Gender, exchange and person in a fishing community in Kerala, South India
This thesis sets out to explore the nature of gender relations in a fishing community in South India. Among the Mukkuvar of Kerala, sea fishing in small artisanal craft is carried out by men, while women take responsibility for selling fish in the markets, and control household finances. Women are particularly prominent in dealing with credit, essential to a fishing economy where incomes fluctuate daily, and are also involved in day to day exchanges of fish, money, childcare and small gifts which link households, especially those related through women, in a web of interdependency. The thesis looks at how transactions and exchange between people are understood in terms of gender. The strict sexual division of labour within this fishing economy leads to a series of gendered exchanges within the household between husband and wife, of fish, money, food, labour and sex. There is here an unusual emphasis on the husband wife relationship, which is an important site of demonstration and constitution of gender difference, but which is also the site of merging of the different potentialities represented by women and men into one productive and reproductive unit. Gendered opposition is seen as leading to interdependence and complementarity, an understanding vividly expressed in the idea that husband and wife are said to be two halves of the whole, and to become "one body". This idea of gender opposition and complementarity seen in exchange is found also in the understanding of relatedness which I argue underlies the kinship system. Here people are related through both women and men, but differently, so that the difference gender makes in tracing relatedness can be seen to give rise to the Dravidian kinship terminology and the associated practice of cross cousin marriage. At the heart of Mukkuvar ideas of both exchange and relatedness lies an understanding of gender difference which is categorical, and focused on ideas of substance and bodily difference, which in turn is seen to give rise to different potentials for transaction and performance.