Link to more information about Brunei Darussalam


the traditional fish-trap

Marine and freshwater fishing has been part of man's sources of food since prehistoric times. A host of equipment, ranging from simple but effective spears and hooks to traps, tackles and nets, have been employed to catch fish, crabs, prawns, lobsters and other edible creatures available in such places as the seas, rivers, streams and lakes.

In the days of yore, freshwater fishing was as popular as the marine kind in Brunei Darussalam. This was because a lot of families, most of them farmers, had their homes within easy reach of rivers, streams, lakes and the like to ensure not only abundant fishing grounds but also ready water supply and means of travelling by boat from one location to another.

Fig.1 Rambat is a casting net, which is weighted with lead pieces at the bottom, for catching prawns or fish in shallow as well as deep waters

Fig.2 Kail is a simple tackle made up of a hook or barb, a line and the flexible but tough stem of belubu, which is a member of the Salacca palm. A woman is seen here angling

They invented many implements, which have survied to this day, to help them catch the bounteous fish, giant prawns, crabs and others found inland waters. The ones that quickly came to mind are sangkap (a type of spear), rambat or jala (casting net), kail (a type of tackle), penyiut or sauk (long-handled net), bintur (a type of lift-net specially for catching crabs and prawns), selambau (a large drawnet), rawai (a stretched line with baited hooks), andang (stretched or buoyed net) and bubu (fish trap). Needless to say most if not all of the known fishing-gear, including the ones mentioned here, are just as suitable for the saltwater. But it is certain that most of the earlier devices were created by inland fishermen.

Fig.3 Fresh water prawns, which can grow to enormous size, abound in Brunei waters

Of course, bubu is the most advantageous because, being a kind of trap. It is designed to work without attendance. Thus a number of them can be set at the same time over a large area. Another advantage is that they can operate best in shallow waters, doing away with the necessity of using a boat or a canoe.

The bubu is made of bamboo, with rattan rings as frames. It is shaped like a barrel but tapered towards the end to resemble a cone. Its mouth is fitted with a separat funnel entrance that allows the fish or prawns to pass through with ease in one direction only.

Fig.4 A funnel entrance, which allows the fish to go in one way is skilfully made as a separate item that must fit well into the mouth of each bubu

SkilledIt measures anything from 45 centimeters (18 inches) to 240 centimeters (96 inches) or more in length. Its girth also varies from 60 centimetres to a few 100 centimetres.

Fig.5 Opening of bubu

To construct a bubu, the bamboo stalks are split and made into flat, ring-finger-sized sticks, the number and length being dependent upon the dimensions of the proposed fish-trap. The rattan rings, which determine the girth and hold the bamboo sticks together, are placed at the opening and spaced out a few centimetres apart to a point where the sticks are bent to form the cone-shaped end. The sticks are fastened to the rings with rattan strips and the cone-shaped end is either woven with rattan strips or tied up with a coconut shell. A skilled maker can complete the work on a medium-sized fish-trap within three days.

Fig.6 A lot of skills go into binding the bamboo onto the rattan rings that serve as frame for the bubu as this close-up picture shows

The bubu is usually positioned in knee or thigh deep water near the bank, preferably among the reed. It is seldom necessary to fix the trap to a post, except perhaps in fast moving water.


Although it is quite uncommon, the bubu can be cylindrical with the end flat rather than the cone shaped. The one disadvantage of this sort of trap is that it requires a lot of work to cover the end, which explains its rarity. However, the bubu for trappping udang galah or giant prawns (Macrobrachium rosenbergii) is cylindrical but shorter and made of certain tree bark which the prawns are known to have affinity for. Nevertheless such bubu still uses bamboo as funnel entrance and rattan as frame and binders. The bubu is lowered into the water, which is deeper than usual, with a piece of raope. To get the prawns to enter it, decaying coconut shell flesh is used as bait.

Another type of fish-trap is called pasur, which is much slender and shaped like a clarinet. It is particularly useful in water with a strong current that can push the fish into it until they become wedged and unable to swim out.


There is a wide variety of fish that can be caught with the bubu. The fish, all of them considered delicacies, include keli (Clarias batrachus), dalak or haruan (Ophicephalus striatus), baung (Mystus nemurus), karuk or ikan puyu (Anabis terstudineus), sepat (Trichogaster trichopetrus) and banya or barau-barau (Hampala macrolepidota). Some of them are even regarded as having medicinal values. For example, an age old Chinese belief claims that a diet of keli or dadak soup after an operation can help the wound quickly.

Fig.7 Ikan dalak (Ophicephalus striatus) which has medicinal properties that are believed to be helpful in healing major wounds

Fig.8 Ikan karuk (Anabis terstudineus)

Freshwater fish, though of different breed, and prawns are being reared by farmers in ponds in several places in the country. The Fisheries Department provides the farmers with various kinds of assistance, including stocking their ponds with fry it produces in its hatcheries.

Fig.9 Using a large net, these workers get a good harverst of carp (Cyprinus carpio) and lampam (Puntius gonionotus) from one of the freshwater ponds at the Sungai Jambu Fish Farm. the picture also shows one of the men holding a penyiut, which comes handy for transferring the fish into containers

While it is true that the use of bamboo fish-trap is declining due to the popularity of off-shore fishing and the easy availability of ready-made quipment at the market, making and setting the bubu will continue to be part of old traditions. Besides, like the hand woven baskets, the bubu is also fast becoming an art object, gracing a good many homes.

On the whole, freshwater fishing is no longer a livelihood people depend on. but it is still a lucrative sideline income earner for many. This will further ensure the survivial of traditional fishing.

Source: Brunei Today published by Information Department, 1994


Copyright (c) BRUNEIresources.com, 2005. All Rights Reserved.