The Chinese fishing nets, popularly known as cheenavala in Malayalam, are peculiar to Kochi. Tourists visiting Fort Kochi or even Kerala rarely miss this iconic attraction considered to be a cultural stamp of Kochi.
The origin of the Chinese fishing nets is still not very clear. One perspective is that these were brought to Kochi probably during the 14th Century by the famous Chinese explorer Zheng He from the court of a Chinese emperor Kubala Khan. Historically the Chinese traded with different parts of Kerala. But Chinese fishing nets are seen nowhere except at Kochi, its nearest islands, and connected areas, not even in China.
Another narrative is that the basic design of the fishing nets was brought to Kochi from Macau by the Portuguese who colonised both Kochi and Macau in the 16th century. The Portuguese then redesigned the Chinese fishing nets according to the currents and depth of the sea at Kochi. To clarify this version, studies have referred to the fact that different parts of the Chinese fishing net are known by different Portuguese words like padrao, calusanthy, savaya, bras etc.
These huge, shore-operated lift-nets work on simple physics, much like the sides of a weighing balance go up and down according to the weights placed on it. Normally a huge Chinese fishing net is operated by a team of 5 to 6 fishermen. Traditionally, the wooden parts were made of teak, which are now being replaced by metallic poles or bamboo.