Ô! Capitaine des mers

Hichem Ben Ammar
Tunisia 2002 | 45 Min. | OmeU, Video

They can’t resist the call of the sea. The men from the north­ern Tunisian penin­su­la of Cape Bon cast their jobs aside to become proud fish­er­men once a year who carry on an ancient ritual. Fish­er­men adopt­ed a tra­di­tion­al tech­nique of catch­ing tuna fish from Ital­ians and Span­ish that they have con­tin­ued on their own after Tunisia’s inde­pen­dence. With deep respect, the fish­er­men tell the story of Rais Labhar, the first Ara­bi­an cap­tain who adopt­ed the secret catch­ing method and passed it on to fellow Tunisians. “Madrague” is the local name for the art of catch­ing tuna.

Every year, they go to sea in their small boats to meet for “Matan­za”. In the Matan­za, these men are thrown togeth­er as they pull up huge nets, grab wrig­gling tuna with their bare hands, and throw them on the bottom of the boats, where the fish take their last breaths. For a short time, the fish­er­men are dis­tract­ed by the bloody game from their daily pover­ty and lack of prospects. The Matan­za ends with a huge fes­ti­val to honour the tuna fish, which locals com­pare to a beau­ti­ful woman.

The Madrague of Sidi Daoud was already the back­ground for two films from Tunisian film­mak­ers Samana Chikly and Hassan Dal­doul. Chikly was a pio­neer of Tunisian cinema at the begin­ning of the 20th Cen­tu­ry (sev­er­al images are used by Hichem Ben Ammar in this movie). Dal­doul also addressed this sub­ject in the 1970s.