Last August when I came to Soyo I learned that the only manatee hunter for the area, Mr. Domingos, had died a week before I arrived. I visited his village on that trip and found four manatee harpoons there. Since then I’ve been working to try to find a way to get them “off the street” so that no one else in this area will take up manatee hunting. Angola LNG generously agreed to trade supplies to the Domingos family for the harpoons and a specialized net Mr. Domingos used for catching manatees. On Wednesday Joao and I met with Mr. Domingos’ widow and youngest son Lando to discuss the terms of the exchange. In return for the manatee harpoons and net, Angola LNG has offered them 6 bags of cement, 4 fishing nets, line and floats for the nets, 8 boxes of hooks and a large cooler. This is all very valuable, especially since the son is a fisherman. They presented us with 2 very old, rusted harpoon tips and the son agreed to go upriver with us the following day to collect the rest at a village. Mrs. Domingos said a third harpoon was locked in a neighbor’s house, but they could give it to us later.
Joao, Mrs. Domingos, me and Lando Domingos meeting at their village near Soyo
On Thursday we dropped Lando off at the village of Pendi to gather the rest of the harpoons and the net while we did our river surveys. When we returned to Pendi I had hoped to see him waiting on shore with lots of equipment, and was sadly surprised to find him standing there with one more very old rusted harpoon tip and nothing else. When we asked him where the rest was, he said his cousin had deployed the manatee net in the river to try to catch a manatee, and it had disappeared. He claimed a manatee or “big fish” had probably swum off with it. He didn’t volunteer anything about additional harpoons and when we asked him, he only referenced the one his mother had mentioned. Joao explained to Lando that the deal for the trade is that he turn over all the equipment, so we cannot give him anything until he does. It was pretty obvious he had hoped to give us a few old, unusable harpoons and then we would just turn over all the goods to him, but he began to realize on the trip home that we meant to give him nothing until he turned over the rest. He says he’ll try to get the net back.
What Lando doesn’t realize yet is that I photographed all the harpoons last summer just after Mr. Domingos died. Each tip has a unique design since they were all hand made, and the ones I photographed are in much better condition. So it’s very easy to tell whether or not we’re being given the ones that are still usable. So far I believe Lando has turned over one of the four I photographed. Even though I had to leave Angola, Joao and Mary (the socio-economic advisor and Joao’s boss) will continue to work with the Domingos family to recover all the gear. I was a bit disappointed that it didn’t happen while I was there, since I’ve been working to broker this deal for a year, but in the end I hope it will still mean the end of manatee hunting in this area. And we definitely made some progress! I just have to remind myself that nothing happens quickly in Africa.
These are the three harpoon tips we have received so far. Their hunting days are over, and hopefully we’ll find a place in Angola to display them as part of a cultural heritage exhibit.
The newest Angola LNG boat was named the Manatee! So maybe I’ve managed to raise some awareness on the base 🙂