Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Punching Pufferfish

"Watch this," says a fisherman, bouncing the belly of a brown fish against the bottom of his boat.
"Ikan bola!"
"Ikan buntal!"
We are eight women in a narrow wooden sampan paddling up a tributary of the River Kapuas in West Kalimantan. "Careful," cautions the passing fisherman. "It's not poisonous to touch, but it will bite."

As a defensive manoeuvre, the pufferfish has engorged on air and is now as round and taut as an orb. It has a rough, white underbelly mottled with tawny rivulets and more intense citrine and brown colouring around its head. Its eyes are creased, its mouth wet and puckered. It looks like a Year of the Pig souvenir.
"They're delicious," says one of the women in our sampan. "The meat is here, in the dark part behind the head." She inserts a thin stick into the fish's mouth. The fish snaps straight through it. She sets the pufferfish on my rucksack and we motor on. Hornbills fly overhead. A stork-billed kingfisher surveys the river from the shadows. Dawn's spectral colours ripen.

With a spit bubble and sudden hiss, the pufferfish deflates a little. Then again: hiss, bubble. The fish deflates to sloppy jelly.

"Will you eat it?"
"I'll release it later," says the woman. She's protected against the Indonesian sun inside a red lumberjack shirt. She pokes the fish's squishiness, then drops it overboard. It floats like a buoy.
Also in the sampan, neat in pink, is Ibu Kades, wife of a Village Chief. She leans over the low hull and recaptures the fish. She smacks it against the boat: thwack, thwack, thwack. The fish inflates fully again. Ibu Kades stands. She tosses the fish high into the morning and with an almighty fist, volleyball serves the pufferfish across the water.

The pufferfish finally sinks below the surface and the women fall asleep.


  1. What a lovely blog. Thanks for sharing your dreamy pictures and words.

  2. Too cool! Love the photos and stories, Melanie. You have a great eye

  3. Thanks for discussing about Puffer Fish. I appreciate your work and this blog post. Great work, keep this carry on. I would like to visit again and like to read some more interesting information.

  4. Hahah funny, tosses and serves pufferfish as a volley ball ..