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the color and flavor of the fishermen's life

Ana Maria Hernandez


Potret captura pa Fraters di Tilburg na 1923. Nos ta wak un piscador ta rem den un yola na e waf di playa

Image taken by Brothers of Our Lady Mother of Mercy in 1923. We see a fisherman rowing a canoe at the harbor of Playa (Archivo Nacional Aruba).

The fisherman's trade is often a battlefield. The difficulties of the fishing community, more specifically for the ones who make their living from fishing, are related to the dangers of being on the sea, the access to the harbor and the fish, their rights, and the sometimes confusing relationship between the general community and fishing traditions. This last point is the result of a disconnect with the fishing community due to the lack of information and regard for this profession. Technological advances such as GPS and motors have made certain aspects of fishing easier, but other developments such as the refineries or currently the developments around the harbor in Playa have caused fundamental changes in the practice of this profession. 

Buki Perseverancia skirbi door di Marco Christiaans na 2002.

"[The boat] goes up and down with the waves. You can only hear the sea. It's quiet on the boat as if there is no soul on board. Tjaaaaaashiiiiii, tjaaaaashiiii, tjaaaaaashiiiii. Suddenly: pull, both fishermen are tense. In a fraction of a second, the peace on the boat transforms into a battlefield. Both fishermen are engaged in a harsh battle with the fish they have on the line. (1)

The book Perseverancia written by Marco Christiaans in 2002.

In this literary passage, Marco Valentino Christiaans (b. 1949) tries to capture a fraction of a second in a moment of fishing. His semi-biographical work Perseverancia (2002) tries to document what life was like for Aruban fishermen at the beginning of the 20th century. With the outermost care possible, Christiaans records various important aspects of the fishing tradition on the island, based on interviews with local fishermen and the community of the time. While reading the book I asked myself if this still reflects the life of the fishermen today. 

One of the goals of the project ODE TO THE FISHERMEN is to imagine and (re)construct the life of the fishermen of Rancho. But we are immediately confronted with the realization that it is impossible to talk about one homogeneous and orderly story. When we speak of the Rancho fisherman we're talking about multiple characters. This investigation is a search for the different pieces that together form a complex mosaic. Each piece has its own qualities, is affected by different circumstances, and is a reflection of its time. We asked ourselves if there are key points where all these pieces meet. What characteristics are important to identify a global basic portrayal?

To get closer to an answer, we started looking at the portrayals in Perseverancia and compared them with more current information. We are using discussions common in the local press, interviews with fishermen and their community, and the report Piscamento na Aruba (2015) written by marine biologist Byron Boekhoudt. This publication has as its goal to "give an insight into the current state of fishing in Aruba" as well as to "give a bit of the color and flavor of the life of the fishermen and their families." (2)

Piscamento na Aruba 2015 Byron Boekhoudt.png

The report Pesca na Aruba written by marine biologist Byron Boekhoudt in 2015.

At the start of the investigation, we began putting together a map where we could visualize the different areas of importance related to the topic of the fishermen of Rancho. This map is still being developed and is updated daily with new information and other connections. This makes it easier for us to identify the characteristics of the Arubian fishermen, and, if possible, the particular characteristics of the Rancho fishermen. Initially, we identified six areas we could use as sub-themes where we can deepen our focus.  

6 AREA en
Research Topic ODA PA E PISCADO (2).png

In the area we identified as networks and community, we can for example talk about the transference of knowledge within the community, studying the sites where they take place and how. In the narratives of the fishermen we find in Perseverancia, we can recognize different points of encounter where the community comes together and where the exchange of experiences, knowledge, respect, and fish take place. These are specific moments that together form a system or a ritual and have a specific purpose. An example of this could be the moment when the fishermen arrive back at the shore from a fishing trip. Here, the fishermen share stories of their achievements of the day, their losses, and the battles fought against their adversary: the fish. (3) Valuable information is exchanged between the fisherman; information that can help them be safer on the sea, or help them have a more productive fishing trip next time, or information that will, later on, be part of the public identity of the fisherman. According to the report of 2015, this exchange still takes place today but these points of encounter are now known as Fishing Centers. (4) One of these centers is the Harbour of Rancho, also known as the Harbour of Playa. This specific spot has been in the news lately due to the urban developments taking place around it.

Waf'i Rancho 2022 Ana Maria Hernandez_edited.jpg

Harbour of Rancho, 2022. 

The communal points of encounter and the relationships or networks within the community are areas that we will focus on in the investigation. We are looking more closely into the conditions that shape these points of encounter, how they function and what necessities they respond to. We will also look at their capacity as centers of knowledge transfer.  In the upcoming blog entries, I will delineate other points of encounter that are important for the processes of the fishing community.


Image taken by Gerardus Hubertus Delnoij betwen 1964 and 1965. On this photograph we see fishermen and  e imagen nos ta wak traditional boats (Archivo Nacional Aruba).

The 6 areas on our map can be seen as broad categories that will help us organize and process information. But this map will become more intricate since it is clear that some areas are interconnected with each other. A boat for example could be considered an important tool for the profession of fishing. The role of a boat in the life of a fisherman is so prominent that they don't have to own one. A boat is a physical and symbolic place where stories are written in time and knowledge is applied and shared. A boat is also a way fishermen express their beliefs. It's not uncommon to see boats with names of saints or to hear of a fishermen's saint that offers him the hope of protection while at sea. And we cannot forget of course that boats are the scenarios for stories that present themselves as mundane moments, but are later on revealed to be myths in the making. There are a lot of other topics, like this one, that will interconnect the areas on this map. 

Another important preparatory step is to have a clear understanding and definition of what a fisherman is. In Boekhoudt's publication, he defines it based on three categories that follow the norms of the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FOA).(5) You have the professional fisherman who fishes a minimum of 40 hours a week. You have the recreational fisherman who fishes less than 20 hours a week. And you have the occasional fisherman, who fishes less than 3 times a week. There is also a distinction between traditional fishing and recreational fishing, which is based on the use of technology, traditional practices, and how far they stay from the shore.  We wonder if there are other institutional definitions for what a fisherman is.

It's interesting to also see how the local fishermen themselves identify themselves and define their profession. This is one of the questions we pose during the consultations we're currently conducting with local fishermen and the community. Last week we sat with Carlito Quandt, one of the last active fishermen of Rancho. In an upcoming blog entry, we will explore through the stories of Mr. Quandt how fishing influences the identity of the community of Rancho. This interview will touch upon different aspects and will uncover more connections within the investigation. 

  1. Marco Valentino Christiaans, Perseverancia, 2002, 45.

  2. Byron Boekhoudt, Piscamento na Aruba, 2015, 3-4.

  3. Christiaans, 54.

  4. Boekhoudt, 11.

  5. Ibid., 8.

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