Fish is a common delicacy in Kenya, eaten frequently by millions of people. But for many of these fish eaters, the value of the aquatic animal ends with its consumption.
In the western region of the country however, there’s more to fish than just its meat.
Each day, tens of fish mongers get to work at Obunga market in Kisumu, to prepare an uncommon delicacy – fish skeletons, locally known as ‘mgongo wazi’.
Mgongo wazi refers to the skeleton remains of fish after their flesh has been extracted by filleting industries in the region.
While these skeletons would otherwise have been disposed as waste, the fish mongers of Obunga ensure they end up in tables as delicacies after a detailed process of preparation.
“When we get the fish remains from the factory, we clean them first. We cut them to pieces then clean them. Then we dry them and after they are dry, we light fires and deep fry them,” said Rael Achola, a fish monger at Obunga.
Achola is among tens of fish mongers at Obunga who earn a living from the mgongo wazi trade.
Mgongo wazi is mainly eaten by poor people in the western Kenya region, who cannot afford whole fish.
“We realized that after the fillet is exported, it (Mgongo Wazi) is the food that remains that we can afford…those of us whose living standards are low,” said Eliud Odundo, a resident of Kisumu city.
“Mgongo wazi can be bought at 60 or 70 shillings. But a whole fish is weighed and sold per kilogram. A kilo goes for 320 shillings.”
Once fish mongers prepare the mgongo wazi at Obunga, majority of it is sent to neighbouring towns while the rest is sold locally within Kisumu city.
Despite containing just shreds of flesh or no flesh at all, mgongo wazi is a popular delicacy for many people across western Kenya.
Its users say its soup contains vital elements that are useful to human bodies.
“It is very healthy because its soup helps people a lot. When you eat it, you get iodine which is beneficial to the body. It’s mostly beneficial to the brain. So, when you eat it, you easily get the nutrients because they are close to the bones,” said Odundo.
With each purchase of the mgongo wazi, fish mongers like Achola are able to provide for their families and ensure their children can go to school.
But besides the mgongo wazi trade, other people also use the fish bones to create art.
Newton Owino is the CEO of Alisam Development and Design, which turns fish bones into various usable objects like ornaments, accessories, shoes and more.
Not only does this trade earn an income for Alisam Development and Design, but it also helps curb environmental pollution.
“From the filleting industries, the bulk of the waste that comes out actually consists of bones. Now, we thought of making use of these bones instead of letting them to pollute the environment and destroying everywhere…polluting everywhere. As you know, bones are also risky. They cause damage. They cause harm to people. And where there are bones, you cannot really walk easily. So, we thought of making use of these bones to produce a number of items that are sellable and also help in ensuring that there is income to the community and ourselves,” said Owino.
He admits the business has been slow over the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but remains optimistic a return to normalcy will help put the business back on track.