Le riz du foyer et l'unité de la maison
Janet Carsten dans l'île de Langkawi (Malaisie)

Séminaire du Jeudi 24 mars 2016

Le foyer, la cuisine et le centre de la vie domestique

Certains des thèmes ethnographiques qui nous intéressent furent d'abord développés par Janet Carsten dans un article de 1995, dont voici deux échantillons, puis repris dans la monographie de 1997, que nous abordons à travers des extraits de deux excellentes recensions. Janet Carsten, The Substance of Kinship and the Heat of the Hearth: Feeding, Personhood, and Relatedness among Malays in Pulau Langkawi, American Ethnologist, Vol. 22, No. 2 (May, 1995), pp. 223-241:

Perhaps the most important principle embodied by the house in Langkawi is that of unity and resistance to division. Household unity is reflected in the spatial arrangements of the house, which show a minimum of division. In particular, houses never have more than one hearth, dapur. However many couples reside together in one house, they always cook and eat full meals together; rice is a main constituent of these meals. To eat such meals in other houses is much frowned upon, and children from an early age are taught to return home for full rice meals. This commensality is a prime focus of what it means to be of one household.

Houses in Langkawi are strongly associated with women. In the first place this is because women spend much of their time there, while men are absent during most of the day on fishing trips, in the coffeeshops, or at the mosque. […] Women are particularly and positively associated with the focal space of the house, the dapur, a term that is used for the hearth, the kitchen, and the main living area of the house. It is in the dapur that women perform the activities that are central to the reproduction of the house and its members: here food is cooked and eaten, and here women spend a great deal of their daytime work and leisure hours."

Laissons de côté le rôle du lait et du sang dans la procréation et la construction de la germanité. Des trois substances vitales constitutives de la parenté, nous privilégions la troisième, le riz, qui paraît plus particulièrement constitutif de la Maison.

Blood itself is said to be created in the body from food, and the prime food for Malay is cooked rice. Darah, daging mari pada nasi, "Blood, flesh come from cooked rice," people say. Those who do not eat rice become "dry," kering. Such individuals have no "blood," and of them it is said, "All that remains is bones," tinggal tu fang sahaja. Eating rice and eating a meal are synonymous in Malay perception. Food is rice — the defining component of a proper meal. The day-to-day sharing of rice meals cooked in the same hearth (which is a definitive activity for those who live in the same house) thus also implies shared substance, albeit in a weaker sense than for milk siblings. There exists a continuum between rice (food), milk, and blood. The sharing of any or all of these connotes having substance in common, hence being related. Traditionally, after being given the mother's breast a child was ritually fed cooked rice and banana because "cooked rice becomes blood too," nasi jadi darah juga. A baby's body is cold at birth and, since breast milk — like blood — is hot, the baby becomes heated through breast-feeding. After this the baby can consume rice with its kin in the way that is constitutive of relations within one house.

La nourriture et la maison

Janet Carsten, The Heat of the Hearth. The Process of Kinship in a Malay Fishing Community, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1997. Recension par Charles Macdonald, L'Homme, No. 154/155, Question de parenté (Apr. - Sep., 2000), pp. 761-763:

«Lorsque Janet Carsten demanda a une vieille dame du village où elle menait son enquête ce qu'il fallait faire pour installer une maison, son informatrice lui donna la recette du poulet au curry. C'est ainsi que se mettent en place deux éléments clés — la nourriture et la maison — d'une équation qui est, d'après l'auteur, la formule même de la vie sociale dans une communauté de pêcheurs de l'île de Langkawi, sur la côte ouest de la Malaysia, à la frontière avec la Thaïlande. Pour Janet Carsten en effet, à Langkawi l'existence sociale a sa source dans les actes domestiques féminins, la société dans la maison. Tout est le produit de l'activité des femmes à partir et au moyen du foyer. C'est là, dans la pièce du même nom, que se trouve le foyer, dapur, véritable générateur de lien social. Il produit la nourriture, permet la commensalité et confère la substance parentale. Sa chaleur et sa force irradient jusqu'aux confins de la communauté. Si la maison est l'extension du foyer, la communauté est l'extension de la maison. Cette «extension incorporative» (expansion) est à la fois symbolique et sociologique, «coercitive» même (coercive incorporation).

Le contenu moral ou éthique de la parenté (morality of kinship)

Sini Cederkreutz, Recension de The Heat of the Hearth,
dans Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, Vol. 154, No. 3 (1998), pp. 479-485:

The primary focus of the book is on the morality of kinship and how it is experienced amongst a heterogenous group of Muslim migrants. For the past century or so these migrants have settled on the island of Langkawi off the northwest coast of peninsular Malaysia. The book brings together the ethnographer's earlier, highly idiosyncratic work, which has covered such varied topics as women and household-community relations, the morality and meanings of money, inheritance, child-fostering, future-oriented kinship, feeding, personhood and relatedness, Lévi-Strauss' concept of 'house societies', and migration and memory. These subjects are integrated here into a master argument about women's roles in creating kinship. In Langkawi, the ideals of sameness and equality are typified by the central sibling relationship. Moreover, the 'house' is identified as the indigenous social unit which allows an approach both to the individual and to the community. Houses are also social actors per se: through them, kinship proceeds from the 'heat of the hearth' to the community, and back. The book is divided into two central portions (Part 1: 'Inside the house'; Part 2: Outside the house') which explore how we can explain subtle forms of boundary marking. The data identified arise from a holistic approach to complete processes of 'invisible' everyday activities. Much of Langkawi kinship is defined in terms of the work women perform by the hearth, in the immediate compound, within the neighbourhood and in the rice paddies. An argument is built up around the issues of:

[Carsten, p.4] “[...] feeding, hospitality, exchanges, marriage, children, fostering, and grand-parenthood — all the ways in which Malay people on the island of Langkawi become kin. Kinship and personhood in Langkawi have to be understood in processual terms. Identity [...] is both given at birth through ties of procreation, but perhaps more importantly, it is also acquired throughout life by living together in one house and sharing food.”

Before embarking on a journey from inside the familiar house into the less secure world outside it, the author reveals that she only recognized these micro-historical principles of community-making through becoming an adoptive daughter of a Langkawi house. Sometimes painfully at other times cheerfully, she was herself subjected to 'coercive incorporation'. This consists of women's assimilative work within the houses, with which they are strongly associated in both practical and symbolic terms. The approach to the concepts of relatedness and personhood is not restricted to the confines of the private and the domestic. Women apply the life-sustaining heat of the hearth to the rice cooked in it. Rice, which is an 'enabling substance of kinship', is shared or exchanged with other houses. Hence women have considerable latitude to play with malleable boundaries (of bodies, people, houses) beyond the domestic. Houses are temporarily included in (or excluded from) commensality through the sharing of rice."

Malay humoralism

The 'transformative potential of kinship' (Chapter 4) derives from the interchangeability and connections between blood, breast milk and food. These are shared through siblingship, houses and hearths. 'Shared blood is shared female substance' (p. 110), and 'the blood of siblings is identical' (p. 111). The logic of these three vital substances underlies ideas about fertility and conception, circumcision, and death. Blood becomes milk and breast feeding creates potentially incestuous closeness in otherwise unrelated siblings. The state of blood affects procreation and bodily health. This Malay humoralism is evident in childbirth. By the heat of the hearth which emanates vitality, a post-partum woman is 'cooked'. This controlled heating counteracts the cooling effects of excessive bleeding. The hearth helps to control the balance of blood: not too cold — 'death is really feeling cold' (p. 123) — nor too hot. In this sense the rendering 'warmth' of the hearth might be better than the 'heat' suggested by the author, since it appears that extremes are negative.