A social topography of fishing: Exploring the spatial variability of fish consumption practices at Songo Mnara

Author(s): Erendira Quintana Morales

Year: 2015


In the Swahili towns of the East African coast, fish have contributed a major source of protein consumed by coastal inhabitants, but the role of fish consumption in the construction of social meaning is rarely discussed. This paper addresses this gap by exploring spatial differences in fish consumption strategies around Songo Mnara, a 15th -16th century Swahili town in the Kilwa Archipelago, and links them to social patterns visible in the organization of the town. The spatial distribution of discarded fish and other animal remains shows variability in the relative frequency, taxonomical composition, and estimated size of fish, indicating that food consumption practices varied across different socially-defined spaces around Songo Mnara. Inhabitants in a non-elite area of the town relied more heavily on the consumption of fish than domesticated animals than their elite counterparts; the latter also consumed larger fish and more outer reef fish compared to their non-elite neighbours. More than reflections of the socio-economic status of their consumers, these differences in fish consumption could indicate processes through which people constructed and reinforced social status, such as through access to particular tools and forms of consumption that connected them to the Indian Ocean trading network.

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Cite this Record

A social topography of fishing: Exploring the spatial variability of fish consumption practices at Songo Mnara. Erendira Quintana Morales. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 395079)


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min long: -18.809; min lat: -38.823 ; max long: 53.262; max lat: 38.823 ;