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Paddling With Yin-Bou Fishermen

Xing-Ping, China

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  • Many years ago, during the 16th century, the Huang family brought the unique art of “Yin-Bou” fishing to the Li river of Xing-Ping village in the south of China. Fishermen who used cormorant birds in order to fish in the river.

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    The unique art includes 4 main techniques to fish using birds: 

    Wang Bou – using a big net in order to border the hunting ground of the birds and the escape routes of the fish.
    Tam Bou – Using voice in order to call the birds in and out of action, this technique is the hardest to master and rarest of all.
    Tuan Bou – Training the bird not to catch the fish but to chase him in circles until it is too tired to swim away from the bird and then the fishermen will simply pick it up out from the water.
    Yu Khuo – using light in order to control the birds in the water, usually performed after sunset or before the sunrise.

    I photographed 73 year old Yue-Ming and his older brother 83 year old Yue-miang, they have been fishing in the Li river since they were 15 years old and they are masters of the "Yu-Khuo" technique, using an old lamp, they control their birds in the water and collect the fish from them.

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    Traditionally the fisherman would live in a boathouse on the river itself, rarely stepping on land, migrating along the river with the fish - following their source of livelihood. They would trade a portion of their daily gain of fish with other villagers for their own basic needs, and as they say: on the river there is no use for money.

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    In the old times, most fishermen had more than 10 birds on their fishing boat, all of which had been raised and tended personally by them, all the way from a single egg to a fearless fishing bird. What’s fascinating is that some bloodlines of birds have been living with the same family for hundreds of years.

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    Yue Ming (75 year old fisherman):

    “… I have been fishing for many years; since I was a kid the birds were my friends. Every morning I would ask them if they slept well and every night I would wish them good dreams…”

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    “… My favorite bird was called “Damao” (Big-Idiot) it was a large bird, big and strong, and while most birds pick fish that are easy to catch, Damao always went for the biggest fish in the river, even if they were too big to even put in it’s mouth. I always had to help him get them out of the water or just made him let go…”

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    After the cultural revolution of the 80's in china, more and more fishermen came to this area to catch the fishes of the river and most Yin-Bou fishermen were pushed aside by the big industrial fishing boats that could collect most of the fishes in the river in a single day.

    “… The water went dark and the fish small. We had no way to feed ourselves. We had to find other ways to put food on the table for our families. I still remember how, just like that, one morning I had no choice but to sell my birds… I had to sell my friends, would you imagine selling your friends?”

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    Now most of the fishermen’s families left the river and moved to the big cities into a different and modern lifestyle. Old masters of the art, like Yue-Ming and his brother, who are the last of their kind, are making a living by presenting their art to others, functioning as small floating museums, and when their children decide to come visit them they entertain them with old fishing stories and take their grandsons to the river for a ride.

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    When I first went to Xing-Ping Village I wanted to document the life of these fishermen in the modern world, one of my intentions was to continue the work I started during the photo project of the Eagle huntress of Mongolia when I set myself to photograph the “Future generation” of these old traditions. I wanted to do the same with the Yin-Bu fishermen of Xing-ping village in China. But, sadly, as I reached the shores of the Li-river and set down to talk with the fishermen I learned that there were  no current successors for this art on the Li-river, fishermen and their families prefer that their children find a new way of living as to not stay behind in the fast growing modern china.

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    And so, many tourists come and go, the river gets darker and darker, fish are hard to come by and this rare glimpse into an ancient and simpler world, where man and nature worked together in beautiful harmony, is almost entirely gone. Fading away into the shadows in the face of modern life.
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    • Cynthia Donaher

      Cynthia Donaher

      Comment Link Saturday, 24 May 2014 12:24

      Your photography is both captivating and beautiful. Each image tells a story and takes you somewhere else. Wonderful!

    • Michelle Loup

      Michelle Loup

      Comment Link Friday, 23 May 2014 11:24

      I do really like the way you use the light of the environment.. it's impressive. I love it.

    • Soizig Aquarelles Peintures

      Soizig Aquarelles Peintures

      Comment Link Thursday, 22 May 2014 10:24

      So wonderful and beautiful !!! and thank you for THE GUARDIAN, ......and congratulations fot these pictures full of sensibility...........

    • Patricia Castillo

      Patricia Castillo

      Comment Link Wednesday, 21 May 2014 09:24

      I am moved by the beauty of the photographs and text. I have a FB page for children and we are dedicating this week to China, I have shared it and I hope many children will get to enjoy it (it is called La biblioteca de Miss McHaggis). Thank you!!

    • Susan Fay

      Susan Fay

      Comment Link Tuesday, 20 May 2014 08:24

      WOWZA! Your eye is exquisite. The images you produce contain a hauntingly beautiful storytelling quality. I find myself thinking about the photos and the people in the images often. WELL DONE!

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