Kamongo

Ark of taste
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The marbled lungfish (Protopterus aethiopicus), known as kamongo among the Luo, is a freshwater fish in the order Lepidosireniformes found throughout the waterways of Central and East Africa. It has a long, tapered body and a large, flattened head. It’s back is dark gray, while the belly is lighter. Dark spots are present on the entire surface of the body. It is a fish of considerable size, reaching a length of up to 2 meters and a weight of 17 kilograms, though most specimens do not exceed 130 centimeters in length. The marbled lungfish feeds mostly on mollusks, small fish, and aquatic insects. Young lungfish are exclusively insectivorous. This species lives in shallow waters near the shores of lakes, in swampy areas, and in seasonal tributaries. It survives in hostile environments thanks its ability to breathe air. During the dry season, lungfish remain buried in the mud to avoid dehydration, breathing through a small hole.

Lungfish is usually consumed fresh, although it can be preserved with different techniques. Once caught, the fish is eviscerated, filleted, and sliced. It can be preserved by salting, hot smoking, or through frying the slices in vegetable oil. The latter technique is more common in the northern part of the Rift Valley. The fish slices are then used to prepare soups, stewed, or fried again and served with starchy foods (ugali, porridge, etc.) and leafy vegetables.

In Lake Baringo (a rift lake located between lakes Victoria and Turkana), marbled lungfish are caught using long lines with multiple hooks, with pieces of fish (usually tilapia) as bait. The lines are anchored to a rock on the shore and kept near the lakebed thanks to small stone weights positioned at regular intervals. The fishermen work individually on small boats built from ambatch wood (Aeschynomene elaphroxylon). The lines are put in place during the afternoon and hauled in the following morning. Although not native to Lake Baringo, marbled lungfish is an important food and economic resource for local communities around the lake. Introduced during the 1970s, this species began to be fished more frequently in the following decade. At first, the fishermen of the Ilchamus indigenous community (the historical inhabitants of Lake Baringo’s shores) captured it with the same nets employed to catch tilapia. With the migration of Luo fishermen from Western Kenya, a change in the fishing technique was introduced and now long lines are common in Lake Baringo, as they are in Lake Victoria. The interaction between Ilchamus and Luo fishers favored the introduction of kamongo into the local community, which previously had almost no interest in eating this fish. Over time, the consumption of marbled lungfish has also spread beyond the fishing communities, guaranteeing a source of animal protein to local populations and therefore improving (or at least changing) the local diet. In addition to its food importance, this fish represents an important source of income for the lake communities: Kamongo is sold locally or in the urban markets of nearby counties, including Nakuru.

In recent years the marbled lungfish population—along with populations of other fish species that constitute the basis of local fisheries—has been decreasing due to fishing pressure and a lack of adequate regulations. Additionally, increasing urbanization near Lake Baringo has led to water contamination and an acceleration of the eutrophication process.

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Territory

StateKenya
Region

Nyanza

Rift Valley

Production area:Lake Baringo, Lake Victoria

Other info

Categories

Fish, sea food and fish products

Indigenous community:Ilchamus, Luo