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Foto 19 -Jacira sorrindo_edited.jpg

Between those who have already arrived and those who are now arriving

I met Jacyra in December 2022. In search of octopus fisherwomen, I was walking on the Grande, the last coral reef before Taipu de Fora beach. I saw Jacyra walking alone among the corals.  In one hand, she was carrying a wire with two octopuses hanging from it. In other hand, she had three iron rods with a rounded end that I later found out were called bicheiros. I approached Jacyra and asked if I could see the octopus, to which she replied with a smile. She lifted the wire up to show me the octopus. Jacyra is a woman of few words. Unlike all the other fisherwomen I met in Barra Grande, Jacyra speaks little and prefers to fish alone.

Jacyra with the octopus

Always well equipped, Jacyra goes fishing wearing tight-fitting long pants, a long-sleeved blouse with UV protection, a large hat protecting her face, head and neck, and rain boots. As Jacyra told me, she was not born in the village, but on a farm called Ingazeira, which belonged to her father. The farm is about 20km away, still on the Maraú peninsula. There was a river that passed through the farm, in which she and her family caught fish with rods, as well as crabs and aratus that they caught in a can. She moved to Barra Grande 32 years ago, when she was pregnant with her first daughter, in search of work, as the village began to grow and job opportunities related to tourism arose. She and her husband moved to a farm to be a caretaker. It was there that she saw a woman who was always passing by with octopuses that she was fishing and asked her to teach her how to capture them.

As she tells:


“A mulher não queria me levar não, disse que eu ia desmaiar porque estava grávida, mas eu disse que eu não sou mulher de desmaiar a toa não, e aí ela me levou. Aí eu fui aprendendo e depois andei com minhas próprias pernas.”

“The woman didn't want to take me with her, she said I was going to faint because I was pregnant.  But I said that I'm not a woman to faint for nothing, and so she took me. Then I learned and then I walked with my own two legs.”

Jacyra - Fisherwoman

I walked with my own two feet

Jacyra is currently 64 years old and lives on her own land, located on the main avenue of the village. Her land has housing for her entire family: her 5 children, her ex-husband, and 13 grandchildren. There are 4 houses of her children, who already have their own families, the house of her ex-husband, with whom she says lives in peace despite the divorce that happened 5 years ago, and her house, which she shares with her youngest daughter, her two granddaughters and an adopted daughter that she "took in" from her brother to raise when his ex-wife left him. Jacyra is retired from the Maraú fishermen's colony. She raised all her children with her fishing, she says. She has always had to supplement her income with odd jobs, cleaning, and cooking in others homes and for tourists. But her main activity has always been fishing. Especially now, since she is retired and her children are grown, she has the financial conditions and the available time to go fishing every day.

Selling the octopus

Currently, Jacyra's fishing priority is feeding herself, her children, grandchildren, and friends. The day I met her was a match day for Brazil in the 2022 World Cup, and she told me that she was catching an octopus to make a vinaigrette and eat it with a beer with her friends at game time. But as she told me more than once, she fishes because she loves to fish. Even if she doesn't catch anything, she always goes:

“I love fishing!”

Once, when we went to catch octopuses together, she offered me what she had caught at the end of the day. With this gesture, I understood that the octopus, as a final product, was not the most important thing. The preparation to go fishing, the going there, walking in the water, identifying the holes, looking for the octopuses outside the hole, capturing them, is as important as the final product.

I like catching octopus

Jacyra once had a small restaurant in the village, with the octopus vinaigrette as a signature dish. However, with the pandemic, she had to close the doors. After, she was not able to reopen, since it was too much work for her alone. Her sons and daughters have other jobs. Her two daughters, who studied up to high school, are teachers and cooks at the municipal school in town. Her other children, who, as she says, “left school as quickly as they could,” work in construction and as fishermen. Jacyra would have liked to have studied more, but in the place where she was born, there was no school. She only started her schooling at the age of 32, when she moved to Barra. However, her duties as a mother, added to the sporadic jobs of cleaning and cooking, did not allow her to go beyond elementary school.

During the months I was in contact with Jacyra, the fishing fluctuated. There were moons when she didn't catch any octopus, while in others she caught 4 or 5 kg of octopus. According to her theory, if one moon is very good, the next one will not be. The opposite is true too:  if one moon was very bad for fishing, the next one will surely be better. This can probably be explained by the octopus' reproduction and growth cycle. She explained to me that an octopus grows fast. When she sees a small octopus in a hole, in 2 or 3 moons it will be big. 

Jacyra does not catch small octopuses, as she explains:

“It's not worth it, after cleaning there's almost nothing left, and also, let them grow, right?! If not, if you never put back to where you take from, it’s over!”

When following the octopus fisherwomen, I noticed that there is a common sense that catching small octopuses is not good. In a way, it is necessary to maintain the animal's reproductive cycle so that there is a balance and that the form of fishing itself does not become extinct. However, I also witnessed some fisherwomen who, on days of great difficulty in fishing, ended up catching smaller octopuses or, when hooking them by mistake, not knowing they were small, then "had" to catch them, as they would die anyway.

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Jacyra in the coral reefs

The care Jacyra takes in capture is also evident when it comes to “hooking the octopus”, an expression used for the moment when the hook is stuck in the animal. Jacyra told me that it's always better to hook the “ray” of the octopus, that is, one of its tentacles, since it's better that way to sell. In fact, when I learned how to clean the octopus, I understood that when the head is “hooked,” the octopus gets a stain on its flesh that can be less attractive for sale. On the days we went fishing together, Jacyra would give me a ride on her ATV. We'd meet early, according to the low tide schedule, and head to one or another reef. Her destination decision was based on some parameters: If it was the first day she went on that tide, she liked going to Bombaça, which, as she told me, is usually good. However, depending on the number of people who were out there fishing, she decided whether or not to walk to one side or the other, looking for where it seemed emptier.

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There is a certain code of conduct in octopus fishing. When someone or a group is fishing on a part of the reef, those who arrive after must direct themselves to other nearby corals. However, this is not always the case.  The women told me that they often felt disrespected by men who do not follow this behavioral convention. Another element that played into deciding which part of the reef to fish at was due to the history. That is, if she went the day before to that coral, how good or bad the fishing was will shape her destination. As well as, if on the previous moon, she saw many small octopuses on that coral, she will return on the next moon to find them and see if they are bigger. Jacyra identified the size of octopuses by the holes in which they made their homes, and on our walks through the corals in search of octopuses, she showed me many small octopus holes, which she did not even try to explore, she just pointed them out so that I could observe how to recognize them, and continued on in search of larger octopuses.

Catching octopus

Octopus fisherwomen in Barra Grande are able to recognize and memorize hundreds of holes in the corals they fish. They can, two or three moons later, remember the exact location of the holes where there were small octopuses, or those that housed ones they could not "hook" in the last moon because the octopus was hiding or was not at home when they came by. Identifying an octopus hole requires skill. Despite it being explained to us that finding them was related to seeing little piles of shells or the remains of crabs at the entrances to the holes, even after 8 months in the field, we could not identify whether a hole was indeed inhabited by an octopus or not.

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Foto 23 - Corais.JPG

Coral reefs

Jacyra says that the number of octopus has decreased considerably in recent years. She attributes this to the number of divers who have increased in the region and are increasingly better equipped, establishing an unfair competition between her, on foot with 3 bicheiros, and them, with masks, fins, and equipment that allow them to dive and catch the octopuses before they even reach the corals. This also prevents them from reproducing, since, as she says:

“Octopuses lay eggs in the water before they reach the corals, but if they are caught there, they cannot lay them, and then nothing arrives here.”


que não precisa disputar com os mergulhadores.

Jacyra says the summer months are the best months for fishing, as the water is clear making it easier to see the holes and the octopus. During winter, however, the water is cloudy from the rains, and in addition to making visibility more difficult, octopuses do not come to the corals when the water is fresh from the rains. The problem is that the best time to fish, during the summer months, is also the period with the highest number of tourists and divers. So, despite being more difficult, she still finds winter better for fishing, since she doesn't have to compete for space. We spent about 4 hours walking through the corals in search of octopuses. Jacyra carried a small backpack, with a small bottle of water, a plastic bag to store the octopuses on the way back, and some money that she sometimes used to put gas in the ATV. The simplicity of octopus fishing seems to make this type of fishing accessible, depending only on someone to teach you, in addition to time to fish and some other form of income, in case the fishing is not plentiful. After fishing, she says she gets home, cleans the octopuses, freezes them, and then waits for people to call her asking if she has any to sell. She doesn't need to advertise. She says that she never had so many that they could spoil but that the opposite has happened. People look for her wanting to buy some and she doesn't have enough to sell. Many of the local restaurants have to buy from as far away as Ilhéus and even in Canavieiras

Jacyra’s octopuses

Unlike the other octopus fisherwomen, born and raised there in Barra Grande, and who are kin to one another, even if distantly, Jacyra occupies a more ambiguous position. Despite all her years of residence, and even though there is a certain degree of kinship since Jacyra's daughter is married to Marlita's son, who is Iracema's sister and Chica's cousin, she is not considered nativa by the rest of the group of fisherwomen. Nonetheless, she is known and respected by all, despite the fact that  they don't often fish together. Based on this and on other conversations, kinship relationships in Barra Grande are not directly linked to ties of affinity and/or consanguinity. To be a relative, and to share the fishing, women must have grown up together. However, solitary fishing is not a problem for Jacyra, who claims that she has always done it that way, and that she prefers it that way. Her family memories are linked to fishing in the river on her father's farm and are not linked to her current fishing practice like some of the other women in Barra. The farm where she was raised still exists and some of her brothers live there. Her parents' house, she says, is abandoned. She would like to renovate it. She has emotional ties to the place. But her and her brothers dont have the money to do it. Jacyra and her relatives' relationship with the land also suggest the ways in which her priorities are not based on capitalist principles, such as economic ascension. Although she and her brothers live in very rustic and precarious houses, they own land that is worth a lot of money in the current real estate market in the region. They are not considering selling it. The relationship with land is guided by affective bonds, and the way of life, which are not financially replaceable.

Lia e Miracy
Loloca Bené e Marisa
Foto 42 - Samburá.JPG
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