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Fishermen’s wives

Nieuwstraat, 8400 Oostende, België - Objectnummer FT/F0028, Periode1865-1914 - Stadsarchief Oostende

Number of interviews: 27

Availability/accessibility: unknown

In autumn 2010, the province of West Flanders launched an oral history project on fisherwomen.
Along the entire Belgian coast, stories and testimonies were collected from a total of 27 fisherwomen.
These oral sources not only tell us what life as a fisherwoman means, they also shed light on the alleged differences in mentality between Belgian fishing ports, among other things. The Belgian coast stretches for barely 67 kilometres, yet there are significant differences in mentality between the fishing communities of the West Coast, East Coast and Ostend. Don’t call a Blankenbergen resident an Oostendenaar and don’t confuse a Zeebrugge resident with a Pannenaar! Each fishing community is proud of its own identity.


Originally, the intention was to preserve the stories and testimonies of the fisherwomen for further research. However, the wealth of material produced by the interviews deserves better. This autumn, therefore, the fruits of those interviews will be presented in three ways. There is a documentary on DVD about life as a fisherwoman and theatre performances and photo exhibitions. When we think of fishing, we usually spontaneously think of rough seamen with weather-beaten faces braving weather, wind and the rough sea to deliver us our portion of fresh fish. Behind each of these men, however, stands an equally strong woman. It is she who single-handedly looks after the family’s interests ashore during the long periods of her husband’s absence. Besides single-handedly raising the children and running the entire household, the fisherwoman often assists her husband in his work. For instance, she looks after his fluff bag and panger, knits nets, helps with fish sales or takes care of the financial side of things. Sometimes she then combines this with a job of her own. Clearly, the life of a fisherwoman is certainly as interesting as that of a fisherman. It is with this in mind that the Province of West Flanders decided to set up the project. It is supported by the municipalities of Blankenberge, Knokke-Heist, Koksijde, Nieuwpoort and Ostend. Katrien Vervaele, author of the book ‘Vissersvrouwen, 26 lives one story’ also lent her cooperation. The fisherwomen project is part of a cross-border European project on maritime heritage entitled ‘heritage and maritime memories in the 2 seas region’, or HMS for short. This project is supported by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the Interreg IVA 2 Seas programme. Theatre performance ‘Vesche vis en nieuwe liefde’ Commissioned by the Province of West Flanders, actress Frieda Vanslembrouck interviewed 25 fisherwomen along our coast. The aim was to preserve the oral heritage of the woman behind the fisherman for the future. From these lively stories and from the book ‘Vissersvrouwen, 26 lives one story’ by Katrien Vervaele, Frieda Vanslembrouck and daughter Lise Bouttery purified a theatre performance that will dock in five Flemish coastal theatres this autumn. Photo exhibition ‘Fisherman’s wife’ Photographer Wouter Rawoens set out in the wake of this project to photograph fishermen’s wives, as he did earlier for Katrien Vervaele’s book. The result is an intriguing and surprising series of portraits

In the wake of the oral history project on Fisherwomen of the province of West Flanders, photographer Wouter Rawoens made an extension to the series of portraits he made for the book Fisherwomen, 26 lives a story 

by Katrien Vervaele. This gives the fisherwomen not only a voice, but also a face. (kvc)