29 November, 2008

The Power of Salted, Dried Shark Meat and the way it has shaped Hadhramaut

For some, it 'stinks' and is 'nauseating'; but for the people of Hadhramaut: salted, dried shark meat - is an essential part of the traditional Hadhramy cuisine. Wherever there are Hadhramys or descendants of Hadhramys who have been brought up in the traditional ways, invariably, there would be great demand for salted, dried shark meat. Unlike the people of South East Asia and America who only prefer and eat shark fin and throw the other parts away - which is a big waste, Hadhramys love and eat every part of the fish.

In most parts of Hadhramout, shark meat is eaten salted, sun dried or hot smoked. Using small sambooks, non-decked boats, fishermen travel far and wide to catch the fish. All sizes and of all species of sharks are caught; some species are more preferred than others, and the smaller and younger the shark, the more pricey and in demand it would be.

Though sharks make only a small percentage of the total World fish species landing, their meat and other parts can be used in many ways. Its meat, liver, fins, skin and bones can all be used; shark cartilage has been claimed to be a cure for many variety of diseases. Hadhramys eat both fresh and dried shark meat; preferring the salted dried meat most. After being caught, the fresh fish is split open by a cut from dorsal side along the vertebral column, and the entrails and gills are removed. The knife is passed deep along the vertebral column and the fish is flattened out. Scores are made in the thick fleshy parts by passing the knife lengthwise. After washing the fish, salt is rubbed on the meat. The shark, generally baby sharks, are then sun dried for a few days; or, at times, smoked.

Shark meat is said to be having a high content of mercury and uric acid, and is said by some, not to be healthy; at the same time, many too, say that shark meat makes an excellent meal, healthier than most fish and is extremely nutritious. I know that, when well prepared, in the traditional style, it is delicious. And there is this: many Hadhramy men believe that shark meat, can act as an aphrodisiac and improves libido; how true this is, I don't know. There could be some truth in it, as shark meat, especially its liver, is rich in Omega-3 oils which improves energy; and the liver too, contains squalene, which is used in the production of steroids.

Apart from being nutritious and high in protein, shark meat has served Hadhramys very well; they have benefited from dried shark meat - in the same way the people of Western Europe used cod - to survive and to enable them to travel far and to remote places. Using simple dhows and a diet of dry grains, dates, sesame oil, honey and salted, dried shark meat - Hadhramys, through the ages, have managed to travel extensively and to many distant places; places that, in the past, even the adventurous Europeans had, then, never been to. To: East and the Far East of Asia as far as Timor, Papua New Guinea, beyond the Philippines and most probably, to as far as Australia; to: East and the Horn of Africa, Northern Africa, Southern Africa, Seychelles, the Comoros Islands, Mauritius and Madagascar. In many of these places, Hadhramys did settle, and to this day, their descendants still value: dried, salted shark meat.

There is the bad side of hunting shark for food. Sharks have always been the feared, unchallenged rulers and predators of the sea, and prey on virtually every type of fish out there in the waters; but, the shark faces a predator which is more skillful and more dangerous than it is - Man. And this is now posing a great threat to the fish's existence. Researchers say that, if the hunt for shark continues at its present rate, some of its species will inevitably disappear from the waters. The greatest threat sharks face is from those, like in America and South East Asia, whose fishermen catch and slice off only the shark's fins and discard the rest of the carcass in to the water; to have enough fins, too many sharks have to be caught. The danger sharks face in Hadhramout is not as bad, but as Hadhramys mainly catch young sharks - that, could, in a way, endanger the sharks' survival; on the other hand, by preferring to catch mainly baby sharks, the older ones are left alone to continue breeding.

However one looks at it, the story of Man and sharks is very interesting. To Hadhramys, for generations past and present, it's a gift and a blessing. A gift and a blessing that is still abundant in the waters along the coastline of Hadhramout.