I’m in remote jungle, roughly 40km from the border with Thailand and my three-day visit to a rural Malaysian village is getting very real and exciting.
The setting is out of this world: a sea of green, clipped by bright blue skies, and dense palm-oil trees and water-logged paddy fields stretching for as far as the eye can see. To be honest, I’ve only seen such scenes in movies and it’s quite awe-inspiring.
The rice crop in the village of Seterpa is not due for another two months and the farmers have turned to fishing the paddy fields in the hope of raising some much-needed income.
I’ve been looking forward to meeting the fishermen of the fields for days. They represent the real Kelantan, the remote northern state where the people’s strict Islamic faith saw them withdraw from national politics 18 years ago.
The people here are serious about religion and even more serious about utilising the resources around them. Whether it’s the bananas and coconuts in the trees, the pandan, lemongrass and ginger which sprout in abundance or, in this case, the fish which populate the rice fields, it can all be used. It’s the epitome of a self-sufficient population.
The fishermen’s methods are basic and traditional, unchanged for centuries, carrying out the most simple but essential tasks of all – hunting and gathering. It’s a job actually stitched into their DNA. These craggy, weather-beaten fishermen simply slam an upturned, wooden basket through the water and mud in the hope of imprisoning several catfish at a time. They then reach down through an opening in the basket and remove the fish by hand. The catch is then transferred to another basket, slung casually over their shoulders.