In Haveri, it’s time to fish and feast

In Haveri, it’s time to fish and feast

Hundreds of people holding traditional bamboo fishing traps had gathered near a tank. A few fishing enthusiasts were exhibiting their catch. Some others were engaged in hand fishing. They were attempting to catch the fish but most of the times the fish managed to escape through their fingers and jump back to the water.

There was a festive look in and around the tank.

I was at Kysanur village in Hanagal taluk of Haveri district. For a while, I failed to guess what was happening. I struck up a conversation with a youngster and asked him the reason for such a unique gathering. 

He said, “We are celebrating Meenu Habba (annual traditional fishing festival). The Habba is organised once a year and is also known as fish hunting.”

As I was curious to know more about the tradition, I engaged in a conversation with the participants. 

Following tradition

They said they did not know the historical significance of the festival, but were just continuing the tradition started by their ancestors. 

Villages like Kyasanur, Hanumanakoppa, Balehalli, Balur, Chikkaunshi and Husur fall under the semi-Malnad region. The festival is celebrated in these villages, especially after the Ugadi festival and before monsoon sets in. Traditionally, all tanks in the region would have water till monsoon. 

The tanks went dry this summer, and the region did not receive its first showers till the first week of July. Therefore, the fishing festival was organised in Kyasanur after a delay of two months, they explained.

Hundreds of people in the region have migrated to urban areas for employment purposes. Normally, they return to their villages after the Ugadi festival. Fishing festivals remind one of village car festivals.

Each of these villages has a committee that organises Meenu Habba. Members of the committee take a collective decision and fix the date of the Habba.

In order to publicise the festival, they print pamphlets containing details and norms of the festival. The pamphlets are distributed on market days. They send the pamphlets by buses for distribution in the neighbourhood.

Any fishing enthusiast willing to participate in the Habba will have to pay a prescribed fee. Normally, an amount of Rs 250 is fixed as the fee. The committee uses the money collected for development work.

On the day of the Habba, the participants enter the tank holding the traditional bamboo fishing trap. They can catch any quantity of fish as there is no cap on that day. The participants are permitted to sell the catch on the spot. There will be people waiting to buy the fish near the tank, they said.

On most occasions, not a single person returns without a catch and that’s the highlight of the festival. The fee remitted is refunded to unlucky participants who fail to trap any fish.

The fishing activity takes place throughout the year in many tanks in and around Hanagal. However, there are a few tanks where the fishing activity strictly takes place once a year, during the festival. 

As fishing is restricted to once a year, varieties of fish including murgodu, Gauri, katla, bale, roo, kuchchu, gaskar are available.

The villagers prepare for the next season soon after the festival concludes. They let fingerlings into the tank so that they grow by the time the next festival is organised.

The committee imposes a ban on fishing in the tank till the next year. A penalty is levied on those who violate the ban and engage in fishing activity. 

Sometimes, there will be additional quantities of fish. The committee has developed a method to deal with this too. It awards contracts for fishing with a cap. Those bagging the contracts should pay a prescribed amount to the committee. Members of the committee supervise the entire process.

The Habba provides a pleasant experience given how fish farming and fishing have become commercial elsewhere. It ensures an opportunity to learn traditional and nearly-lost fishing techniques and tools. 

According to them, the festival brings in a sense of identity and togetherness. It is also a means to ensure peace, harmony and comradeship among communities. 

For them, Meenu Habba is not just a mass fishing activity, but an intangible tradition.