Kinship and Food in South East Asia

edited by Monica Janowski & Fiona Kerlogue

Available from NIAS Press worldwide
ISBN Paperback: 978 87 91114 93 9, £17.99 ()

Food has an important role in establishing and structuring social and kin relations in Southeast Asian societies. Presenting material from ten societies in the region, the papers included in this volume argue that the feeding of foods, drink and meals based on (especially) rice is used to manipulate ‘biological’ kinship and to construct a ‘kinship’ particular to humans.

Food has an important role in establishing and structuring social and kin relations in Southeast Asian societies. For this reason, there is growing interest within anthropology in understanding how the production, processing and consumption of food is one important basis for the construction of ties of relatedness, so-called ‘kin’ ties. These are often based at least partly on ‘shared substance’. In this respect, a book on Southeast Asia is especially interesting in understanding kinship since the region is generally taken to include a number of distinct types of kin structure.


This book offers eleven chapters covering a range of societies in different parts of Southeast Asia. It examines ways in which food is used to think about and bring about ties between generations and within generations - including between the living and the dead - in particular through the feeding relationship. Significant parallels emerge between the societies covered: in the role of rice especially; in gender complementarity in relation to different foods; in the belief that food and drink carry fertility, ‘blessings’ or ‘life force’ from ascending to descending generations; and in the use of the feeding relationship to generate hierarchy. These parallels suggest that there may be underlying similarities in cosmology between these widely varying societies.


A significant contribution to the ongoing debate on the nature of kinship in Southeast Asia, this volume will be useful as a textbook for courses within anthropology, including on the anthropology of food and environmental anthropology.


‘This is a book that contains a treasure of ethnographic facts and detailed information for the reader interested in social and cultural systems in Southeast Asia ... and conveys in-depth knowledge from scholars with long experience from the area’ (external reviewer).

Monica Janowski has long researched, published on and worked with the people of the Kelabit Highlands of northern Borneo. As an anthropologist, she has been particularly interested in issues concerning the environment, food and cosmology. At the same time, she has shown an ability to communicate research findings to a wider audience (including as co-producor of nine radio series with the BBC). However, perhaps her most lasting contribution will be her work with the Kelabit to preserve their cultural legacy and pass it on to future generations.

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by Lee Wilson, University of Cambridge
From journal:
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, vol. 16, no. 2, June 2010

This well-conceived volume brings together a collection of papers that explore the relationship between the production, consumption and exchange of food and the structuring of kinship in Southeast Asia.  Through a focus on food in ananlysis, the contributors yield novel and informative insights into gender heirarchies, the importance of kinship, and the role of women in nurturing ties of r

This well-conceived volume brings together a collection of papers that explore the relationship between the production, consumption and exchange of food and the structuring of kinship in Southeast Asia.  Through a focus on food in ananlysis, the contributors yield novel and informative insights into gender heirarchies, the importance of kinship, and the role of women in nurturing ties of relatedness. 

Overall, the collected papers comprise an original and valuable contribution to the literature on the social construction of kinship in Southeast Asia.

by Roxana Waterson, National University of Singapore
From journal:
Asian Journal of Social Science 38 (2010)

This collection of twelve papers on the ethnography of food and kinship in Southeast Asia probes a possible gap in understandings of kinship and the substance of relationships, and proves that what is actually done with food is a topic that repays a very close-grained analysis. 

This collection of twelve papers on the ethnography of food and kinship in Southeast Asia probes a possible gap in understandings of kinship and the substance of relationships, and proves that what is actually done with food is a topic that repays a very close-grained analysis. 

[T]his volume makes a creative contribution to the ethnography of Southeast Asian societies as well as to the ever-expanding debate within anthropology about the nature of ‘kinship’, a debate which has been revitalised by the conceptual challenges posed by the spread of new reproductive technologies.  As the authors conclude, the sort of analyses presented here might well be fruitfully pursued in other ethnographic regions too, for food is everywhere a powerful mediator of relationships.

by Eugen N. Anderson
From journal:
Anthropos 103.2008

Never … have the foodways of particular groups been better described than herein, or more thoroughly chronicled in a comparative and analytic volume. 

For students of the anthropology of food, it is essential reading.

Never … have the foodways of particular groups been better described than herein, or more thoroughly chronicled in a comparative and analytic volume. 

For students of the anthropology of food, it is essential reading.

by Judith Bovensiepen
From journal:
Sojourn, 24 (2), 2009

 Due to its juxtaposition of kinship terminology with everyday practices of kinship and relatedness, this volume is an ethnographically rich and timely addition to “new kinship studies”. … The book offers an excellent overview of different Southeast Asian societies and the way they use food to construct and manipulate social relations.

 Due to its juxtaposition of kinship terminology with everyday practices of kinship and relatedness, this volume is an ethnographically rich and timely addition to “new kinship studies”. … The book offers an excellent overview of different Southeast Asian societies and the way they use food to construct and manipulate social relations. The volume provides detailed juxtaposition of the role of food in everyday life and its significance in rituals. Together the contributions in this volume effectively blend the theoretical concepts of the Comparative Austronesian Project with the work from the “new kinship studies”, furthering understanding on the link between food and kinship in Southeast Asia.

by Robyn Eckhardt
From journal:
Gastronomica, winter 2009

“A welcome and important addition to the scholarly literature on kinship, this volume will also be of interest to South East Asianists and to those keen to expand their knowledge of the place and uses

“A welcome and important addition to the scholarly literature on kinship, this volume will also be of interest to South East Asianists and to those keen to expand their knowledge of the place and uses of food in societies around the world.”

by Simon Choo
From journal:
Anthropological Forum 19 (1) March 2009

“With contributions from ten authors who cover a range of Southeast Asian locales, and an equally broad spectrum of theoretical perspectives, there is sure to be something to suit most tastes….[A] h

“With contributions from ten authors who cover a range of Southeast Asian locales, and an equally broad spectrum of theoretical perspectives, there is sure to be something to suit most tastes….[A] highly symbolic account of the significance of food”

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