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Nature Life: Tilapia and Nature

By Obiabin Onukwugha

Tilapia is the common name for nearly a hundred species of cichlid fish with the economically most important species placed in the Coptodonini and Oreochromini families.

Tilapia are mainly freshwater fish inhabiting shallow streams, ponds, rivers, and lakes, and less commonly found living in brackish water. Some other species also live in salt water.

Tilapia are a hardy, fast growing fish, that can live up to ten years and reach ten pounds in weight. Tilapia are shaped like a sunfish or crappie and are easily identifiable by the interrupted lateral line characteristic of the Chiclid family of fishes.

Historically, they have been of major importance in artisanal fishing in Africa, and they are of increasing importance in aquaculture and aquaponics.

Tilapia is the fourth-most consumed fish in the United States since 2002 and even in Riverine communities across Nigeria, especially the Niger Delta.

Known as “Karfasa”, in Hausa, “epiya” in Yoruba and “azu” as Igbos generally call fish, Ijaws call it “Atabala”. The popularity of tilapia is due to its low price and easy preparation.

Moreso, Tilapia has a unique taste and can be used for pepper soup, stew or soup. It can also be fried.

For low income earners, tilapia comes to their rescue in financial difficult times as it can be sold for as low as five hundred naira per portion here in the Niger Delta.

During reproduction, the male excavates a nest in the pond bottom, generally in water shallower than 3 feet and mates with several females. After a short mating ritual the female spawns in the nest. About two to four eggs per gram of brood female; the male fertilises the eggs, and she then holds and incubates the eggs in her mouth (buccal cavity) until they hatch.

The young ones called Fry remain in the females mouth through yolk sac absorption and often seek refuge in her mouth for several days after they begin to feed.
Sexual maturity in tilapia is a function of age, size and environmental conditions.

Ecologically, tilapia helps the circulation of nutrient metabolites on which mainly production depends. It also supports the food chain as carnivorous animal in the ecosystem fishes, reptiles, birds or mammals including man, feed on them.

Once upon a time, a worker who was very poor found some work as a fisherman’s helper. He was paid a few fish a day, and this kept him and his wife alive, though barely. One day the worker caught an especially pretty little fish, the Tilapia. As he turned it over in his hands, he thought, “Why, what a marvelous fish this is!” Suddenly the Tilapia spoke to him, in a human voice.

“See here, brother man! Just moments ago I was playing with my friends, and I got caught in your net. Now here I am in your hands, suffering and probably dying! My parents and my playmates must be searching for me and worrying terribly about me.” Gasping it said, “Please have pity on me. Throw me back into the water!”

The worker gazed at the marvelous talking fish. Could it be true? Was it possible that a fish lives a life filled with joys and sorrows, also? He quickly threw the tilapia back into the water. “All right, my pretty little fish, go along and play again I don’t want your parents and friends to worry any more about you!”

When the worker’s boss, saw this, he became very angry and yelled on the worker. “I hired you to catch fish, not to throw them back into the water. You’re a worthless fool. Begone with you. I don’t ever want to see you again.

As the poor worker was walking home he wondered what would become of him and his family. He slso thought of the reaction from his wife when he breaks the story to her.

As he was walking along the road plunged in his unhappy thoughts, suddenly he saw a Monster in human shape coming toward him. The Monster was driving a very fine cow before him.

“Good day, brother,” said the Monster. “Why do you seem so sad?” The worker told him his story.

“See here, my friend,” said the Monster. “I’m going to do you a favor. Do you see this cow? I’ll let you keep her for three years. She’ll give you plenty of good milk every day, and you and your wife will never go hungry. But listen carefully to this condition: When three years have passed, I will come and ask certain questions of you. If you answer them correctly, the cow will be yours. But if you don’t, then I’ll take both of you along with the cow, and do whatever I want with you. So do you accept?”

The worker thought, “I suppose it’s better to take the cow now than to go hungry. At least we’ll be able to sell the milk and live for three years, and then we’ll see what happens. Maybe we’ll be lucky enough to answer those questions.” So he accepted the terms, took the cow and went home relieved and happy.

Indeed, the cow gave plenty of good milk, enough for the worker and his wife to drink and to sell, and in this way, provide the necessities of life.

In the evenings, the worker and his wife would often sit together at their door, thinking about the Monster. They tried to imagine what the answers might be. But as they had no clue what sort of questions the Monster would ask, they would always end their sessions with a sigh and go to bed with troubled hearts. Day by day, the end of the three years grew closer and closer.

One evening, a handsome youth came up to them. “Good evening!” he said. “I am so tired, and it is getting dark. If you please, may I spend the night under your roof?”

“Of course you may, only tonight you must know that something terrible is going to happen to us! Three years ago, we took a cow from a Monster. He told us we could keep the cow for three years, but at the end of that time he could come and ask us some questions. If we answer those questions correctly, then the cow will be ours to keep, but if we can’t then we will become the Monster’s prisoners forever. So if you stay with us tonight, be careful that no harm comes to you!”

“I see,” said the youth. “Well, if it is all right with you, I’d just as soon stay the night.” And so he did.

Exactly at midnight, a loud knock was heard at the door.

“Who’s there?” “It is I, the Monster! Three years have passed. The time has come to answer my questions!”

“We’ll never be able to answer them!” wailed the poor worker and his wife, clutching at each other’s shoulders.

Suddenly, the youth stepped toward the door. He said to them, “Don’t worry, I’ll answer for you.”

“I’m here, waiting!” growled the Monster outside.

“And I’m here also,” calmly answered the youth behind the door.

“Very well, then,” said the monster. “Where are you from?”

“I’m from the other side of the sea.”

“How did you get here?”

“Riding a lame flea!”

“Then the sea must have been very small?”

“Not at all. Even an eagle couldn’t fly across it!”

“Then that eagle must have been a fledgling?”

“Not at all. The shadow of his wings would cover a whole city!”

“Then the city must have been very small?”

“Not at all. A hare couldn’t run from one end of it to the other.”

The Monster was speechless. It didn’t know what other questions to ask. He stood there silently at the door for some time, then disappeared into the darkness. The poor worker and his wife were overjoyed. They and the youth celebrated until dawn.

When dawn was breaking, the youth said it was time for him to take his leave. “Oh, no, we can’t allow you to go!” cried the couple. “You saved our lives. Tell us what we can do to thank you.” “You don’t have to thank me,” replied the youth. “I must be on my way.” “At least tell us who you are!” begged the worker.

“If you must know,” said the youth, “A kindness is never lost, even if you throw it into the water. I am that little talking fish that you threw back into the sea!”

Having said these words, he vanished.

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