The Vezo are fishing people of western Madagascar. The identity of the Vezo is not fixed by descent; rather, it is established by what they do. They are people of the sea, distinguished from the farmers around them by their economic specialism. Ethnicity is usually thought to be a consequence of inborn qualities acquired by descent, and Astuti explores the consequences of ascribing ethnic identity with reference to economic activity. Her analysis reveals that only in the cult of the dead does descent become critical, and her argument in this innovative analysis of Vezo kinship is that the people distinguish two models of the person: one determined by the past, and the other defined contextually, in the present.
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