The Last of the Fishnet Weavers

One of the highlights from the previous cover story on Kuala Sepetang is my exclusive one-on-one with 71-year-old Song Lian Kow, a former fisherman turned self-taught fishnet weaver.

Not one to rest on his laurels, the baby boomer weaves and repairs fishnets entirely by hand after retiring from fishing at the age of 60.

During our encounter, he was moving around barefoot as his nimble fingers and fine eyesight were immersed in net-making, a time-consuming craft that requires an unyielding degree of patience. Mountains of nets and threads, all awaiting his expertise, are kept at the driveway of his humble abode from where he works. His customers would provide the materials while he would impart the craftsmanship.

“I learn by observing and emulating my fellow fishermen for more than 10 years. Meanwhile, my father chop up mangrove trunks for a living,” the amiable Song shared.

He works daily from day to night as fishnets as long as 18 fathoms would take about a week to complete. “The nets are very durable unless they meet with the sharp rostrum of the prawns or claws of the crab. Getting caught in wood causes tears too. The ripped nets would then be sold as netting for poultry,” he explained.

“No one is inheriting my weaving skill. I have no one to teach. Fishing is a difficult job anyway with its decreasing profits. Hence, the younger ones prefer to work in Singapore,” he lamented.

What does he like the most about living in peaceful Kuala Sepetang? This was his reply: “I am used to being here. Every morning, I enjoy a stroll in the mangrove forest before my weaving begins.”

His handiwork includes the wide-mesh fishnet incorporated as chairs and railings in The Happy 8 Retreat @ Kuala Sepetang, as a symbol of the livelihood of the people there.

“I am constantly having too much work on my hands, it is never-ending!” Song remarked, his smile telling me that he is one contented retiree.

Mei Kuan

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