Fiji Sun

A little fish called Cigana


It was about two weeks ago. I was lazily flicking through Facebook. I was catching up on the happenings of other people’s lives and vainly, checking on the number of likes I got for some recent postings.

I came across a posting by one of my aunts. It instantly snared my attention. There were some recent photograph­s of her. In one, she had the biggest smile on her slightly sunburnt face, and she had ‘Cigana’ in her hands and in buckets on the boat she was on. Another one showed her in the kitchen, turning the ‘Cigana’ into a scrumptiou­s meal. I felt jealousy and happiness simultaneo­usly.

Let me explain. I was jealous because my aunt had such great fun that day catching something that my family looks forward to every year. I sadly missed out this year. And I was happy because she and my other family members caught bucket loads of it. This means I rightfully get a share of it when I return to Sigatoka.


So what’s this ‘Cigana’ that gets all the Sigatoka people excited once a year?

It’s a little fish (about 1-2 inches long) that appears seasonally, usually during the early part of the year. And it travels in schools from the sea, through the Sigatoka River mouth and heads upriver. As it travels upriver, we catch them with our special fine meshed nets.

The caught ‘Cigana’ then make its way to our kitchens, where they are turned into delicious, memorable meals for our families and friends.

As a child, these little fishes were just known as ‘Cigana’. And they were only caught in the Sigatoka River. It had its own season. And the telling signs of their presence in the river was the many flying

Terns picking off the surface of the water. Once the birds were spotted doing this, my family got into the ‘taga Cigana’ mode.

In Nadroga, ‘taga Cigana’ means to ‘catch Cigana with a net’. At the riverbank, we

would wait patiently, like hunting herons, for the little schools of ‘Cigana’ to rise to the surface of the water. Then with our nets, we scoop the aggregated ‘Cigana’ and empty them into buckets, repeating the process. Sometimes, the aggregatio­ns are large and can fill the entire net.

Our family could spend the entire day just catching ‘Cigana’.


It was at university, that I got to learn a bit more about the biology of ‘Cigana’.

I learnt that they are immature fries of some freshwater fishes. They finished their larval stage of developmen­t out at sea before journeying upriver as immature fishes to complete their developmen­t into adulthood. They are generally referred to as Whitebait.

I also learnt that other countries have their own version of whitebait. And the catching of these fishes is called whitebaiti­ng. This knowledge I did share with my family. And they amused me by saying how smart I was. I know they were pulling my leg. For them, the ‘Cigana’ will always be ‘Cigana’, despite whatever the outside world calls them. They will always travel up the Sigatoka River every year and our people will always be ready at the banks to catch them. And they will always be a delicacy in our Sigatoka households.


Such traditions, add richness to our lives. They give us memories, a sense of belonging and a deep connection to the places we call home. They make us territoria­l too because we are of the place and know it’s workings and secrets much better.

And we take great pride in what we feel makes us a unique group of people. It’s only natural. Times have changed though. And some of our beloved traditions, like ‘taga Cigana’, have been put to the test.

It’s a difficult test and one that could see this tradition lost forever. How this tradition fares in the future are strongly dependent on how we continue to treat our land and sea. The story of the ‘Cigana’ and us is not new. It has history. It has connection. It talks about relationsh­ips. And most importantl­y, it should have a future.

This rests in our hands. I’m looking forward to my next ‘taga Cigana’ session in the new year, God willing. Stay safe.

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 ??  ?? Aunt Nisha on the family boat on the Sigatoka River with her catch of Cigana.
Aunt Nisha on the family boat on the Sigatoka River with her catch of Cigana.

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