At 2900 feet elevation in the Shan Hills of Burma 150 miles southeast of Mandalay lies Inle Lake, and on its shores live the Intha people. The lake is shallow, and the Intha rely on that shallowness for both tomatoes and fish, the sources of their livelihood. They grow tomatoes on floating islands built from the muck and vegetation raked from the lake bottom, and they catch fish using a unique and photogenic combination of net, boat, and posture.
During the rest of the year a lone fisherman sets out at dawn or dusk in his lightweight wooden canoe, always rowing from the stern while standing on one leg with the other wrapped around the oar. This position allows him to see around the reeds and other floating vegetation and to apply leg power to rowing.
Once on the fishing grounds the fisherman must first spot a fish, then drop the conical net over it. He then releases the net from its frame and it drops down and ensnares the fish against the lake bottom, where he can stab it with a barbed spear.
The ability to stand on one leg and row with the other while steadying the net and oar with the two hands is not a skill easily learned. Add wind and waves and it’s yet more difficult. Furthermore, these boats are extraordinarily unstable, even for a seated passenger, which I can attest to after my short ride with San Htwe, shown here. Intha boys practice this skill from an early age. Intha girls, on the other hand, always seem to row while seated in the stern, like the young boy in this picture.