The Fishermen Community in Tranquebar: Anthropological investigations of socio-economic living conditions 1980-2010
A project by Esther Fihl, associate professor, dr. phil. (University of Copenhagen)
The project is sponsored by Bikuben Foundation and is part of the Galathea3 expedition.
Like in colonial times, the village of Tranquebar today consists of different quarters, each inhabited by a certain jati or socio-religious group. The largest of these neighbourhoods is still the fishermen part of the village situated to the north - and some of it on top of the Old Danish fortification wall around Tranquebar.
On the basis of my earlier data from this community, this research project will try to document both the long and the short term socio-economic transformation processes in the fisherman’s ways of dealing with everyday life and its problems. An increasing number of especially young unmarried men have during the last 25 years left the fishing community in Tranquebar for a couple of years to go to Malaysia, Singapore or Saudi-Arabia in order to find work, primarily low-paid jobs in the building industry. From abroad, these young men often functioned as breadwinners for their families, besides saving money to buy boats upon their return to Tranquebar. The question is, if the tsunami catastrophe has meant that more fishermen now than before seek new livelihoods elsewhere? Has there been an intensification of transnational migration and have new ways of handling economic affairs and crisis emerged?
Also in relation to the fishermen’s jati panjayat, new functions might have come about, besides the traditional one of settling conflicts in the community and offering a kind of social security distributing help to families in need. The panjayat economy was until the tsunami based on the collection of a special tax on fish and rested also on income from fines given to those who broke the rules. In this way, the fisherman village has been characterized by a strong social identity and by temporary or permanent social expulsion of those who broke the rules of the jati.
Everyday life consisted of taking care of the landed fish, drying and salting, before it was sold and of mending the fishing net during often loudly discussions about right or wrong in proportion to cooperation in the fishing business, the relationship between the sexes or the generations and the education of the younger generation. Negotiating culture and identity have always been an integrated part of the community – but do these practices and negotiations present themselves in a different manner today, where the contact to the surrounding world is more intensified due to migration, media, tourism and international NGO’s?
Foto: Ingrid Fihl Simonsen, aug. 2005