An anthropology of hunting in Malta


Birds of passage: hunting and conservation in Malta

By Mark-Anthony Falzon

Published by Berghahn, 2020/2022

Hunting and conservation – a complex phrase to justify or circumvent. Its use as a caption in a new publication will come as no surprise to those familiar with the academic work of author Mark-Anthony Falzon, or his previous contributions to journalistic commentary. His writing consistently delivers lucid and highly engaging, often provocative, narratives with a linguistic fluency and flow of argument that makes for a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding read.

Birds of passage deliver it all. He does this from a worldview that focuses on the “and” in “hunting and conservation”. It is a publication that offers a journey through the spaces (physical, social, cultural) between hunters/hunting and nature/conservation. He does this in a way that is both intensely scholarly and yet accessible to the general public – and it is done in the context of a bird enthusiast’s respect for the ‘Namra‘ bird hunters in Malta.

Yes, it sounds paradoxical, but there it is – this seemingly illogical relationship is what drives Falzon’s narrative and anthropological research. This is what makes the book engaging and compelling and leaves the reader with the impression that while the birds of passage are clearly in the vortex of all the conversations, observations and descriptions recorded in the book, this is what happens between the people involved and their precious natural and cultural spaces that concern Falzon.

This is not a book on the history of hunting in Malta

The book begins with an account of a disturbing (to some) public swan slaughter in Malta in 2002. It ends with another account of mute swans landing in Malta in 2017 – this time, however, Falzon describes the struggle between the federation of hunters and birdwatchers claim responsibility for feeding these majestic visitors. It is the process of change in the Maltese context of hunting and conservation from the first scenario to the second that is the essence of this book.

As Falzon himself points out, this is not a book about the history of hunting in Malta. Although the narratives of the six chapters trace changes over time, they do so by highlighting and exploring the significant impacts of key themes such as class influence, politics, knowledge/research and the activism.

The book begins with an account of a disturbing (to some) public swan slaughter in Malta in 2002. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

Emotions and contestations are often center stage, as are cultural notions of masculinity, modernity or Mediterranean ‘being’. Place, beauty, and contested rights to use nature’s limited local hunting and birding environments form an important physical element of the narrative, with Falzon discussing issues such as surveillance, confrontation, and the resistance of convincing way by dint of “analytical distance”. ‘ that he creates in the immersive process of fieldwork and encounters with his informants.

This is a publication that will appeal to readers interested in nature and culture, hunting and conservation, in the Maltese context. It is evidence of meticulous research and writing with acute analytical insight and a stubborn determination to assume nothing, to listen intently to all voices on the ground, and to offer multilevel exposure of the interconnections between social worldviews. , cultural and organizational of hunters and hunters. ecologists. The birds are there, of course – but in transit (or perhaps no longer in transit) – and that is the point of everything.

Gillian M. Martin is Head of the Department of Sociology at the University of Malta.

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