“May the holes in your net be no bigger than fish in it” (Irish saying)

When it comes to handicrafts, I am one of those people who is quite optimistic about my ability to make something, particularly if I have never actually tried to do so…

Weaving fish traps is a case in point, something I felt confident about being able to do, even though I’d never tried it for myself.  With an Indonesian expert to show me the ropes, it was something that I thought could be finished in half a morning.

Three days later and we were still making the damn thing.

We ended up making a fish trap that would be more suitable for large lakes than the small streams in the jungle and it will probably last for years.  However the principles are the same be it for  a large or small trap.

It was also  a good opportunity to learn some skills from someone else.  Just as with many junglecraft skills, more than one skill is required, and making the trap required more than simply knowing the weave pattern, with peripheral skills (making cordage, splitting/skinning bamboo, treating cuts, knot work etc) all coming into play.

As a survival skill, weaving a trap like this would not be my first choice for making a trap and corralling fish (by pushing sticks into the river bed) is a much quicker and easier method.  However, the skill is still worth learning as it can be used to make all sorts of other things (perhaps most importantly a rucksack) and, if nothing else, would while away many an hour while you wait for rescue!

…it is also good fun to do and gives you a new sense of appreciation for the skilled work than lies behind many handicrafts (that are, sadly, often sold for a song).

In some parts of rural Indonesia a day’s salary for hard manual labour can be as little as 2 or 3 US dollars and a fish trap like the one we made would sell for as little as 3 dollars.  I was told that people there would make fish traps to sell only if they really couldn’t find any other work at all as the return on time spent is so paltry.

When I was young and living in Africa I used to haggle for the local handicrafts as if I were Scrooge and my life depended on it.  Often the price would indeed come down as the Africans were so desperate for money than they would sell way below a fair and reasonable price.

I don’t do this anymore and am sorry I did.  But this obsession about ‘not-being-ripped-off’ is common  amongst many Western travelers in third world countries and there is a sort of one-upmanship going on (“You paid how much!!…I got it for half the price!”) that fuels this type of hard bargaining and often it is the locals who suffer.

So next time you get ‘ripped-off’ buying a local handicraft in some developing country, take comfort in the thought that you probably weren’t ripped of at all and, if you don’t believe me, try making it yourself and see what value you would place on that item after you’ve spent three days trying to make it!

Finally,  a reminder for Malaysians that there is a MYCAT trailblazer program being run in May – a great opportunity to go into the jungle with the Wildlife Department. Unfortunately the Wildlife Department has decided that it doesn’t welcome help from foreigners (strange indeed!) so this is only open to Malaysian nationals.