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© Jack Maranbarra/Licenced by Viscopy, 2017

Woven fish trap

Date: c 2004
Overall: 2270 x 490 mm
Medium: Natural fibre
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Copyright: © Jack Maranbarra
Object Name: Fish trap
Object No: 00040032
Place Manufactured:Mumeka

User Terms

    Traditionally, conical fish traps were inserted into barriers of long mats or fences of upright wooden stakes wadded with grass. These barriers diverted fish into the trap. Today fish trap forms are the basis for sculptural works of art.
    SignificanceThe utilitarian purpose of the fish trap is no longer the primary reason for making them as artists use traditional techniques and materials to create contemporary and innovative works of art.
    HistoryFibre has always played a major part in the life of Indigenous Australians – all areas of the continent had fibre traditions, many of which are continued today. Various plant fibres were the most common materials used to make a diverse range of functional items which supported daily activities.

    The Maningrida region is known for its conical fish traps. Traditionally, only men were involved in the construction of the large fish traps, but small children would crawl inside to assist with fixing the inner trap. Now women also sometimes make them.

    The type of fish traps made by Jack Maranbarra were once widely used by the people of the central and western parts of Arnhem Land. These traps are made out of different materials for different purposes. The lighter ones made from pandanus are used for catching smaller fish species, and the sturdy large traps made from vine are for trapping large barramundi and salmon catfish. The traps are inserted into a fence of upright wooden stakes, built across tidal creeks so that when the tide runs out the fish are forced into the trap. Today these traps are rarely used as they have been replaced by nylon fishing lines and nets. Fish traps are still made for sale at the art centre because their sculptural beauty is now appreciated.

    The revival of making of fish traps started in about 2002 in Maningrida and senior fish trap makers George Ganyjibala and Jack Maranbarra led the way in teaching their wives and family members how to make fish traps from jungle vine (Malaisia scandens). Today, many Burarra weavers are making fish traps reminiscent of an ancient tradition combined with contemporary ideas. Fish traps come in many different shapes, sizes and colours as sometimes artists use pandanus leaves rather than jungle vine in their manufacture.

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