Ponggawa; customary agreements and fishing traditions around Makassar

- The traditional systems in Indonesia have a tremendous amount of power and can be a effective means for implementing fishing management. However, there are those customs that have evolved to keep some fishing communities poor. Below is an example, of the customs that have developed over centuries that tend to keep some fishing communities poor.

Many of the fishermen are tied to local traditions that put ship and capital owners (commonly referred to as ponggawa) at an advantage. Under this tradition, fishermen must surrender 6 percent of their catch to ponggawa, even if they don’t catch much. Once they sell their catch they must return any borrowed capital to the ship owners.

The ship owners also have the right to more than half of the profits from the sale of the catch. The captain (papalele) also takes a quarter of the profits, while the remaining 25 percent is divided among the ship’s crew and the fishermen, who use it to support themselves and their families. On top of that, the owners also enjoy profits from the sale of fuel and ice that the fishermen are obliged to buy.

Under this system, the ponggawa are always at an advantage. During a recent visit to Paotere, one ponggawa, Haji M’ruf, proudly stated that he’d “never suffered a loss!” This came as no surprise, given that local traditions protect ponggawa by making fishermen bear any losses for them while getting a guaranteed cut of their catch. The fishermen’s debts are added to any capital they need for their next fishing expedition, and in some cases these debts are never repaid. The fishermen are made poor by a system that forces them to depend on the ponggawa.

The poverty many of these fishermen suffer has become a source of many social problems. The children of many of the fishermen are forced to quit school because of their family’s shortage of money. Financial problems and long periods apart cause tensions within the families. At the same time, many fishermen’s wives must scramble to meet their families’ financial needs.