The River Irrawaddy And The Lost Rare Fish

As a Myanmar saying goes, “Wa-so-Wa-gaung Yay-Phaung-phaung,” (English equivalent is “High rise of water in rivers and tributaries in the months of July and August in Myanmar”), the water level of the River Irrawaddy is used to rise in the two months.

During the period as mentioned above when Irrawaddy’s water level was high, from the mouth of the river where it reaches with the sea, a flock of large fish with the length of five or six feet used to appear and swim up-stream. It used to happen every year centuries ago. But now, if it is said such things happened until the last 10 years, it would be like a legend.

The said flock of large fish swimming up-stream every year in the time of heavily raining period really existed, and such flocks were known and recorded together with the Kyaung-daw-yar Pagoda Festival yearly held in Pwint Phyu of Magwe Region. The big fish were also called ‘Kyaung –daw-yar Pagoda Fish”, which are much clever and familiar with people.

The fish used to enter Mone Creek, when reaching the point where Irrawaddy and Mone meet, after having travelled up-stream along Irrawaddy. They used today at Bu-thae port in Mone Creek where Kayung-daw-yar Pagoda exists, for three months of Buddhist Lent.

However, it was unfortunate that, since about 2010, the fish flock disappeared. Since then they did not come to Bu-Thae Port!

There in the Kyuagn-daw-yar Area did have a number of firm records of the relationships between the Kyaung-daw-yar Pagoda Festival and the flock. Whenever it is said about the Pagoda Festival, always and inseparably remembered are the large fish.

Another wonderful thing is that the fish were fed by the visitors friendly holding them in their arms. Other peculiar thing has been that for the whole three months period of Buddhist Lent, the fish stayed there. They, during the period, stayed at the port, being well acquainted with the local folks and the visitors as well. When the visitors were going to the feed them, the fish made themselves ready, wide opening their mouths.

“When the Pagoda fish are present, no one is worried for falling accidently into the water if it happened the fish would solvate the fallen by their bodied cooperatively not to drown,” said Ko Myo Kyaw, a local folk.

One of their objectives of the visitors is to be photographed with the fish, or holding them in their arms, or feeding them with food what they like.

Daw Ah Mar Kyi, another local folk said, “…the fish come up to the surface of the water to be seen, and open their mouths until the hands that feed them withdraw and when they are kindly held up by the visitors, they keep their fangs well attached to their bodies lest the holders he harmed.”

There is a legend concerning the Kyaung-daw-yar Pagoda’s history to which accompanied has been the fish. In it did the fish take an important role. It is as follows:-

In the time of Lord Buddha, there were two brothers, the elder being a hermit, and the younger a merchant. One day, the merchant fortunately arrived at an island where sandalwood grew thickly. The wood’s value being so high that the merchant filled them and carried up-stream along Irrawaddy, the ogres who guarded the wood followed suit, hampering him. Under such circumstances, the younger reported the incident to the elder, and the latter got an idea to build a monastery for Lord Buddha coming to the place. He took a vow to build it with the sandalwood posts.

The idea was materialized, and to ogres had the opportunity to have a great meritorious deed relating to the wood and, it is said they became the fish and again had the opportunity to see and pay homage to Lord Buddha. That is why, it is widely believed by the local people that their descendants came to the place every Buddhist Lent for keeping Sabbath.

U Myo Kyaw, a local folk said, “When one day or two after the full waning day of Waso falls, they (the fish) swam into Mone Creek, and no sooner had they entered than did they show themselves in flock on the water surface.

Though the Pagoda fish in flock rose to the surface and had the ford the visitors fed them, much acquainted to the feeders, they never appear on Sabbath days and would not take any ford fed to them.

“They can be seen the whole day everyday except Sabbaths. On Sabbaths, they would come and eat what they are fed until 12:00 noon, and after that would disappear, believed to have Sabbath,” recounted U Tin Win, one of the Pagoda Trustees cum the in charge of Fish-feeding port.

The River Irrawaddy And The Lost Rare Fish

Another local folk, U Htay Aung said, “The flock of thousands of fish headed by a larger one of which head is gold-plated (named by the local folks, “Gan-da-ma”) entered Mone Creek, showing themselves on the surface, proving that they have arrived. “At the end of the flock was a large fish with pearl white color, jumping above the surface time and again, informing she is the last one of the flock, and no one is after them,” added U Htay Aung.

Unfortunately in 2008, the flock arrived at the beginning of the Pagoda Festival, without the two- the Gan-da-ma , and the Pearl. U Tin Win, a referring to his records, said “The number of fish in the flock dropped nearly half, and of them that of large ones also dropped.” According to him, it was learnt that the year 2008 was the worst they had to face, and it was of the saddest.”

By 2010, almost all of the flock failed to arrive there. Some of the local people said that they could see only one or two of such large fish, but the visitors most of whom had wished to feed the fish as in the past, could not do what they wanted to as they did not have the chance to see them at the very time.

The local people refer to the fish as ‘Nga-htwe’. However, last 40 years ago, a fish study team of Europe arrived in the area to find the fish’s genetics family, and at the end of the study, the team revealed that the species of the fish found there was the rare one still unknown in the world. It was stated by the Abbot (Buddhist monk) of Kyaung-daw-yar.

The large fish closely related to the history of the Pagoda are regarded as Pagoda fish by the local folks. But in reality the fish are like Salmons, and when they are about to deliver eggs they instinctively swim up-stream from the river’s mouth and finally enter Mone Creek where it reaches Irrawaddy for delivering eggs there.

The Kyaung-daw-yar presiding monk said, “They came to Mone Creek, delivered eggs, and when eggs bore fingerlings, they swam together with the fingerlings down-stream, and when the next season came they again swam up and did the same as done in the previous year.” The monk added, “The researcher who came to the area and studied the fish explained to me the regular come and go of them.”

Why did the very area species of fish used to flock together in thousands disappear?

The local people of Kyaung-daw-yar area made different criticism on the gradual disappearance of the fish.

“The fish cannot be forced by power. I thought it was in 2008 that there was an incident. It was that they be fed just after a person in high power would have fed them. When the VIP arrived at the port no fish was found,” said U Htay Aung.

Some local people argued that the fish no longer swam up-stream because fishing nets were cast across the Irrawaddy as well as in Mone Creek. U Myo Kyaw, a local folk of Kyaung-daw-yar said, “The fish known if the nets were cast, and in the past fishers were not allowed to cast fishing nets in the creek during the Pagoda Festival period. Now the fishers might perhaps obey what they were told at first, by later, they recast their nets and consequently the fish did not come.”

The River Irrawaddy And The Lost Rare Fish

Some assumed that the fish no longer came to the place since fishing was done all seasons, casting fishing nets, using the method of electric shocking, and that being so the Pagoda fish began to be hampered to come. U Htay Aung explained, “The fish could feel electric shocks even from a considerable distance very well and so they didn’t come as soon as they known there come such shocks.”

Others remarked that the main cause of the fish keeping themselves away Mone Creek was that there built were the two dams namely Mone and Kyee-on-Kyee-wa at the upper reaches of the creek. Because of the existence of the dams, the water level of the creek got low at the creek water got warm, and that the fish did not like the situation.

U Than Hlaing, another local folk reasoned why the fish no longer came to Kyaung-daw-yar. He pointed out that in the past the fish feeding port had been along the creek where only sand and the bank of the creek were available, and that the port was rebuilt with brick benches and concrete floors that the fish did not like as their wombs were hurt with the concrete constructions.

In addition, said U Htay Aung, “In the past, the fish were fed with upper Myanmar traditional puffs of buns which are called Min-ku-tha or Htan-thee-mont. Nevertheless, the Pagoda Trust no longer allow the feeding of the fish with such ford as said above, and visited allowed only chaff-balls to feed them.

Daw Hla Kyi, 75 year old women of Magwe related of the past, “In our time, fish food were only Min-ku-tha mont or Htan-thee-mont, and they liked them. When the monts were thrown into the water, they floated, and the fish appeared on the water surface to eat them, raising themselves to the surface to show they were present. But now, when the chaff-balls were thrown into the water, some of them sank while others might hit their heads, and they got frightened.”

Anyway, since 2010 or so, the fish did not come to Kyaung-daw-yar. They disappeared at the time of the Pagoda Festival. U Than Hlaing, a local folk sighed, “The young visitors to the kyaung-daw-yar Pagoda Festival are to be embarrassed, we feeling unhappy that they could not see them though they wanted to.”

U thant Zin, the in charge of Ayeyarwady West Development Organization (AWDO) recommended the European Fish Watching Team’s assumption that it was the nature of the Pagoda fish which came up along the River Irrawaddy when its tide getting high until they reached Mone Creek into which they entered for deliverying eggs for their species reproduction and further existence. He continued, “I think that what the local folks remarked why the fish become absent there is 70 percent correct.”

Regarding the absence of the fish in the creek, Mone, U Thant Zin of AWDO told us, “The water-ways of rivers and creeks couldn’t be maintained naturally. And consequently the water-ways became narrow, and changed, banks eroded, and in addition, the aquatic creatures got extinct, resulting in the natural environment failing and its ecology ruining, and those are the reasons why the fish no longer came to the place where they were once much happy to get him.”

He continued, “The administration of the river has been somewhat weak. There are weakness in controlling of the law and regulation breakers who do not respect and obey what they had to strictly, casting of fishing nets even during the period when fingerlings start moving, using the way of fishing by electric shocks, and failing to strongly take legal actions on the said violation of existing laws and regulations by the authorizing. In consequences of such failures, fish species will extinct,” he remarked.

U Thant Zin’s criticism on the matter is that the failures happened as a result of economic failures. He pointed out, “In the past, no fisher did not cast fishing nets across water-courses. They have understood such casting must not be done. They even used to free big fish when they were caught. But now, their financial status lowered and couldn’t shun such acts as casting nets across the water-ways, and then traditional practices in their profession were abandoned.”

The River Irrawaddy And The Lost Rare Fish

Whatever the opinions may be in connection with the fish, it has been for 10 years since 2010 that they disappeared. Yet, the facts about losing of the large fish is not seriously regarded either by the government department concerned or by the natural environment protection organizations, nor related or discussed of the matter.

Because of the situation, the local folks are only able to tell the visitors about the Pagoda Fish and their lovely behavior and fine figure during the time of Pagoda Festival.

However, the local people went to the place where the fish used to start entering Mone, welcoming their good friends. It is, in fact, their traditional character still observed.

Though it is well known to them that the fish would not re-appear, the local folks at the Bu-thae port would be waiting and watching to warmly welcome the Kyaung-daw-yar Pagoda Fish as if they would come. However keenly looking over for the fish, no one can see them. They have unfortunately disappeared!

Report by Magway Post