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Title: Living on fishing, caught in the market : the Maltese fishing communities,1860s-1920
Authors: Chircop, John
Keywords: Fishing -- Malta
Fisheries -- Malta
Fishing villages -- Malta -- History
Fishery law and legislation -- Malta -- History
Malta -- Economic conditions -- 19th century
Malta -- Economic conditions -- 20th century
Issue Date: 2010
Publisher: University of Malta. Department of History
Citation: Chircop, J. (2010). Living on fishing, caught in the market : the Maltese fishing communities,1860s-1920. Journal of Maltese History, 2(1), 21-32
Abstract: The absence of the fishing folk, of their daily livelihood, communal ways of life and culture, characterizes modern Maltese historiography. This conspicuous neglect must be treated as a serious omission indeed, particularly when one considers the fact that we are dealing with the history of a small archipelago. Certainly, the lack of early official quantitative and qualitative sources on Maltese fishing culture, apart that is from the rudimentary annotations in censuses or colonial reports published from the middle of the nineteenth century onwards, has definitely not assisted the generation of research interest in this field of inquiry. More disturbingly still, conventional authors have interpreted this scarcity of official records on the fishing people as proof of their irrelevance to Maltese history. This is indeed an essentially linear view of history, narrowly positivist in nature, which alas still structures the bulk of Maltese historical productions. In contrast, to the critical historiographer, it is immediately apparent that the causes of such a surprising neglect are of a methodological, historiographical as much as of a historical nature. Adopting this critical historical approach, the present study treats the exclusion of these coastal labouring people and their daily work activities from modern Maltese historiography as replicating the laissez-faire attitude and practice of the colonial state during most of the nineteenth century, which discarded domestic fishing culture. It was only on some occasions that the administration gave a fleeting look to this sector, airing the idea that this indigenous economic activity was insignificant, and thus inconsequential to Malta’s ‘modern’ colonial economy, if anything because of a supposed low productivity of the surrounding seas. This long-standing stance, expressed in various official comments, was employed as a legitimizing device for the actual abandonment of this economic sector, and of the fishing population, by the governing establishment, whose principal task was to secure Malta’s role as a strategic imperial outpost in the Mediterranean. In the context of the resulting economic system, imperial spending and native capital flows were directed into the naval-military infrastructure and the trade facilities located in the Grand Harbour area, while most indigenous productive activities were starved of capital. The impact left on the fishing sector by this economic system, managed by the colonial state and articulated with the dominant market relations, during the period under review, forms the central concern of this study. Against this structural economic backdrop, this work will focus on the nodal problems actually faced by the fishers in their daily exertions. Extensive space is here allocated to an investigation of the inequitable market relations occurring in the wholesale fish-market (Pixkerija). The ways in which this market institution hindered the transformation of domestic fishing from a traditional and low productivity activity into a viable commercialized sector, and how it kept the fishers’ standards of living at subsistence level, are discussed in some detail. Certainly, investigating in some depth the structure and operations of this institution, and particularly the dominant role of the middlemen, will trigger a further inquiry on how these coastal fishing people managed to survive as households and as communities in coastal villages in the long term, considering their total exclusion from any state assistance or legal protection from market exploitation. Moreover, to add to their proverbial burdens, the state, during the period under review, was gradually making itself present in the lives of the fishing people but only through the imposition of restrictions on traditional fishing and by curbing, or strictly prohibiting, access to large stretches of the sea and coastal areas, particularly in the Grand Harbour, officially in order to protect spawning fish from depletion.
ISSN: 2077-4338
Appears in Collections:JMH, Volume 2, No. 1 (2010)
JMH, Volume 2, No. 1 (2010)
Scholarly Works - FacArtHis

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