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uy eromb obman, fish poison

"Fish poison," called uy eromb obman in Olkola, is a way of harvesting fish from a waterhole by using leaves which give off noxious substances when soaked in water. This stuns the fish making them "drunk" so that they float to the surface or onto the bank where they can be collected. Fish collected in this way are safe to eat.

There are two methods of fish poisoning with leaves.

  1. With soapy tree, soapy wattle, Acacia holosericea, fish poison tree, Acacia ditricha and freshwater mangrove, gather the leaves and put them into a dilly bag. Rub the bag in the water until a soapy foam comes out.
  2. With coolibah, the gums, the bloodwoods and silver-leaved paperbark, gather a pile of the leaves together. (People often cut down entire limbs from a tree for this purpose.) Use leaves from different types of trees. Throw them into the waterhole. The leaves may be tied into bundles to be throw in the water. The water then turns black. This is the harder method of fish poisoning since there is a lot of work involved in gathering all the leaves.
Only certain trees can be used for fish poison, and they are well known. (The appropriate trees are listed below.) Lofty Yam:
This one here we use 'em, for poison fish. And we get root. Oh, there's a tree there, I can see from that shadow, see, this tea tree here, that's arrgnga [Silver-leaved paperbark, Melaleuca argentea] this one here. Chuck 'em all along there, in the water here, right down there, break all that limb.
Certain sites are favoured. Fish poisoning becomes an important social event with people traveling over large distances and congregated at specific water holes to do the poisoning together. One such site is stormbird story place in the Alice and Mitchell Rivers National Park. Lofty Yam:
Call everybody, all the people, up there, Drumduff way. Poison this now. We come here, camp here, eat anything, eat fish. That's how we all come here, every time. Come here, camp, fishing, turtle, all come. That how we call him Fish Hole. In lango they call him ignganhdh. Uy eromb obman. Yeah, well, that's poison - chuck 'em in the water. Uy (fish), you kill em, uy, make fish float then. That's how we call 'em, eromb. All this bush now, eromb, bushes. Eromb obman, chuck 'em.
There is a great deal of ritual surrounding this method of fish poisoning. For example, the men work remain separated from the women and children. Also, since it may take several hours for the leaves to have their effect, it is usually left overnight or longer and the old men wait by the water in the morning. They sing out to signal that the waterhole is ready to be harvested, and go down to collect their fish first. Everyone else may go down after them. Lofty Yam:
They sing him, old paten. Watch everybody, not to catch any of them fish, they don't like. They catch 'em fishing on that fish, they get alive, they never show up again. They get walk all that way for nothing. That feller still singing, watch everybody, not to take them fish before time, you know. Take 'em right time.

Leaves Used for Fish Poison

  1. Soapy tree, Alphitonia sp.?
  2. Soapy wattle or fish poison wattle, Acacia holosericea
  3. Fish poison tree, Acacia ditricha (Note: This tree has the same name in Olkola and Oykangand as giddee-giddee, Abrus precatorius, but they are in fact different trees. Giddee-giddee is not used for fish poison.)
  4. Freshwater mangrove, Barringtonia acutangula
  5. Coolibah, Eucalyptus microtheca
  6. Cabbage gum, Eucalyptus confertiflora and Ghost gum, Eucalyptus papuana
  7. Bloodwood, Eucalyptus sp.
  8. Long-fruited bloodwood, Eucalyptus polycarpa
  9. Silver-leaved paperbark, Melaleuca argentea