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Fish and Female Agency in a Madurese Fishing Village in Indonesia

Poissardes et poissons à Madura. Femmes en action dans un village de pêcheurs d’Indonésie
Anke Niehof
p. 185-209


Le rôle crucial des femmes dans l’économie halieutique locale et leur haut degré d’autonomie sociale constituaient deux traits remarquables de l’organisation socio-économique du village de pêcheurs de Patondu (Madura) en 1978. Un nouveau travail de terrain en 2004 montre que se sont produits au cours de ces 26 ans dans la pêcherie des changements technologiques et économiques de grande portée. De plus, avec la mise en place d’équipements publics, Patondu est désormais mieux relié au monde extérieur. En 2004, pourtant, les femmes y ont, autant sinon plus qu’avant, une place éminente. Les cas de six femmes actives dans le commerce et le traitement du poisson et le financement de la pêche sont examinés. Les pangamba’, considérées dans la littérature comme formant « un groupe phénoménal » , méritent une attention particulière : ces femmes – marchandes, entrepreneures et banquières, tout à la fois – sont les pivots de l’économie halieutique, comme « matrones » dans les relations de « matronage » qui structurent les réseaux socio-économiques. La solide position des femmes repose sur une division sexuelle du travail, écologiquement et culturellement fondée dans la société de Patondu, qui leur ouvre un vaste champ d’opportunités d’action dans les sphères économique et sociale. La vie quotidienne de Patondu s’apprécie en ichtyo-valeur et les femmes déterminent cette valeur. Elles contrôlent donc, dans une large mesure, l’économie halieutique locale. De plus, la limite fluide entre les sphères domestique et économique évite aux femmes le confinement au foyer et leur permet de jouer ce rôle de matrones dans la sphère économique. Des recherches sur les commerçantes des marchés à Java ont produit des résultats similaires. La société de Patondu n’est pas égalitaire et, même si le genre, comme facteur de stratification, recoupe d’autres facteurs et si le hiatus entre femmes aisée et pauvres s’est élargi, le contraste de genre demeure dominant et compréhensif.

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Notes de l’auteur

The field research in 2004 was sponsored by Wageningen University and Research Centre and the Indonesian Academy of Sciences (LIPI). Thanks are due to Jeff van Exel for editing this paper.

Texte intégral


  • 1 Patondu is a pseudonym.

1During 1977-1979, I lived on the island of Madura in Indonesia, doing PhD research on the topic of women and fertility. I spent the first year in a fishing village on the north coast, the second in an agricultural village in the interior. Between the two villages fertility levels proved to differ significantly, with total fertility rates of 4 and 6, respectively (Niehof 1985: 285). I attributed the lower level of fertility in the fishing village to the strong position of its women, using Stoler’s (1977) concept of female autonomy. Later, Paul Alexander (1995: 241) would list female autonomy as a characteristic feature of fishing communities. In the fishing village of Patondu,1 women played a key role in the fishing economy. In the sexual division of labor strictly adhered to, all work relating to catching fish was men’s business, while converting fish into money (fish trade and fishery finance) and fish processing were women’s work. Simply put, once the fish was unloaded, women took over. This meant to a large extent that women managed and controlled the fishing-related cash flows (Jordaan & Niehof 1980, 1982). Based on their important economic role, women had considerable social autonomy that extended to decision-making in the reproductive sphere. Embracing modern contraception, they made sure that pregnancy and childbirth would not unduly interfere with their work and money-making (Niehof 1985).

2In 2004 I was able to do fieldwork in Patondu again. One of the objectives of this research was to investigate whether women’s position in Patondu had changed during the past twenty-six years. During the period 1978-2004, far-reaching changes had taken place in fishery, entailing changes in equipment, the division of catches, and the division of labor on the boats. Besides, electricity and telephone lines had reached the village and people’s mobility had increased (see Niehof et al. 2005). Remarkably, women still played a prominent part in Patondu’s fishing economy and social life. This contradicts the view prevailing since Boserup’s seminal study (1970), that in many cases the economy develops at the expense of women’s productive roles because men take over when technologically more advanced and profitable modes of production become available. Although based on observations in agriculture, the mechanism identified by Boserup in 1970 has since been widely observed. The question is whether it applies to fishery. Firth (1984, in Upton & Susilowati 1992: 126) seems to suggest it does: “Both in Tikopia […] and on the Kelantan coast, in different ways, the forces of modernization, which have brought women into more direct relationship with a world of male capital control, have resulted in a restriction of the economic opportunities open to them.” This not being the case in Patondu, I was confronted with a similar “initial puzzle” as reported by Szanton (1998: 255). His puzzle was the unfading division of labor between the Chinese merchants and the Filipino outfit operators in the fishing village of Estancia (Philippines), despite the fact that fishing technology and marketing had become vastly more sophisticated and efficient since the time of his first fieldwork in the late 1960s.

3In the present article, I intend to address the Patondu puzzle of women’s continuing pivotal role in the local economy, amidst technological and social change. I will do so by sketching the situations in 1978 and in 2004, using as the main sources of information case studies of individual women and survey results and by comparing women’s roles in Patondu to those of women in other fishing communities. I will place the findings in the context of the literature on Indonesian women as entrepreneurs and traders. Finally, I will address the issue of change and continuity and discuss the relationship between gender and socio-economic stratification, also referred to as the problem of difference (Moore 1993).

The Women of Patondu in 1978

  • 2 I have limited the use of Madurese and Indonesian words as much as possible, but when there are no (...)

4In 1978 the two wards that formed the fishing village of Patondu had a population of 1,699 inhabitants, 900 of whom were women (Niehof 1985: 40-41). Patondu is one of a string of fishing villages on the northern coast of the island of Madura where deep-sea fishing is practiced. During the peak season (July-October), when the sardine-like fish kabăn (Decapterus spp.) is abundant, most fishermen in Patondu were engaged in ngăddang,2 an activity that involved nightly trips to buy fish on the high seas from other fishermen (also from other villages) and landing it everyday at noon. At the time, Patondu had a fleet of 75 boats specifically used for ngăddang fishery, all equipped with outboard engines. Before or after the main season, kabăn was scarce and other kinds of fish, such as small tuna, would be caught. During the west monsoon (December-February), because of storms and high waves, boats would rarely venture out. In 1978, social and economic life in Patondu revolved around the ngăddang season, when money was made and—at the end of the season—spent, with women as key players. Every day, after the fish had been put ashore, and the deals with the fish traders had been made, small groups of women could be seen sitting together to settle the accounts and determine the amounts to be added to the cumulative balance, which at the season’s end would be divided among the stakeholders. The women thus gathered at a boat owner’s house would include his wife and the crew’s wives (see Niehof 1985; Jordaan & Niehof 1980, 1982).

5According to the census that I conducted in July, 1978, of all women aged 15-60 (N=553), 374 were economically engaged in various professions. The number of women involved in fish trade and processing was 196, while 146 women were working in the retail trade and 32 had other occupations. Of the 196 women working in the fishery sector, 133 were fishmongers, 38 worked in processing, and 25 were pangambă’ (Niehof 1985: 52). The word pangambă’ comes from the verb ambă’, which means “meeting” or “waiting for,” in Patondu having the specific connotation of waiting for one’s boat to arrive. Women who themselves receive and sell the catches of their own (and husband’s) boat, refer to this as ambă dhibi (the latter word meaning “self” or “one’s own”). Pangambă’ are professionals who do this work for boats that they have invested in. In 1978 (and in 2004), the pangambă’ constituted the female core of the fishing economy. Without them Patondu could not have prospered as it did. A pangambă’ has two main interrelated roles: marketing fish and financing fishery. She is a trader, entrepreneur, and banker. An Indonesian study on the subject refers to them as a “phenomenal group of women” (Kusnadi 2001).

  • 3 See Case 5 for a detailed description.

6Fish-processing,3 called pemindangan, is also an important field of female employment and entrepreneurship in Patondu. In 1978 the village was already famous for its fish paste (petis), which is used in Indonesian cuisine.

Fig. 1: Two pangambă’ (center) supervising the proper allocation of their fishing boats’ catches

Fig. 1: Two pangambă’ (center) supervising the proper allocation of their fishing boats’ catches

Photo by the author, 1978.

The Situation in 2004

7In 2004 the fishery situation proved to be quite different from that of 1978. The changes, their causes and implications, are discussed in detail elsewhere (Niehof et al. 2005). Here, I shall briefly summarize the situation in 2004 in order to delineate the context within which the women of Patondu perform their activities.

8By 2004, the outboard engine that had given rise to ngăddang fishery in the 1970s was replaced by the inboard engine. Another crucial development was the use of coolers to preserve the fish. This all led to the demise of ngăddang fishery. The inboard engine could be installed in smaller boats and the coolers could keep the fish fresh for a few days. In 2004, the fishing fleet in Patondu consisted of mainly two types of boats: majăng boats, rather large, and klotok, slender vessels about 12 meters long that require a crew of two to three. In 1978, majăng fishery, i.e., deep-sea fishing with purse seine nets requiring a crew of twelve to fifteen, had a share in Patondu fishery of about 30 percent, which was about the same in 2004. The klotok, however, was a new phenomenon. While in the late 1980s the first klotok boats were imported from Kalimantan, in 2004 the number of them was estimated at 200 to 220 (Niehof et al. 2005: 411). There was also a partial shift in the species of fish caught: more tuna-like fish (Euthynnus spp., Katsuwonus pelamis) and less kabăn. One reason for the popularity of the klotok is that it enables fishermen to become their own boss instead of just being a deckhand on a majăng boat, even though it is often nominal ownership because most klotok owners are heavily in debt to a pangambă’.

9All these changes did not alter the basic gendered division of labor in the sector, in much the same way as the basic division of labor in Estancia had not altered in thirty years (Szanton 1998). It has to be noted, however, that unlike Estancia or the Malay fishing village of Sungai Cantik (Carsten 1997), Patondu (and other fishing villages in Madura) had no local Chinese community playing a commercial role in fishery. The few Chinese families in Patondu are Muslim and wholly assimilated. Only their facial features and some of their kinship terms remind one of their Chinese ancestry. In fact, Carsten’s description (1997: 144) of the relationship between fishermen and the Chinese middlemen (towkay) to whom they are indebted for financing their boats, neatly fits the picture of the relationship between the Patondu fishermen and their pangambă’. In 2004, the pangambă’ still reigned and every aspect of dealing with fish once landed was still firmly in the hands of women.

10Fish processing in Patondu represents another example of continuity amidst technological and social change. In 2004, I could list forty operational pemindangan (processing units), and Patondu petis is still sold in shops all over the island and beyond. In the survey that I conducted in 2004 among all households in Patondu with children up to twelve years old (N=241), I found that 120 household heads were engaged in the fishery sector, as fisherman (91) or in other capacities directly related to fishery, apart from the many female household members working as pangambă’, fish trader, or fish processor (Niehof et al. 2005: 414). This shows that the local economy still revolves around fishery.

Women’s Stories

11In this section I shall describe how six Patondu women exercise their agency, i.e., “reflexively monitored flows of conduct in the direction of calculation in the broad utilitarian sense of balancing means and ends” (Carter 1995: 65). I consider agency as referring to conscious action aimed at achieving certain outcomes, with the actors concerned considering the efficacy and appropriateness of their behavior in a given context that comprises the institutional and normative environment within which daily life is enacted. The notions of “flows of conduct” and “monitoring” imply that actors relate current behavior to past experience and anticipated outcomes. For the Javanese context, female agency has been referred to by the term “ibuism.” First coined by Djajadiningrat-Nieuwenhuis (1992), others authors on women in Indonesia (e.g., Brenner 1995, Suryakusuma 1996) have since adopted the term. It is derived from the Indonesian word for mother, ibu, also used as a respectful term of address for adult women. Ibuism provides an ideological framework that legitimizes women’s economic activities by relating them to their role as caring and responsible mothers. It allows women not only to engage in economic activities for the benefit of their own family, but also includes extending the mother role to dependants beyond the sphere of their own household, such as employees, poor village women, and so on. The question whether for women ibuism is a path to power is answered in the affirmative by Djajadiningrat-Nieuwenhuis (1992: 50), even though, culturally, power and prestige are men’s prerogatives. We shall investigate whether and to what extent the concept applies to the selected cases. The names of the main characters in the cases are pseudonyms.

Case 1: Pangambă’ Haji Rahma

  • 4 The title Haji means that the person has completed the pilgrimage to Mecca.

12Haji Rahma (HR) is a woman of 45.4 She left primary school after the fourth grade. She married a second cousin, Haji Mohtar (HM). Their only child, a son named Hosne (aged 28), married a woman from the adjacent village across the river. The couple has a son, called Alman, who is four years old. HR and her husband live in a house near the beach. For ten years now, HM has had a petrol and diesel fuel business. Before that, “he didn’t work”, says HR in a matter-of-fact way. Even now the success of his business depends to a large extent on his wife’s activities. He sells diesel fuel to the boats for which HR is the pangambă’ and she sees to it that the boat owners buy their fuel from her husband. When they do not pay their bills, she just subtracts the outstanding debt from the money that she owes them. The couple’s trip to Mecca in 1989 was financed by HR.

Becoming and Being a Pangambă’

  • 5 The rupiah (Rp), the Indonesian currency, had an exchange rate of about 8,000 Rp to 1 UD$ at the ti (...)

13The mother of HR was a pangambă’ as well. So as to learn the business before taking over from her mother, she accompanied her to the beach to meet the boats. This was during the heyday of ngăddang fishery. After HR married, she took over from her mother, inheriting her mother’s ten titles, and—in due course—acquiring four titles of her own. Some of her mother’s clients did not acknowledge their debts to her mother or did not want HR to take over. The titles inherited go back twenty to thirty years. The latest title is one that HR acquired herself only five years ago. HR does not need prompting; without faltering, she can list from memory the names of the debtors, whether the boat and/or the engine were financed, and the amounts borrowed. The outstanding debts vary between 3 and 5 million rupiah (Rp) each.5

14In Patondu, HR is considered a “big” pangambă’. Her debtors are all klotok owners. If a boat is sold, the debt to the pangambă’ has to be paid off. When the boat is shipwrecked, the debt is annulled. This risk is shared by pangambă’ and boat owner. HR is willing to take on new titles if people ask her to. Small catches are sold by the owner’s wife and the wives of the crew. In that case, the pangambă’ is not entitled to her 10 percent. Having witnessed the hectic scenes on the beach when the boats come in, I ask HR how she manages to do the marketing of the fish for so many boats. She answers that they generally do not arrive at the same time and when they do, she asks them to wait and moves between the places where the fish is put ashore.

15HR sells the fish of “her” boats to a fixed set of 17 buyers, whom she could all list from memory. They are all processors who sell their produce to fishmongers as ikan pindang. HR does not deal with the fishmongers. She admits that her buyers sometimes give her headaches. While most of them pay within three days or at most one week, some still have debts outstanding. When they have money, they will pay their new purchases, but conveniently forget about their earlier debts, HR says. She has given up on the old debts.

The Future

16When I ask HR about her ideals for the future, she says that she works for her grandson. Everything should go to Alman. But who will take over her titles like she did from her mother, I ask her. She says that her daughter-in-law might take over. She tells me that Hosne completed secondary school in Pamekasan and wanted to continue his education. But because she was afraid that he might take a wife “from outside,” she made him come back. Now he has married a woman from the neighboring village. HM has set them up with a shop for which she provided the capital. It is doubtful whether her daughter-in-law will be willing and able to take over from her. This is one of the reasons why people in Patondu are so keen on having at least one daughter.

Case 2: Haji Halima, a Successful Businesswoman

17After some calculations, we estimate Haji Halima’s (HH) age to be about 47. She went to primary school without finishing it. She is married to Haji Ridai (HR). The couple has no children. They adopted a niece, who is now married and has a child of her own. The young woman (early twenties), called Itin, assists her adoptive mother in selling the fish to the traders upon arrival of the boats. Haji Halima’s younger brother is married to Kris, who assists her sister-in-law with the arisan. The arisan, an old and widespread institution in Indonesia (Hospes 1996), is the Indonesian version of a rotating savings and credit association (see Ardener & Burman 1995). Though varying in group size, contribution, and duration, its basic structure is the same. A certain number of members (N) contributes a fixed amount (M), and at each of the N meetings one of the members gets the jackpot (N x M) till the cycle is completed. The organizer gets the first draw or is otherwise rewarded for her services. HH organizes four arisan, one of which is described below.

Fig. 2: Haji Halima making her rounds to collect arisan money from participants and recording the receipt

Fig. 2: Haji Halima making her rounds to collect arisan money from participants and recording the receipt

Photo by the author, 2004.

The Arisan of the Batik Cloth Traders

18The arisan has twenty members, all women traders in batik cloth. Because it is difficult to find people interested in the ranking numbers 11 to 20, these numbers are financed by HH herself, meaning that the numbers 1 to 10 are allotted twice. HS allots the numbers 1-10 according to who registers first, but also according to the trader’s reputation. If dubious, she will allot this person a high number, to make sure that she will have paid before getting the jackpot. There is a drawing every ten days. Thus, all money is paid out after 100 days. This implies that HH needs a considerable capital reserve. The traders come from Patondu and nearby villages. The arisan operates as follows. A full cycle is seven months, or 210 days. The daily payment is Rp. 50,000, which has to be paid for 210 days. Each participant will have paid 50,000 x 210 = 10,500,000 Rp., but receives ten million. The difference, 20 x 500,000 = Rp. 10 million, is HH’s profit. To collect the money, the markets in the villages in and near Patondu, where the traders can be found, are visited. Every day at 4 p.m. Kris goes out on her moped to do the rounds and collect arisan money for her sister-in-law.

Haji Halima, the Pangambă’

19Haji Halima and her husband (HR) own two majăng boats equipped with purse seine nets. Each boat has a crew of 15. One is now under repair. The building of a third one is planned. During the interview, HH receives word that her boat is about to arrive. Most boats now have a radio connection with Patondu. A year ago, HH installed a two-way radio that allows her to communicate with her boats. Other boats can also send messages, provided that they have the code.

20That day, Haji Halima’s boat unloads 125 baskets of fish. Of these, 30 are for the boat owner. Of the remaining 95, 35 are sold at the beach. The shares of the crew will be added to a cumulative balance. HH rents a car and takes the remaining 60 baskets to Tamberu to sell there, with Itin for assistance. The baskets are sold at Rp. 50.000 each. The balance looks as follows (Fig. 3):

Fig. 3: Haji Halima

Total returns: 95 baskets à Rp. 50.000 =



10% for the pangambă’:


475,000 -




Costs: Rental transport to Tamberu:






Total costs:


…275,000 -

Added to the balance:



21Half of this amount is for the boat owner and the pangambă’, the other half for the crew and the owners of equipment. The latter 2 million has to be divided by 20, which makes the value of one share Rp. 100,000. The twelve ordinary crewmen are entitled to one share each, the skipper gets two shares, and persons who are assigned special tasks and owners of equipment get 1.5 shares (for further details, see Niehof et al. 2005). The yields of small catches are divided straight away: 50 percent to be shared between the boat owner and the pangambă’, 50 percent for the crew and owners of equipment. Also, when the boat owner is the husband of the pangambă’, which is usually the case, their functions and shares are strictly separated.

22The scene at the place of arrival of the boats is hectic. The space available for putting down the baskets is cramped. HH needs eyes everywhere. Because there was no fish the previous day, the traders are crowding around the baskets, trying to take them even before a price has been agreed upon. In the midst of all this, HH is haggling with the traders. She is no longer the gentle and soft-spoken woman she was when I interviewed her, but is shouting and gesturing, scolding the traders who try to snatch the baskets. When an agreement is reached, Itin makes notes of who takes what. HH only allows traders from Patondu to take fish on credit, the others have to pay cash. The coolies are waiting for instructions, their baskets and bamboo poles ready for use. At some point, wholesale trader Haji Mariam (Case 4) turns up. Seeing that there is not enough fish to fill her pick-up truck, she leaves.

Final Note

23It is amazing how Haji Halima, who is barely literate, organizes her various business activities, monitors her network, keeps track of outstanding debts, assesses the reputations of the people she deals with, and makes sure that she has enough cash to pay out. She does not put her money in the bank but hoards it in the form of cash, gold, and jewelry. Bookkeeping is done by memory, backed up with Itin’s notes. Haji Halima is a wealthy woman, but she earned her fortune by hard work. She started organizing arisan long before she went to Mecca with her husband, in 1992, only on a smaller scale. She built up her business gradually. Curiously, people in Patondu say that she “works like a man,” while I see her as a prime example of the hardworking women of Patondu.

Case 3: Haji Patma, aways Busy

24Haji Patma (HP) went to Mecca in 1991. She lives together with her husband Haji Ending (HE), her mother, and Sutik, her daughter from her second marriage, Sutik’s husband Hairan and their two children of 13 and 3. For a good estimate of her age, we go through her life history.

Haji Patma’s Life History

25HP was 13 when she was married to a second cousin. After six months, they divorced without the marriage being consummated, because HP kept refusing sexual intercourse. At the time this was quite common in arranged child marriages (see Niehof 1985). After about four years, she married another man from Patondu, named Motammat. Their marriage lasted six years. After two years of marriage, daughter Sutik was born. Motammat did not want to work on his father-in-law’s boat as he was expected to. The couple quarreled about this, and Motammat returned to his parents’ house. HP’s parents sent an envoy to his parents to tell them the marriage was annulled. Apparently, this was accepted as fait accompli, because Motammat never returned. He remarried and still lives in Patondu.

26When the family sent Motammat packing, Sutik was three years old. HP remained single for about three years. Meanwhile, HE had returned from Masalembu, leaving behind a divorced wife and three children. In 1976 he married Haji Patma. After two years, their first child was born, a boy, who died six months later. Daughter Itun was born in May 1981. Haji Patma’s age can now be estimated at 55.

27HP is her parents’ second child. The eldest child died in infancy. The third child, a boy called Rahmat, was born more than ten years after his sister. The parents were able to send him to university in Malang. Rahmat and his wife now both have good jobs and are doing fine. They live in Jakarta. Daughter Itun is also studying in Malang. HP’s mother is still alive, whereas her father has died.

Fish and Cakes

28HP’s parents have always owned boats. HP’s mother was a well-known pangambă’, now retired. She and her husband went to Mecca in 1978. To finance the trip, they sold one of their two ngăddang boats. Unlike Motammat, HE went to sea on the boat of his parents-in-law, for which HP and her mother did the marketing. For taking notes, they were assisted by a woman who could read and write, because both Haji Patma and her mother are illiterate. The second ngăddang boat was sold in 1996. HE first bought an outboard engine of his own that was fitted to a ngăddang boat. With the demise of ngăddang fishery, he sold it and bought a klotok instead, which in turn was sold too. He now owns an engine in somebody else’s klotok, for which he gets two shares that are cashed in by his wife.

  • 6 See Case 4 for a description of this activity.

29The family capital has dwindled. The boats are gone. Sutik’s husband, Hairan, makes a modest living by (small-scale) ngebok.6 The family assets were sold and the money was used for going to Mecca and paying for the education of Rahmat and Itun. Because of the declining household income, especially when the klotok do not sail, HP started a pastry business. She has two kerosene stoves in the kitchen, makes 100-500 pastries to order, and is always busy. Three weeks ago she started a new “production line:” a snack of vegetables and dough fried in oil. She makes them daily, starting at 2 p.m. and finishing at 7 p.m., selling them to four buyers, who get 20 percent off. Per 400 pieces, the net profit is about Rp. 20,000.

Haji Patma as Pangambă’

30HP took over six titles (all klotok boats) from her retired mother. The oldest title goes back 15 years and amounts to Rp. 800,000, the most recent ones are two years old and vary between 2 and 3.7 million. Without hesitation, HP lists the names, durations, and amounts from memory. The klotok catches small tuna in particular, of which the price varies between Rp. 6,000 and Rp. 10,000. The pangambă’ sells the fish and takes her 10 percent from the gross value of the catches. She pays the boat owner’s wife the next day. There is a fixed set of buyers (all women) per klotok who buy the fish from HP. She can reel off their names by heart.

31Usually the buyers pay HP within a few days. Rarely it takes twenty days to a month. Generally, her buyers are not “naughty,” as she puts it. However, there is another interesting phenomenon here. Buyers may “buy a place.” They will pay HP Rp. 200,000-500,000 to be ensured of supply. If a buyer finds another supplier and does not want to buy from HP anymore, she has to return the money. The buyers use the fish for processing and sell the processed fish to fishmongers, with whom HP has no direct dealings.

Professional Ethics

32Patondu counts four professional pangambă’ who deal with klotok owners only, including HP. For majăng boats, the owner’s wife is the pangambă’ (see Case 2). The four of them defend their interests as a group. If, for example, a boat owner wants to switch to another pangambă’, this is deemed unacceptable, even “unethical.” If such a move is made, they inform each other, thus keeping their ranks closed. Neither is it accepted that a boat owner who, for instance, is in debt to a pangambă’ for the engine, replaces his old engine by a new one without involving his pangambă’. She is expected to help him with replacing the engine, thereby maintaining their relationship.

  • 7 Carsten (1997: 144) talks about fishermen being “tied” or “bound” (terikat) to the Chinese middlema (...)

33When a boat is successful, this is seen as proof of a good fit between boat owner and pangambă’. Pangambă’ grant interest-free loans to boat owners if needed. Only when a boat owner needs a substantial amount for repairs to keep the boat in operation and his pangambă’ is unable to help, is it considered justified to find another. Even so, the unwritten rules require that the debt to the former pangambă’ be paid first, and people still consider it not done. The bond between boat owner and pangambă’ is not easily severed, which is why the capital provided by the pangambă’ can be characterized as bonded capital,7 with the so-called ethical norms serving to safeguard the interests of the pangambă’ as a group.

Case 4: Haji Mariam, Fish Trader

34Haji Mariam (HM) was born in 1971, hence is 33 years old. She is married to Haji Zainal (HZ). The couple has two children, a boy of 12 and a girl of 2. Asked whether she wants more children, she answers “yes.” She would like another girl, but not now; she is too busy. She is taking the pill. Her ideal is to a have two girls and one boy. As was already noted in 1978 (Niehof 1985), daughters are important in Patondu because they stay with their parents in old age, while sons follow their wives. Asked about her ideals for the future, she first mentions good health. Then she says that her children should have a house of their own and a car when they are grown up.

Children, Religion, and Marriage

35When HM had finished primary school, her parents sent her to an Islamic boarding school (pesantren) to study there for six years. HM intends to send her son to a pesantren as well, one particular school in Pamekasan. Its diploma is rated equal to a high school diploma, which is why it is expensive. While at primary school, the boy went to Koran lessons every morning at 6 and again in the evening. Coming home from the village school, he would go to the religious school at 2 in the afternoon. Attending the lessons requires only a small fee, but children are supposed to get pocket money. HM’s son gets Rp. 15,000 per day. Even the little one gets Rp. 5,000, which is given to HM’s grandmother who looks after the girl when her parents are working. A working day begins at about 10 a.m. when the boats start coming in (though before 10, women may come to the house to settle accounts) and ends in the evening when the couple returns from selling the fish.

36When in 1998 HM finished boarding school and came home, she married her present husband Zainal, who was a taxi driver. They live in the house of HM’s grandparents in Patondu, on the bank of the river Pasean. By 1993, the couple had saved enough money to buy a car of their own and go to Mecca. In 1999 they started the ngebok business (see below). HM says that she does not like having debts, that it is important to save, be thrifty, and work hard. They are now building a new house, on the road to Waru. When they have moved there, HM will bring her daughter to her grandmother’s house in the morning and pick her up in the evening. HM’s parents live in Patondu. Her father was in ngăddang fishery. Now, her parents have a timber freighter that sails to Kalimantan.

Getting into Business

37After his days as a taxi driver, HZ became a timber trader. In 1999 this business went into decline. They had only 5 million Rp. left from the 15 million that they had borrowed from the bank, and they were not making any profits. They decided to go in the ngebok business. HM was tired of just sitting at home and wanted to work. In one year they had earned enough to pay back their debt to the bank and buy a small pick-up car. Previously they rented one. So far, they have had four cars, and sold two of these. Their second car, a small van, is used as a taxi and brings in a net profit of about Rp. 30,000 per day.

38Ngebok comes from the word “box” and refers to the boxes in which the ice is kept. Ngebok as an activity means storing fresh fish in coolers (actually plastic barrels) packed with ice and salt between the layers of fish, to sell the fish all over Madura, even as far as Surabaya. There are six ngebok traders in Pasean, two of them having a pick-up truck of their own like HM and HZ. Ngebok as a business started about six to seven years ago, when it had already become customary for the boats to take coolers on board.

The Network and the Profits

39The day prior to the interview, the couple brought 15 barrels of kabăn to Tanjung, one barrel containing five baskets. The buying price per basket was Rp. 60,000. One basket (3 buckets) contains about 25 kg of fish. In Tanjung they sold the fish for Rp. 4,000 per kg. The calculations read as follows (Fig. 4):

Fig. 4: Haji Mariam

  • 8 Including Rp. 200,000 depreciation on the car.

Sold for 25 x 5 x 15x Rp. 4,000:



Buying price 15 x 5 x Rp. 60,000:


4,500,000 -

Gross profit:



Costs for transport,8 salt, ice, coolies:


….500,000 -

Net profit:



40If there is not enough fish in Patondu, HM buys it in Slopeng or Pasongsongan. She had the contacts in Tanjung (south coast of Madura) from the start. She is reluctant to sell in other places, because in Tanjung she knows and trusts the people and, waiting for the buyers at her agent’s house (see below), she does not have to be afraid that the fish mongers take away fish without paying.

41For special fish caught in the off-season (October-December), the couple goes to the fish market in Surabaya, where they can make a gross profit of about Rp. 20,000 per kilo. For example, they may buy a kakap merah (Lutjanus argentimaculatus) of 5 kilo in Patondu for Rp. 40,000 and sell it for Rp. 25,000-30,000 per kilo. Hence, on this single fish, they can make a gross profit of Rp. 85,000 to Rp. 110,000. Since about 2001, they also have arrangements for special fish with an agent in Bali, a man they met in Patondu. They send it by bus and the agent picks it up. When the fish is sold, he sends the money through the bank.

42Even during the west monsoon, when there is no fish in Patondu, they work, though not everyday, through their agent in Tanjung. Haji Mariam has made arrangements with people in Moncar, Banyuwangi, and Sindang Biru (east coast of East Java). They will send fish to Tanjung, which the agent sells to the traders. Because HM makes the deals (by telephone), she receives a commission of Rp. 250 per kilo on the fish sold by the agent. For one truck of 4,000 kg of fish, she will receive one million Rp. I ask her how she knew that the agent could be trusted. She answers that before selecting him as her business partner in Tanjung she asked around. But, I argue, if there were a direct contact between the agent and the supplier in, for example Moncar, her services would be no longer needed. She answers that, first, she is the one who makes the deals with the Moncar people and, second, the agent is trust­worthy and does not go back on his promises. She emphasizes the importance of trust and carefully selecting one’s busi­ness partners.

Case 5: Haji Surina, Fish Processor

43Haji Surina (HS) is a woman of about 40. Her eldest child is a daughter called Megawati, whose husband once had a boat of his own but now only owns an engine. Another daughter boards at a pesantren in Bangkalan. HS went to Mecca together with her husband. The couple has a klotok as well. She says that they were the first in Patondu to have one.

44HS started her fish-processing business (pemindangan) twenty years ago. Unlike some other fish processors, she buys all the fish herself or uses her own catches, and also sells the processed fish (ikan pindang) and the fish paste (petis) herself. There are four people from another village (in the interior) who help her during the peak season (July-October), when the pemindangan is in full swing. Two women help with processing, two men work as coolies. Her mother supervises their work when HS is away selling ikan pindang. When not sailing, her husband lends a helping hand too.

Set-Up of the Pemindangan

45The backyard of the house borders on the sea. While formerly there was a strip of beach, now the house is protected from the sea by a concrete wall put up by the government. The pemindangan is in the backyard. Under the tiled roof at the side are two fireplaces that burn on firewood and a row of four kerosene stoves. The kerosene is kept in a steel container that is linked to a hand pump (of the type used for bicycle tires) that pumps the kerosene to the stoves through the sand-covered conduit-pipes. HS boasts that she is the only one using such an ingenious device. According to her, kerosene is cheaper than firewood. When all stoves are in use, she spends about Rp. 44,000 a day on kerosene.

Haji Surina’s Working Day

46At 5 a.m. HS goes to Pakong to sell part of the ikan pindang produced the day before. By pick-up truck she sends the other part off to Pamekasan and Pegantenan to traders, at a pre-arranged price. When going to Pakong, she also brings petis to sell to the shops, which she does in Sotabar and Waru as well. Her mother sells it in Kapong. The shops buy the jars for Rp. 3,000 each, selling them for a retail price of Rp. 5,000.

47HS is back in Patondu by the time the boats come in. If there is not enough fish from her own boat, she buys it herself at the beach. When there is not enough kabăn in Patondu, she buys it in Pasongsongan or Slopeng, depending on the price. If too high, she will not run the pemindangan. At the time of my visit, the business had not been in operation for three days, which she clearly did not consider a welcome holiday.

The Processing

48For processing, one needs a 20-liter pan of water and bamboo baskets. In the larger baskets 15 manit (small tongkol, Euthynnus spp.) are put, in the smaller ones 15 kabăn. The fish is sprinkled with salt, which is also added to the water. The fishes are arranged in the baskets separated by strips of bamboo and covered by pieces of banana leaf. Five small baskets or three large ones at a time are immersed in the boiling water. The baskets are tied together and kept in the boiling water for about twelve minutes. After 25 larger baskets or 50 smaller ones have been done, the liquid—also containing the fish entrails—is ready for the next phase. After adding one kilo of sugar, the soup is stirred until it becomes treacly, yielding five jars of petis.

49According to HS, kabăn produces first quality petis, manit is less good. Good petis has a light brown color and can be kept for a year without turning dark. HS says that the key to producing good petis is to use right away the water in which the fish was cooked, instead of leaving it overnight, and stir it for four to five hours. She often receives special orders for her petis. The small plastic jars are bought in Patondu for Rp. 2,500 a dozen. The profits of the business come from the petis, generally not from selling ikan pindang. When not using her own catches, HS buys kabăn for Rp. 5,000 per ten and sells them as ikan pindang for Rp. 7,500 per basket of 15 pieces. She is proud of her business and works hard to make it a success.

Fig. 5: Fish processor sorting fish

Fig. 5: Fish processor sorting fish

Photo by the author, 2004.

Case 6: Ibu Ramlah, the Plight of a Poor Woman

50Ibu Ramlah (IR) is an old lady with a tired face. She used to live in Patondu, but now lives in the new wards further to the west. The house she lives in with her two grandchildren once was a decent house with brick walls and a tiled roof, but now looks dilapidated. It is totally devoid of furniture. Her late husband had inherited a piece of land from his parents, that he sold to buy the house.

51IR lives in the house with her grandson (aged 15) and a granddaughter of six. When her granddaughter was ten months old, the father died. Soon after, IR’s husband died as well. The mother of the children, IR’s daughter Atbiyah, went off to Saudi Arabia ten months ago, leaving behind a debt of thirty million Rp. to a haji in Klampis who recruits people for overseas work and financed her journey. In Saudi Arabia, Atbiyah works as a domestic servant for a Saudi family. The work is hard and her meager earnings do not allow her to save much. So far, she only managed to pay back 1,250,000 Rp. of her debt, and could send nothing to her mother.

52IR tries to cope and provide for herself and her two grandchildren, but has debts as well. She buys fish on the beach and sells it in the small market along the road in Patondu. This earns her about Rp. 3,000 a day, just enough to buy rice for her household. The boy has been a deckhand on a klotok for two years now. He never went to school and faces a bleak future. IR has another daughter, who is married and lives elsewhere. However, the couple is too poor to support her.

Analysing the Stories

Matrons and their Agency

53All women in the stories clearly display agency; they take matters into their own hands and use their knowledge, experience, and skills to improve their own situation and that of their dependants as best as they can. Patondu’s fishing economy and social organization provides them with ample opportunities to do so. Moreover, the cases of Haji Halima (Case 2), Haji Patma (Case 3), Haji Mariam (Case 4), and Haji Surina (Case 5) reveal keen and innovative entrepreneurship. Even Ibu Ramlah (Case 6) exercises her agency, in spite of the desperate situation she finds herself in and with the limited options she has.

54Especially the pangambă’, but also the fish processors and ngebok traders, have a relationship with small fish traders and ordinary fishermen that is both hierarchical and multi-stranded. This relationship is extended to other minor actors on the fishery scene, like fish-processing workers, coolies, and the women from the interior who sell wood for fuel. The relations of the pangambă’ with the owners of boats and equipment and with crewmembers of the boats they do the marketing for, as well as their relations with the network of fish buyers, have the durability, normative underpinnings, and personal touch that resemble those of a patron-client relationship. Indeed, while in a study on a fishing village in South Sulawesi the relationship between boat owner and crew is characterized as a patronage relationship (Meereboer 1998), one could view the relationship of the pangambă’ with her clients as “matronage.” The patrons in this case are all women, hence more aptly called matrons, while the clients are both men and women.

Mothers and Daughters

55The stories show that daughters of pangambă’ can inherit their mothers’ titles, in this way transferring the matronage relationship to the next generation. Haji Rahma (Case 1), who has no daughter but only a son, makes him choose a wife who is at least from the area and hopefully will succeed her as pangambă’. Haji Halima (Case 2) is childless and adopts a niece, to assist her now and take over later. For her arisan work, she uses her younger sister-in-law to help her. This reveals a matrilineal tendency in a society otherwise based on bilateral kinship (Niehof 1985). Inheritance in Patondu’s fishing community also has a double-unilateral streak: boats and fishing gear are inherited in the male line, houses and ambă’ titles in the female line.

56The case of Haji Patma’s failed marriage with Motammat (Case 3) shows not only expectations with regard to daughters but also to sons-in-law. Among the fishing folk, the ideal is to be a boat owner, your wife is the pangambă’, you have a daughter to assist and succeed her mother and a son-in-law who dutifully works on your boat. To earn money in fishery in Patondu, it is important to have capital to invest, possess trading and entrepreneurial skills, have access to the network of fish traders, and, preferably, some inherited titles. Due to the prevailing gender-based division of labor, it is the women who have this. Hence, people are generally more concerned when they do not have a daughter than when they do not have a son, although it is nice if you have both.


57To decide whether in the case of Patondu the mechanism and ideological underpinnings of ibuism apply, it has to be kept in mind that the concept was developed for the Javanese, priyayi-oriented context. Referring to a social class and a particular socio-religious way of life in Javanese society, the term priyayi was used by Geertz (1960) to categorize the Javanese into those with a priyayi, abangan, or santri background and orientation. The essence of priyayi-ness is to “maintain the proprieties and good forms of social behaviour, not to behave in a common way” (Kumar 2006: 24, my italics), in addition to a number of other laudable characteristics. For priyayi women, ibuism provides a way out from the constrictive priyayi code of conduct. It enables them to engage in money-making in a way that their husbands cannot, because as mothers they have to provide for their (and even other women’s) families. In Patondu, the pangambă’ and the women fish traders and processors belong to what people call the orèng lowar, “outer people,” including all the people who earn their daily living from fishing, fish trade, or fish processing. All women discussed in the cases belong to this group. The other group are the orèng dalam, “inner people,” who do not go to sea or deal with fish (see Jordaan & Niehof 1982). For orèng lowar women it is acceptable to behave in a kasar (coarse) manner. Indeed, refined (halus, priyayi-like) behavior would not get you very far in the fish business. The concepts of kasar and halus are layered and contextual. In Patondu, orèng lowar are considered to be kasar, as opposed to orèng dalam, who are expected to display more halus behavior; Javanese tend to look down upon Madurese in general as being kasar. The concepts also generate alternative discourses (Carsten 1997: 56). This is illustrated by the case of Haji Halima, who is a polite and soft-spoken lady at home, but turns into a yelling and scolding fury in her dealings with the fish traders on the beach. To conclude, women’s power in Patondu cannot be explained by the mechanism and ideology of ibuism. The concept of ibuism does not help solving the puzzle.

General Discussion

58The findings about Patondu women presented in this paper can be aligned in several ways, according to different axes. First, I shall compare them to the picture that emerges from an article on women’s work in Vietnamese fishing communities (Pham 2004). The author draws on findings from several local studies. There are many similarities between women’s work in Vietnamese fishing communities and that of the Patondu women. In both situations, women do the fish marketing and processing, and women are considered better than men at making profits, contributing significantly to the household income. Men just fish and, once ashore, rest. There are also notable differences between Vietnam and Patondu. The first one is that in some places in Vietnam women may join the crew and participate in the actual fishing. In Patondu, women are barred from entering boats or even touching fishing gear; it would bring bad luck. In Vietnam, women’s participation in fishing began during the war when women had to replace the many absent men. That fishing still is regarded a man’s job is obvious from the fact that now, if women join the crew, they do women’s jobs, like cooking. A more fundamental difference is that women are seen as “dependent on men regardless of their real work and contribution” (Pham 2004: 166). In Patondu, men acknowledge their dependence on women in money matters. Patondu couples who go on a pilgrimage to Mecca mostly can do so thanks to money earned by the wife, and this is not seen as anomalous, but as a fact of life. In Vietnamese fishing villages, women play no role in financing fishery like the pangambă’ do. In Vietnam, formal loans can only be obtained by the head of the household, the male “breadwinner,” and informal borrowing is limited. In Patondu, the broad array of institutions and relations of informal borrowing, including the various arisan, with their intricate mechanisms of indebtedness and unwritten rules for lending and borrowing, are largely controlled by women.

59A second axis for positioning our findings is that of women traders in Indonesia. Building on the work of Dewey (1962), there is now a substantial body of literature on the gendered nature of markets and trading, particularly in Java. After reviewing the evidence, Alexander and Alexander (2001: 65) conclude that there is little doubt “that a view of commerce (and not only petty commerce) as an appropriate domain for women is widely held by Javanese men and women, and this, at least, legitimates female commercial activities in ways not possible in societies where commerce is seen as man’s work.” This view certainly fits the picture emerging from our data and reports on Javanese fishing villages (see Upton & Susilowati 1992). It does not apply to the tobacco trade in Madura, which is strictly men’s business (De Jonge 1984). But also in the Javanese market, though dominated by women, there are “male” commodities (Alexander 1998; Alexander & Alexander 2001).

Changes and Continuity

60In spite of all changes in Patondu over the past twenty-six years, the position of its women is still strong, if not stronger than before. In 1980, the women were a major factor in effectively obstructing the government’s modernization scheme that would have put them out of business (Jordaan & Niehof 1982). According to a key informant, at wedding receptions it is nowadays women who represent the household, while formerly men did. It is common knowledge that the increase in the number of people who made the pilgrimage to Mecca was financed with money mostly made by women.

61The resilience of women professionals in the fishery sector can be explained by its rigid gendered division of labor. This is backed up by a more general notion of women being good with money that does not entail the perception that women depend on men because they catch the fish that women need for trading, as in Vietnam. In Patondu, people take everything at “fish value,” meaning that it is the economic value of fish that counts, and it is women who determine and manipulate this value. The sea, the fish it produces, and men’s activities at sea are part of and included in the onshore fishing economy, which is largely controlled by women.

62Women also dominate the fishing economy because of their hard work, skills, and entrepreneurial spirit, taking technological innovations (such as Haji Halima’s radio and Haji Surina’s kerosene pump) in their stride. Kusnadi (2001: 121) mentions a few cases in a village on the east coast of Java where pangambă’ titles were transferred to men (husband or son). They did not do well. The local people explained this by saying that in trading, women are more luwes than men, meaning smooth or flexible. In other words, women have a more effective style. Comparable qualifications explaining the success of women traders are reported in the literature on the Javanese market (Alexander 1998). In those reports, an additional point is made that might have come out in Madura too, had I specifically asked for it. Men are perceived as more easily tempted to use their earnings for pleasure and squander it on women, gambling, or other vices, instead of investing it in business. It is seen as part of the male character (Brenner 1995). While there are cultural differences between Javanese and Madurese women, such as the Madurese being more inclined to display of wealth than the Javanese, neither the Patondu women nor Javanese women traders trust men with money. It is the women who keep the (unwritten) accounts and the hand on the purse. On the position of Malay women in a fishing community in Kelantan, Rosemary Firth (1966: 26-27) observes: “The real influence of the woman […] comes from her control over the purse strings. All money earned by fishermen is given to the woman both to spend and save.” Additionally, one of the men said to her that he would not know how much money there was in the house. If he needed money for the purchase of boats or nets, he would ask his wife. In the same vein, Raymond Firth (1966: 80) observes: “Not only do [women] exercise an important influence on the control of the family finances, commonly acting as bankers for their husbands, but they also engage in independent enterprises, which increase the family supply of cash.” Although these accounts relate to the situation in 1940, they tally very well with more contemporary descriptions. In Sungai Cantik (Carsten 1997: 154), men hand over all earnings to their wife, only keeping some pocket money (duit kopi, or “coffee money”) for themselves. In the same way, in Patondu, men can have uang rokok (“cigarettes money”), but no more than that.

63In the view of Patondu women, money should be used as much as possible to generate more money, with the exception of saving for the pilgrimage to Mecca and the expense of children’s (religious) education. These exceptions are significant, because they reveal the motivation of successful traders and pangambă’ to convert wealth and economic power into social status, which in Patondu is acquired by becoming a haji and/or getting one’s children a prestigious pesantren education. And, again, it is the women who decide on the allocation of money for such purposes. As in Kelantan (see above), Patondu men leave banking to their wives and are kept ignorant of the household’s financial reserves because that is women’s business.

64A last point to be made here is that the blurring of boundaries between household, family, and business in Patondu strengthens the position of women because it enlarges their maneuvering space. Patondu women are not domesticated. Although an adult woman’s role in Patondu, as in Sungai Cantik (see Carsten 1997), is grounded in the exclusively feminine domain of the hearth and the kitchen, it is not confined to this. Starting from the hearth, the feminine role of food provider is extended beyond it to include the accumulation of wealth for the enhancement of the material and spiritual well-being of the family. In her analysis of engendered entrepreneurship in the ceramics trade in Vietnam, Hy (1998: 303) finds the same phenomenon, namely that from the household, “the social unit of greatest significance to women,” these can actively pursue “household-strengthening economic activities.”

65Brenner (1998: 15) rightly questions the distinction between the domestic and the public domain. He describes the domestic domain in Java as an “encompassing sphere.” Following Dumont (1978), the word “encompassing” implies hierarchy, with the encompassing being superior to the encompassed. If, as is the case in Patondu, the domestic sphere encompasses the economic and the social spheres, though not the religious and the political spheres, and the onshore fishing economy encompasses the actual fishing activity at sea, then in two ways women come out favorably in the gender equation.

The Problem of Difference

66The account of the women in Patondu should not be read as if they were all wealthy and powerful. The story of Ibu Ramlah (Case 6) is an example of the numerous poor women struggling to make ends meet. During the past twenty-six years, the gap between the haves and the have-nots, for which Madurese literally uses the same terms, seems to have widened (see Niehof et al. 2005), both among orèng lowar and orèng dalam. The question is how gender differences relate to these socio-economic differences, how important the differences “between” are in comparison to the differences “within,” or—in other words—whether gender differences “should be privileged over all other forms of difference” (Moore 1993: 195).

67In my opinion, as a rule, gender differences should not be privileged over other forms of difference. However, in the case of Patondu the gender difference is so deeply embedded in a culturally and ecologically underpinned, gendered division of labor that it becomes all-pervasive. Hence, the differences “within” can be subsumed under the differences “between.” Still, the differences in socio-economic status within the group of Patondu women cannot be ignored. This leaves us with two questions, one about the relationship between well-to-do and poor women and one about socio-economic mobility.

68As to the question of how the Patondu women themselves deal with and perceive the differences among them, the answer is that to a certain extent these differences are acknowledged and accepted. Within the matronage relationship, the parties involved know their station, their rights, and their obligations. Traders may try to cheat, pangambă’ may be greedy, but they are all aware of their mutual dependence. They know the unwritten rules of the game, even though they may occasionally try to bend or circumvent them.

69Regarding the second question, the familiar phenomenon that for the rich it is easier to get richer than for the poor to become rich, applies in Patondu as well. Household survey data could shed more light on economic stratification in Patondu, but presenting those is beyond the scope of this paper. For the present argument it is important to note that to small traders and processors, successful traders and pangambă’ are role models. They set the standards to which the small traders can attune their aspirations and practices. Hy (1998) sees the same mechanism among women entrepreneurs in the ceramics business in Vietnam. Interestingly, Patondu women seem also to have become role models for the women in the hinterland villages, who are increasingly active in Patondu’s fishing economy. While in 1978 women from the hinterland hardly played a role in the Patondu fishery scene, as fishmongers they now have acquired a place of their own in the stratified fishing economy, albeit in the lowest ranks. Locality is an issue here. Most petty traders, the poorly-paid workers in fish processing, and the coolies do not come from Patondu. People there consider this kind of work below their dignity and more fitting for people from the poor agricultural villages in the interior. This shows how gender intersects with other stratifying variables, while—at the same time—in Patondu the gender difference is the more encompassing one.

Haut de page


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1 Patondu is a pseudonym.

2 I have limited the use of Madurese and Indonesian words as much as possible, but when there are no suitable English equivalent, it cannot be avoided.

3 See Case 5 for a detailed description.

4 The title Haji means that the person has completed the pilgrimage to Mecca.

5 The rupiah (Rp), the Indonesian currency, had an exchange rate of about 8,000 Rp to 1 UD$ at the time of research.

6 See Case 4 for a description of this activity.

7 Carsten (1997: 144) talks about fishermen being “tied” or “bound” (terikat) to the Chinese middleman who financed their boats. Raymond Firth (1966: 337-338) also mentions the “tied boat system.”

8 Including Rp. 200,000 depreciation on the car.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1: Two pangambă’ (center) supervising the proper allocation of their fishing boats’ catches
Crédits Photo by the author, 1978.
Fichier image/png, 186k
Titre Fig. 2: Haji Halima making her rounds to collect arisan money from participants and recording the receipt
Crédits Photo by the author, 2004.
Fichier image/png, 130k
Titre Fig. 5: Fish processor sorting fish
Légende Photo by the author, 2004.
Fichier image/png, 210k
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Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Anke Niehof, « Fish and Female Agency in a Madurese Fishing Village in Indonesia », Moussons, 11 | 2007, 185-209.

Référence électronique

Anke Niehof, « Fish and Female Agency in a Madurese Fishing Village in Indonesia », Moussons [En ligne], 11 | 2007, mis en ligne le 10 décembre 2012, consulté le 27 mars 2017. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/moussons.1817

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Anke Niehof

Anke Niehof is a full professor of sociology at Wageningen University, the Netherlands. Her research interests include the topics of food and livelihood security, gender, informal care, ageing, and reproductive health. Together with Firman Lubis, she published a book on thirty years of family planning in Indonesia (Two is enough: Family planning in Indonesia under the New Order, 1968-1998, Leiden: KITLV Press, 2003).

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