Materializations of Disaster: Recovering Lost Plots in a Tsunami-Affected Village in South India

  • Frida Hastrup


The Asian tsunami that swept across coastal regions all around the Indian Ocean in December 2004 left innumerable affected communities at a loss. Thousands and thousands of people perished, many more were left homeless, personal and household belongings were washed away, and the afflicted populations’ trust in their surroundings was seriously compromised. The South Indian village of Tharangambadi on the coast of Tamil Nadu was one of the places badly hit by the disaster (see F. Hastrup 2008, 2009). Out of the village’s total population of about 7,000, the tsunami killed 314 persons, the clear majority of whom belonged to the 1,200 fishing households settled along the beach lining the Bay of Bengal.

In this chapter, I focus on the recovery process as undertaken by survivors in Tharangambadi in the wake of the tsunami. Anthropologists have recently noted that even seemingly disempowering experiences of disorder and fragmentation do not lead to passivity; in many societies, crises may simply constitute a context for subjective agency (Vigh 2008: 10-11). In times of trouble, people often display a remarkable talent for living and a degree of resilience, which prompts a need to rethink dominant models of trauma, as Nancy Scheper-Hughes has observed (2008). The capacity to act and exercise resilience in the face of overwhelming events was certainly apparent in the case of Tharangambadi, and on the basis of 10 months of anthropological fieldwork among men and women of the village’s fishing community, conducted in 2005, 2006 and 2008, I explore how the villagers have worked over time to make their local world inhabitable in the face of a brutal and disconcerting experience.


Fishing Community Household Item Fishing Village Temporary Shelter Fishing Household 
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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark

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