The Unique Fisherpeople of Inle Lake, Myanmar

The man stands on one leg on the flat stern of his small wood boat, wraps the other leg around his upright rowing oar, and starts paddling in a circular motion with his leg. It is a unique and oddly graceful sight to see the unique rowing style of the fishermen of Inle Lake.

Traditional fishing on Inle Lake
Traditional fishing on Inle Lake

Because the boats are so low to the waterline, they need to stand up to see where they are going, and also to spot all the weeds just under the water line. This rowing style also leaves their hands free for fishing. Apparantly only the men do this, the women sit on the stern and paddle with their single oar.

Traditional fishing on Inle Lake
Traditional fishing on Inle Lake

The fishing also involves hand nets, and large conical wooden framed nets, about 2 metres in length. Other than the fishing boats, the main form of transport on the lake are larger longer boats with a motor on the back – similar to long tails in Thailand, without such a long tail! These are used by locals and tourists alike, although the tourist boats are easy to spot as they have seats in them and rugs to keep off the cold and/or the water spray, while the local boats were more basic. All boat transport stops at night, as none of the boats have lights.

Traditional fishing on Inle Lake
Traditional fishing on Inle Lake

The freshwater lake is the second largest in Myanmar, at about 116 sqm, with floating garden agriculture on the western side of the lake taking up about half as much space again. The floating water agriculture has developed over the last century in particular. The local people harvest lots of seaweed from the lake, and then tie the seaweed all together to make floating platforms on which fruit and vegetables are grown, particularly tomatoes.

floating agriculture on Inle Lake
floating agriculture on Inle Lake

The platforms are so robust that the farmers can stand on them to tend to their crops. The combination of water and lake weed makes a very nutrient rich environment, supporting intensive agriculture. In other words, it’s not difficult to eat well around Inle Lake.

One thought on “The Unique Fisherpeople of Inle Lake, Myanmar”

  1. Most transportation on the lake is traditionally by small boats, or by somewhat larger boats fitted with ‘long-tail’ motors that are necessary because of the usual shallowness of the lake. Local fishermen are known for practicing a distinctive rowing style which involves standing at the stern on one leg and wrapping the other leg around the oar. This unique style evolved for the reason that the lake is covered by reeds and floating plants making it difficult to see above them while sitting. Standing provides the rower with a view beyond the reeds. However, the leg rowing style is only practiced by the men. Women row in the customary style, using the oar with their hands, sitting cross legged at the stern.

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