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A Venetian Island

A Venetian Island: Environment, History and Change in Burano

Lidia D. Sciama
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    A Venetian Island
    Book Description:

    Since the extensive floods of 1966, inhabitants of Venice's laguna areas have come to share in, and reflect upon, concerns over pressing environmental problems. Evidence of damage caused by industrial pollution has contributed to the need to recover a common culture and establish a sense of continuity with "truly Venetian traditions."

    Based on ethnographic and archival data, this in-depth study of the Venetian island of Burano shows how its inhabitants develop their sense of a distinct identity on the basis of their notions of gender, honor and kinship relations, their common memories, their knowledge and love of their environment and their special skills in fishing and lace making.

    eISBN: 978-1-78238-614-8
    Subjects: Anthropology, Environmental Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-ix)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. x-xi)
  5. Foreword
    (pp. xii-xxii)

    This book is based on long-term fieldwork in Venice and in areas of the northern lagoon, mainly the island of Burano. My initial proposal, when I began my research for a D. Phil. thesis in 1980, was to conduct participant observation in Burano, while also maintaining a strong focus on Venice as the urban centre of which it is an integral part. In particular, I planned to analyse environmental problems in the lagoon and to examine ways in which inhabitants of Venice and Burano were affected by them and involved in their solution. Proposals put forward to repair ecological damage...

  6. 1 Burano, Venice and the Lagoon
    (pp. 1-36)

    The island of Burano, about six miles from Venice, is half-way between the marshy northern coast and the tip of the peninsula of Cavallino, which forms the lagoon’s outer boundary. It is part of a small estuary, with Torcello on the north and Mazzorbo, to which it is joined by a wooden bridge, on its western side. About two miles south is the monastery island of San Francesco del Deserto, and just beyond, stretching westwards, is the large agricultural land of Sant’ Erasmo (map 1.1).

    What mainly distinguishes Burano from other parts of the Venice commune is the fact that...

  7. 2 A Sense of History
    (pp. 37-64)

    When, in the early days of my fieldwork, I explained my interest in local history, several people told me that, before settling in Burano, their community had lived in a different island, Buranello, Boreano, or Burano da Mar. It was not very far from their present location, but, as it was exposed to the winds and the sea, it was destroyed by tempests and disappeared under the waters. They, therefore, arrived in Burano like shipwrecks, refugees twice over, first from inland Altino, fleeing from barbarian invaders, then from the elements.

    The legend is also reported in a few passages by...

  8. 3 Religion and Social Change
    (pp. 65-74)

    For many Buranelli a sense of the past is imbued with religious memories and religious significance. Like other islands in the northern lagoon, Burano was settled before the Rialtine estuary achieved its dominance, and ancient chronicles, as well as Torcello’s splendid monuments, are predominantly Byzantine and clearly recall early Christian, rather than Roman roots. In general, Venice’s foundation myths imply that the populations who took refuge in the islands to escape from the repeated invasions of pagan barbarians did not do so only for the sake of their safety, but to be able to freely profess their religion and to...

  9. 4 Kinship and Residence
    (pp. 75-116)

    One of the social insights most commonly offered by my informants was ‘here in Burano we are all one big family’ – a fact which, they thought, would provide an essential basis and starting point for my study. Similarly, when asked by an English writer to describe differences between Torcello and Burano, a Torcellan woman answered:

    We are very different from the people of Burano even if we are only five or six minutes away in a rowing boat. For instance in Burano they say they are related to I don’t know how many degrees of kinship. Those people set great...

  10. 5 Stratification
    (pp. 117-132)

    As Piero once observed, ‘what a pity we have to die, now we all have enough to eat!’ Like many others who suffered privation in their early years, he viewed all Buranelli as having had the same, or a very similar, start in life – usually a very precarious one. His view showed an interesting coincidence with those of outsiders who described Burano as an island of paupers, with no differentiation, at the margins of the city.

    By contrast, people who had been more fortunate would usually talk of poverty as the condition of others. For example, the women whose housing...

  11. 6 Honour and Shame in Mediterranean Anthropology
    (pp. 133-154)

    At the time of my fieldwork Buranelli’s descriptions of life in their island were often based on contrasts between past and present – a rhetorical mode that expressed their way of coming to terms with the social change of the last thirty or forty years. In particular ‘honour’ and ‘shame’ were frequently linked with memories of past experiences, obligations and feelings about parental control, or impositions of order and discipline by authorities, mainly from outside their island. Notions of honour had greatly changed and the word itself was rarely used by the islanders, since it was felt to be pompous and...

  12. 7 Burano’s Lace-Making: an Honourable Craft
    (pp. 155-190)

    Arriving in Burano on a warm day, one is struck with the way the whole village seems to be decked in linens, richly adorned with embroidery and lace work. A continuous row of stalls sides the route from the boat to the main street and square. Several houses have been opened onto the street, their doorposts and windows turned into crowded displays; tourists are encouraged to enter and visit the rooms that were once kitchens and parlours, their walls lined with framed lacecraft madonnas, butterflies, flowers, boats and figures of lacemakers, fishermen or ladies and knights in eighteenth-century costume. Lace...

  13. 8 Devolution from the Grass-roots: Local Interest Against Ideology
    (pp. 191-222)

    August 1988 was a very uncomfortable and worrying time for the inhabitants of Burano. The presence of huge numbers of tiny, insidious, mosquito-like insects, orchironomidi,and an excessive amount of seaweed floating in large clusters in the vicinity of the island’s embankments or drifting away slowly on the water mirrors like moving islets, were very clear and alarming signs that the lagoon’s pollution had reached dangerous levels. The water’s temperatures had risen to 27–28 degrees Celsius at a depth of five metres, while streaks of white foam revealed an unhealthy lack of oxygen, and large numbers of fish...

  14. Conclusions
    (pp. 223-228)

    In this book I have attempted to describe Buranelli’s lives as well as their attitudes to history and their efforts to improve their island’s environment and living conditions. Among the theoretical problems that naturally arose both during fieldwork and in the process or writing and reflecting upon my field notes, were questions about the formation and continuity of Burano’s collective identity, the usefulness of kinship analyses in complex bilateral societies and the validity of an analytical approach based on ‘honour and shame’ – a central topic in the study of southern European societies since the 1950s.

    An answer to my first...

  15. Appendix 1: The Venetian Territory and its Population
    (pp. 229-230)
  16. Appendix 2: Law 16 April 1973, n.171. Interventions for the Safeguard of Venice
    (pp. 231-232)
  17. Appendix 3: Census
    (pp. 233-234)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 235-243)
  19. Index
    (pp. 244-250)