Accepted Paper:

When fish belonged to women: technology, bodily substance and the moon in Lake Malawi fishery  


Setsuko Nakayama

Paper short abstract:

This paper reclaims female agency in African inland fishery based on a study in Lake Malawi. Through an assessment of women’s contributions in the sector in terms of material agency and its efficacy in work on the lake, it seeks to reestablish women’s centrality in an emic notion of fishery.

Paper long abstract:

Apart from a few obvious exceptions as presented in this panel, women in fishery are generally considered to play ancillary roles in post harvest activities such as fish processing and trade. The case applies to African inland fisheries, where women’s presumed lack of primary access to catch and weak negotiation power in a male-dominated sector are thought to subject them to fish-for-sex transactions much problematized in face of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The paper seeks to destabilize such gendered stereotypes through a reappraisal of female agency in fishery in northern Lake Malawi.

Lakeside Tonga women’s traditional roles as processers of fish caught by men would seem to place them within the aforementioned stereotype. Despite their absence in actual “ntchito yam’maji (work in water),” however, women have claimed that the fish were originally and rightfully theirs. The claim has been substantiated, at least in part, through women’s material contributions to fishery in ritual and non-ritual terms, which may range from torch fodder to bodily substance. By discussing these contributions in terms of material agency and their efficacy in “work in water,” I attempt to reestablish women’s centrality in an emic notion of fishery.

Panel P099
Beach governance network in fishing community: a view from the antipodes in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa