The Loktak Folklore Museum documents fading indigenous practices and is dedicated to Loktak lake and its environment.With the construction of Ithai barrage and water pollution, indigenous fish species in the Loktak Lake have declined.The lake was the breeding ground of indigenous fish species, including the Pengba – also the state fish – which is now regionally extinct in the wild, owing to blockage of its migratory route by the Ithai barrage. Hailing from a fishing village in Manipur’s Loktak Lake, which has seen indigenous fish varieties flounder in recent decades, Tongbram Amarjit Singh’s dream project since his school days was to document and showcase the slowly fading traditional fishing practices of his community. Mapping the decline in indigenous fish species, fish catch and the concurrent waning of traditional techniques of fishing through his grandparents’ and parents’ experiences, Singh was stirred to act to preserve and conserve a culture integral to the identity of his community. Now a 35-year-old, Singh, an English translator at the state Legislative Assembly, has given shape to his dreams, with the help of his family and community, in the form of the Loktak Folklore Museum, in the island village of Thanga in Loktak Lake. Presenting an array of fishing gear – basketry items, traps (“lu thamba”), impalers, hooks, fishing rods, cotton and fabric twine and more, this private collection is dedicated exclusively to Loktak and its environment, said Singh, who belongs to the Thanga Tongbram Leikai locality. Tongbram Amarjit, a resident of Thanga village near Loktak lake, Manipur, founded the Loktak Folklore Museum in 2016 to preserve the traditional fishing practices and other cultural identity of the fishing community he belongs to. Photo by Kartik Chandramouli/Mongabay. “While growing up we used to see our parents and their parents bring in steady amounts of fish both for consumption and for sale. Now due to growing population and environmental changes, the consumption and production is imbalanced. Indigenous species that form the mainstay of our diet are disappearing from the lake and so are the fishing tools,” Singh said. To say fish (“nga” in Manipuri) is an important source of protein for the Manipuris is an understatement. About 90 percent of people in the state are fish eaters. Anything from 1 cm to 100 cm has value. Swimming in stews to smoke-dried to fermented (“ngari”), fish is ubiquitous. Social functions and ceremonies also involve fish. In the “nga-thaba” wedding ritual, for example, a pair of “ngamu” or snakehead fish (Channa gachua), is let go in water, symbolising the newlyweds’ journey. They relish fish and consequently fishing gears are customised to suit this dietary staple. “But in some decades, these tools may go out of fashion and documenting them is important for our cultural memory,” Singh told this visiting Mongabay-India staff writer. Loktak is northeast India’s largest freshwater body, a sub-basin of the Chindwin-Irrawaddy river of Myanmar and a Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance site. Of at least 200 species of indigenous fish in Manipur, Loktak, at present harbours 38 of them, researchers said. Loktak lake, a Ramsar Wetland site, hosts 38 indigenous fish species. Once considered to be the lifeline of Manipur, its water quality and biodiversity is under severe man-made pressure. Photo by Kartik Chandramouli/Mongabay. Scientists at Manipur University and Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) blame changes in the hydrology due to construction of dams, blockage of migratory routes, drying up of wetlands due to siltation, eutrophication, water quality deterioration and overexploitation (open access nature of resource) for declining indigenous fish diversity in the lake. As many 16 species of indigenous fish are believed to be extinct due to blocking of water by the Ithai barrage according to Manipur Governor Najma Heptullah. Capture of indigenous fish from the wild for trafficking for their ornamental value and absence of ban periods also add to the mix of conservation challenges. “There was nothing you could not get from the lake. What little you get now is in a poor quality and quantity. There isn’t any pengba (Osteobrama belangeri) in the water,” said Mashinga, a former member of the women’s social movement “Meira Paibi” (“women torch bearer”), who sells waterchestnuts and fermented fish for a living.