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Controversial Practices: Traditional Beliefs Among Some Fisherman Fading


Local fishermen in Accra, Ghana -- in making their daily living, are somewhat restricted by administrative guidelines. Some of these guidelines are traditions steeped in taboos. Voice of America's Joana Mantey, reporting from a local beach in Accra, says these traditions, though not injurious to one’s health, are likely to punch holes in a fisherman's ability to make a living.

It's mid day at the Jamestown Beach in Accra. Canoes crafted from giant trees criss-cross each other in a maze along the shore. Other canoes bob gaily on the water as they stay anchored close by. This is the place where hundreds of local fishermen make a living. Asua Kpakpa has been fishing for over 20 years. He rests by a canoe after a hard day's work.

All the canoes at the beach are painted black and decorated with symbols and trimmings in bright white, blue and red. Asua’s boat is called “who jah bless”, perhaps to show his deep faith in God. Other boats have names such as “Airport”, “Sea
Never Dry” and “King of the Universe.” One striking feature is the inscription of biblical verses on almost all the canoes at the beach. Fishermen may be religious but they believe in other cultural traditions and taboos.

Nobody knows when such traditions started. But Obe, another fisherman at the beach, says they go back in time for many generations. For example, on Tuesdays nobody goes out fishing. Most activities come to a stand still, not only at Jamestown, but at other beaches in Accra. Obe said every fisherman is expected
to respect this convention.

So what happens to anyone who flouts such directives? Obe says the question is so important that it has to be directed to the tribal elders: "If you dare go, you will see what human beings are not supposed to see on the high seas.” Obe says one time a group of fishermen ventured out to sea on a Tuesday, against the norm. He says although nothing happened to them they were called to account to their tribal leaders for their actions.

Critics say in this age of globalization it's not certain how long some of these tradtions
will last. There are signs that young people are beginning to break from traditional taboos -- like wearing slippers or shoes at the beach. Obe expressed concern over this: “In the olden days, people were highly respectful of tradition. Not any more. Now, young fishermen not only wear slippers at the beach but carry them along on canoes during fishing.”

Joana also spoke with Akwelley, a fish monger, who explained that wearing slippers drives the fish away. She told Joana that previously, wearing slippers was strictly forbidden for both fishermen and visitors to the beach.

Akwelley also says cooking fish along the shore is not allowed either because that also drives fish away.

Akwelley says she has no problem with these arrangements, saying she does chores on Tuesdays -- when selling fresh fish on the market is forbidden. The older fishermen said they occupy themselves on Tuesdays by mending nets and repairing
canoes.

Joana also reports that owning a canoe and other accessories involves a huge cost that's far out of reach for most young fishermen.

One critic expressed the view that maybe taboos against fishing will fade once young
men start raising money for canoes of their own-- especially in an age where global competition has compelled many to work anytime day or night, 24/7.

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