Becoming and Being
: Embodiment, Materiality, and Sociality Among Artisanal Fishers in a Fishing Village on the South Coast of Kenya

  • Victor Alati

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


I present an ethnographic account of the Gazi fishing community in coastal Kenya through an exploration of what it means to be an artisanal fisher, what it means to live in a fishing village, and how a sense of meaning-making is nurtured to navigate around an uncertain world. Since fishing is the mainstay activity in this village, an increase in fishing effort during the past 20 years and overall catches remaining relatively unchanged has led to a decline in catch per fisher. I conducted a quantitative study in the village in 2008, focussing on marine resource use, relations, conflicts and governance. In this study, I investigate how the people manoeuvre in an environment of uncertainty using participant observation, informal interviews and 32 in-depth interviews, each lasting about an hour with active and retired fishers, fish traders and the former village chair. I shall show in chapter 3 how fishing communities learn how to fish. In chapter 4, I show the conditions under which residents evoke witchcraft or predetermined destiny in everyday conversations to explain misfortunes and eliminate coincidence. I explore, in chapter 5, how the uncertainties in fish catches lead to rumours to enrich our understanding of fishing skills and the sensory perception of fishers. In chapter 6, I explore how uncertainties in landings have led to what I call the ‘forced’ gift economy where residents increasingly force fishers to give them fish gifts to make a living and get food for their families. My study contributes to four main areas: 1) instalment and sensory engagement, 2) rumours constructed to resolve confusions or contradictions that experience in daily life contains, 3) anthropology of ethics and morality and 4) anthropology of destiny. Finally, I suggest the need to integrate knowledge derived from such ethnographic studies into fisheries policy and management programmes.
Date of Award1 Mar 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
SupervisorGarry Marvin (Director of Studies), Nadine Beckmann (Co-Supervisor), Jonathan Skinner (Co-Supervisor) & Giovanna Capponi (Co-Supervisor)


  • Artisanal fisheries
  • Coastal Kenya
  • Fisher apprenticeship
  • Anxieties
  • Fish gifts
  • Witchcraft
  • Ethnography
  • Predestination
  • Migrant fishers
  • Uncertainties

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