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[Guest Post] Learning to fish: How do perceptions of risk in the environment affect learning among t

This blog post is the first in a series outlining the presentations from our AAA panel All play and no work: (Re)defining play and work among hunter-gatherer children

Forager children learn most subsistence skills in middle and late childhood, and often they need to learn how to survive and subsist in dangerous environments. How do children learn under different environmental constraints? In this study we focused on the effect of risk on learning pathways of fishing: we examined how different perceptions of threat in the environment affect who children learn spearfishing from and expected to find that children in low-risk environments learn mostly from their peers in mixed-age and gender playgroups, while in high-risk environments, children learn from their parents who protect their offspring, or from high-skilled non-parent adults. Research took place among the Agta foragers of the Philippines. The Agta live in the Northern Sierra Madre rainforest and subsist mostly on hunting, fishing and gathering. 40% of the Agta in this region live along the coast, where spearfishing in done behind the reef flats. This is a dangerous environment: the water is deep, fishermen are exposed to high waves and currents and there is a fair risk of shark attacks. In addition, people are scared of sea monsters that lurk in the ocean Around 60% of Agta live in the forest interior and these Agta fish in rivers: relatively safe environments with low risks of drowning or predation. In both environments the same tools (metal spear propelled with rubber bands) are used. How do pathways of knowledge differ between these environments? Data on the composition of fishing groups was used as a proxy for opportunities for learning pathways.

Agta children fishing (Photos by Renee Hagen)

We found that men, women and children from age 6 and upwards fish, but women fish less in the high risk marine environment compared to the low-risk river environment. Riverine fishing groups are larger than marine groups, but unlike our expectations we did not find more opportunities for parent to child or non-parent-adult to child learning pathways in the high-risk than in the low-risk environment. This might be related to the fact that many experienced men fish alone in this environment: marine fishermen over 30, who we expected to be important teachers, usually fish alone (44% of all observations) or in small groups of two or three people. A possible explanation for this is that marine fishing may be more efficient alone: large groups can scare away fish, as opposed to the river where groups can cooperate to drive fish towards each other. Experienced marine fishermen may also suffer high opportunity costs when taking along a learner means they must go to less productive areas. We did however find that when going in small groups, these men take along learners 42% of the time, and in these cases they most often take their own sons, and also non-kin learners. This suggests that they are willing to take some costs to provide learning opportunities for young fishermen. More research will examine per capita returns as a factor of group size in marine fishing.


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