Ever wondered why Calicut, with its centuries of contact with the Chinese, did not have a single Chinese net, whereas Chinese net has almost become the mascot of Cochin?
After all, more than Cochin, Calicut and Quilon had longer and more sustained trade relationship with China in the 14th and 15th Centuries. The greatest of Chinese mariners, Zheng He is reputed to have visited Calicut seven times and had even left a memorial plaque to mark his visits. He is believed to have died in Calicut during his seventh visit and his body was buried in the high seas off the coast of Calicut.
Calicut and Panthalayini Kollom were reputed to have had enclaves of Chinese settlers. While Calicut boasts of a Silk Street where the Chinese traders had been peddling their ware, Panthalayini Kollom still has a Silk Bazar where similar trade must have been conducted by the Chinese mariners. Then, there is the evidence of travellers about the existence of Chinibachgan or the Children of the Chinese in Calicut, although there are other interpretations too for the source of the word.
It could also not have been the lack of suitable water bodies for fixing the nets, for the Chaliyar, Akalappuzha and the lagoons of Kadalundi offer locations comparable to the backwaters of Vembanad and Kochi kayal.
Wikipedia suggests that ‘some believe’ that the Chinese nets were introduced into Cochin by Zheng He, the great General of the Ming Dynasty. If so, why did he not introduce the nets into Calicut? More pertinently, did Cochin exist as an important port during Zheng He’s visits?
Chinese fishing nets in Cochin backwaters (courtesy:Wikipedia)
A more plausible explanation has been offered by Deepa Leslie in her article at http://enchantingkerala.org/kerala-articles/chinese-nets.php According to her, it is the Portuguese Casado settlers from Macau who brought this form of fishing into Cochin. She explains further that the names of the various parts of the net currently in use are Portuguese in origin :
The net used for catching the fish is called rede, its edge is borda, the arms of wooden parts which hold the extensive net together is brasao, while the flexible ring on the top on which the entire brasao moves is argola. In addition there are Corda and Pedra for balancing the movement of the net. There is Caluada on which the fishermen moves up and down and the posts which support the entire structure from the river bottom are called Odora.
Incidentally, the Portuguese settlers had also introduced the wok which is called cheenachchatti and the delicacy known among the coastal Christians of Cochin as cheenasampal. Finally, the catch from the Chinese nets when dried is called bakkal (vakkal) which is derived from the Portuguese term ‘Bacalhau’.
As Portuguese settlers ( Casado means ‘married one’) were not welcome in Calicut, the net also did not reach its shores!