were most interested to keep tabs on two variables: the number of dolphinfish that had 'come' to them or to others, and secondly how many flying fish they had already managed to catch to use as bait. Such tallies were highly unpredictable and differed daily. The constant informal monitoring (also kept up with by the wives of the fishers, as well as their crustacean-bait suppliers and friends) always involved comparison with the fortunes of the lead-fisher, as well as with the fortunes of neighboring vanua. These narratives afforded the storytellers a level of control over the vagaries of an unpredictable, and disappointing, fishing season, with the Mandinaw nu Vanua as stable point of reference.