Raychaudhuri stayed with the fisherfolk of Jambudwip during the fishing season of 1967-68 and came back to Calcutta with remarkably rich data on the technology, economy, social organization, rituals, knowledge of the ecosystem and world view of the fisherfolk of Jambudwip, who all belonged to various traditional fishing castes.
The report provides a wealth of information on ethno-science- the fishermen's knowledge of the enormous variety of fish, their behaviour and habitat. We also gain a vivid access to their knowledge of the cosmology-the planets and the stars, the weather cycle and the relation between the phases of the moon and the tide. Although the fishermen develop a temperament of "fatalism" and "gambling" the report indicates that every step of the fishing operation is informed by native inductive reasoning. Whenever there is a conflict between the requirement of technology and ritual conventions, the fishermen were found flexible enough to adopt the technologically appropriate course.
But for the fisherfolk fishing is not just a technoeconomic venture. Along with his meticulous description of the material culture of fishing technology, Raychaudhuri has been able to convince us about the quality of job satisfaction of the fisherfolk which grows out of exposure to the challenge and beauty of the open sea, the risk and fun of tracking a shoal of fish, setting up and hauling of the net.
Anthropologists, like Malinowski (1918). Hocart (1937), Rad- cliffe-Brown (1948) and others, have studied primitive fishing in a few islands, like Trobriand Islands, Edystone and Andaman Islands. But their studies were not primarily focussed on fishing: only incidentally they described the technology of fishing of the primitive islanders. Their main interest was to provide a picture of the total social and cultural system of the people of those islands. Another kind of study was made by Coker (1908), Osgood (1940), Edward (1960), Foster (1960), Lebar (1964), and others. These focuss more specifically on fishing industry and technology. But few anthropo logists have studied the sociology of fishing in relation to the peasant hinterland.
With his study of the Malay Fishermen, Firth (1946) opens a new field in studying the sociology of fishing and of the fisherfolk as a part of the regional peasant economy. In recent years a few more systematic sociological/social anthropological study of coastal fishermen has been made, such as Ward's (1958, 1960, 1965) study of the Chinese fisherfolk in Honkong and Frazer Junior's (1962) study of a Malay fishing village as a part of the dual economy.
There are numerous references about the fisherfolk in Sanskrit literature. Hora (1935, 1948, 1952, 1953) has given a detailed account of the knowledge of the ancient Hindus about fish and fisheries of India and references about fish in the Ramayana. From his exceedingly interesting papers, it is seen that fishing as an occupation is very ancient, and he referred to texts like Kautilya's Arthashastra, inscriptions on Ashoka's Pillar, edict V (246 B.C.).
It is unfortunate that so far very little systematic study has been done about the marine fisherfolk in India. During the early phase of anthropological researches in India, the main concern was to note down the customs of the tribals as isolates. It is only during the last two decades that the interest has gradually been shifted tothe structural-functional study of the peasantry in various types of village communities, However, the earlier compendia, the Tribes and Castes provide some general ethnographic descriptions about fishing and fisherfolk in different regions of India.
We have, however, two interesting monographs on the coastal fisherfolk of southern and western India-on the Valayans of Pamban, Madras (Moses 1929), and on the Son Kolis of Bombay (Punekar 1959), In these two monographs attempts have been made to des cribe the socio-economic and cultural life of the fisherfolk. Ahmed (1966) and Trivedi (1967) have also published two monographs on two fisherfolk villages of Orissa and Kerala respectively. But these reports are in the form of standard socio-economic survey and not in terms of depth study of the world view of the fisherfolk specif. cally in relation to their primary subsistence economy. Another study on the Kerala fishermen is of Klausen (1968), He gives a description of the original pilot villages as well as an analysis of the reactions to the new set up represented by the Indo-Norwegian Project, since 1953. This book adds to our knowledge the different forms of planned change.
Fisherfolk form an integral part of the Indian peasantry. So, in order to understand the total range of the peasants within the Indian civilization, the Anthropological Survey of India initiated a number of studies in 1967 on the fisherfolk (Sinha 1970). It was decided that, since in the marine fisherfolk were the least known among the numerous fishing castes of India, the various groups specializing in marine fishing may be studied all over coastal India. The various groups involved in inland fishing would be taken up later on.
The present author was assigned to study the marine fisherfolk of coastal West Bengal. The transient fishing community at Jam- budwip in 24-Parganas was selected for the purpose.
Coastal area of West Bengal can be divided into two geomorphic units, eg. the Southern 24-Parganas or the Sunderban area which is in the active portion of the Gangetic delta; the second unit is the coastal strip of Midnapore. This part is a 'dead delta' zone with a prograding coastal plain marked by lines of old beach ridges.
Briefly, Sunderban may be described as a low, flat, alluvial plain in which the process of land-making is still going on. The area is covered with forests and swamps, and is not yet brought under cultivation. Tidal estuaries and creeks have fragmented the whole area into a large number of islands of various shapes and sizes.
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