Workshop on Madagascar: Humans, Health and Environment in Madagascar

Indian Ocean World Centre
McGill University
October 10th - 11th, 2008

Friday 10th October

17.00-19.00. Leacock Building Room 232
  • Sandra J.T.M. Evers ((Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, VU University Amsterdam). Mini-Beatty Lecture & Keynote Address: ‘Lex Loci meets Lex Fori: Merging Customary Law and National Land Legislation in Madagascar.’

19.00-20.30. IOWC, Peterson Hall Foyer, 3640 McTavish Street

  • IOWC Opening & Reception.

Saturday 11th October

Venue: Conference Room, ground floor, 3647 Peel

8.30-9.00: Registration & Coffee

9.00-9.45: Alexis Chapeskie & Andrew Walsh (University of Western Ontario)

  • 'After the boom: Living with decline in a northern Malagasy mining town.'
  • Chair: Gwyn Campbell

9.45-10.30: Jennifer Jackson (University of Toronto)

  • 'The ethnopoetic power of place: exploring democratic process in the link between language, land, and belief in the oil-rich regions of Madagascar.'
  • Chair: Sandra Evers

10.30-11.00: coffee break

11.00-11.45: Caroline Seagle (MSc. Candidate, Department of Anthropology, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam)

  • 'Discourse, Development, and Legitimacy: Re-considering the Environmental and Socioeconomic Risks of the Rio Tinto/QIT Mining Project in Fort Dauphin, Southeast Madagascar.'
  • Chair: Susan Kus

11.45-12.30: Himla Soodyall & Trefor Jenkins (MRC/NHLS/Wits Human Genomic Diversity & Disease Research Unit, Division of Human Genetics, National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) & University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa)

  • 'Reconstructing the Genetic Trail to Madagascar.’
  • Chair: Karen E. Samonds

12.30-13.15: Sarah Ghabrial (IOWC, McGill University)

  • 'Anti-slavery and Missionary work in Algeria and the Comoros'
  • Chair: TBA

13.15-13.45: Lunch

13.45-14.30: Gwyn Campbell (CRC in Indian Ocean World History, McGill University)

  • 'Crisis of Faith and Conversion during the First LMS Mission to Madagascar, 1820-36.'
  • Chair: Kirsten Stoebenau

14.45-15.30: Tom Anderson (Binghamton University)

  • 'The use of "Science" by Naturalists, Missionaries, and other Westerners to conceptualize and understand nineteenth-century Madagascar.'
  • Chair: Michael Lambek

15.30-16.15: Mitchell T. Irwin, Jean-Luc Raharison, & Karen E. Samonds (Redpath Museum, McGill University; Department of Animal Biology, University of Antananarivo)

  • 'The Economics, Ethics, and Ecology of "Transfert de Gestion" in Madagascar'

16.15-16.45: coffee break

16.45-17.30: Lisa L. Gezon (University of West Georgia)

  • 'Khat: History, Health, and Being In Style.'
  • Chair: Himla Soodyall

17.30-18.15: Susan Kus & Victor Raharijaona (Professor of Anthropology, Blount Chair of Social Sciences, Rhodes College; independent researcher associated with the Universite de Fianarantsoa)

  • 'Don't we all want a world filled with "bright faces" and "fat-cheeked babies"?'
  • Chair: Tom Anderson

18.15-19.00: Kirsten Stoebenau (University of Ottawa)

  • '"Ny tokantrano tsy ahahaka": Gender and health effects of women sex workers' romantic relationships in Antananarivo.'
  • Chair: Andrew Walsh

20.00: Workshop Meal: La Prunelle, 327 Duluth East; tel: 514 849 8403 (price included in registration).


Tom Anderson (Binghamton University)

The use of "Science" by Naturalists, Missionaries, and other Westerners to conceptualize and understand nineteenth-century Madagascar.

Madagascar's unique ecosystem placed it in the middle of some of the most important scientific debates of the nineteenth century, from Darwinism and race theory to biogeography and human origins. The island's peculiar faun and flora captivated the interest of naturalists, missionaries, and explorers who referenced their findings to a global experience and knowledge that prized universality. This meant that the debate over Madagascar concentrated not just in describing its unusual species, but also explaining them in a way that made sense to global theories and contemporary notions. This paper explores how the fauna of Madagascar was normalized during the nineteenth century. In the end, fauna often were represented as familiar instead of unusual as peculiar features were often minimized to stress the commonality of Madagascar with the rest of the world.

Gwyn Campbell (CRC in Indian Ocean World History, McGill University

Crisis of Faith and Conversion during the First LMS Mission to Madagascar, 1820-36.

The first LMS mission to Madagascar, 1819-36, owed its initial success to political patronage, by the Mauritian government which viewed the missionaries as imperial British agents who would help secure British paramountcy in the island, and by the Merina crown, which viewed them as critical facilitators, in their roles as educators and artisans, of their modernisation programme. However, very few Malagasy converted to Christianity until the early 1830s, when a mass movement towards Christianity occurred. This movement has been little studied by historians of Madagascar who have overwhelmingly portayed Ranavalona I, the reigning monarch (1828-62) as a Malagasy Jezebel utterly hostile to the missionaries and to Christianity. This paper seeks to reveal the largely forgotten history of the first mass conversions, and offer an explanation for them.

Alexis Chapeskie & Andrew Walsh (University of Western Ontario)

After the boom: Living with decline in a northern Malagasy mining town.

Although the characteristic features of small-scale mining boomtowns have become well known to many through research on gold, diamond and other "rushes" around the world, relatively little is known of what happens to such distinctive communities after they boom. What becomes of the unique social networks, consumption patterns, and worldviews so often associated with these places when the supply of or demand for the particular commodity around which they have developed declines? Who leaves and who stays behind? How do those remaining in such places continue to earn livings and make meaningful lives despite the decline that surrounds them, and how do they make sense of their circumstances in light of memories of better times? What impact does the outward appearance of decline have on state and non-governmental organization interventions in such communities, and to what effects for the people living in them? This paper will address these and other key questions with reference to research recently conducted in Ambondromifehy, the once booming but now declining centre of the northern Malagasy sapphire trade.

Sandra J.T.M. Evers (Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, VU University Amsterdam)

Lex Loci meets Lex Fori: Merging Customary Law and National Land Legislation in Madagascar.

Land registration is one of the cornerstones of the Malagasy government plans to improve economic development. Acting under strong pressure exerted by the IMF, the Malagasy government launched the PNF (Plan National Foncier) in 2004 to implement a national land registration system. The land registry system is also intended to provide a platform for further land and forest conservation measures. However, land registration has proven to be complex and problematic, due to competing notions between positive law and customary law. This paper proposes historical and anthropological perspectives on this issue and will discuss notions of the natural environment and its conservation, land access, registration, dispute resolution and the legitimacy of local fora anchored in customs versus a judicial system inspired by French Civil Law. Land registration is a key area where Malagasy customs collide with vazaha (foreign) economic and cultural references.

This paper is the fruit of a joint research project between the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology (VU University Amsterdam) and the Institut de Civilisations/Musée d’Art et Archéologie (Université d’Antananarivo), which was launched in January 2005. During the first three years of this research, fourteen Dutch master students and fourteen Malagasy students jointly carried out fieldwork and research on natural resource management and poverty. This unique project allowed Malagasy and Dutch researchers to exchange viewpoints and combine synergies to better approach this important societal and academic thematic in a comprehensive manner.

Lisa L. Gezon (University of West Georgia)

Khat: History, Health, and Being In Style

Trade and commerce has linked Madagascar to the western Indian Ocean for about one thousand years. From early trade in beads and natural resources (such as mangrove wood, copal gum, and sea turtles) to later trade in cattle and slaves, Madagascar’s northwest coast has participated in early processes of globalization. The colonial era introduced formal trade in cultivated cash crops, such as vanilla and coffee. While these formal ties were being established, less noticed movement of goods and people occurred. This laid the groundwork for the current flourishing economy in khat, a leafy bush whose leaves are chewed recreationally as a stimulant in Madagascar. Khat arrived in northern Madagascar with Yemeni dock workers around the turn of the twentieth century, and its use remained primarily within that community until the late twentieth century. The past twenty or so years has seen a flourishing of khat use beyond the Yemeni population in Madagascar. This corresponds with khat’s continued thriving in areas of traditional use in the western Indian Ocean (such as Yemen and parts of Kenya and Ethiopia) and expansion of its use in new locales within Kenya, Somalia, Madagascar, as well as in western nations. This paper will trace the history of khat use and critically examine its recent expansion, examining factors that may have contributed to its recent growth in popularity. In so doing, it will interrogate khat as a drug, inquiring into its health effects. It will argue that despite the fact that each country has its own historical set of explanations for khat’s popularity, khat’s reputation as being in style--combined with its stimulant effects and its boost to local economies--has encouraged its attractiveness on a broader scale.

Sarah Ghabrial (IOWC, McGill University)

Anti-slavery and Missionary work in Algeria and the Comoros

This paper explores French colonial attitudes to slavery (and claims to anti-slavery) through a comparative study of Catholic missionary societies in Algeria and the Comoro Islands. My inquiries follow the separate but mutually-constitutive logics of racial construction and emancipation rhetoric that characterized colonial missionary work. I here consider the manner in which tropes of "barbarous" Muslim slave-masters and more benign but ultimately helpless Black Africans suffused the clerical texts and proselytisation methods of such groups as the Peres Blancs. My paper will be primarily informed by the writings of prominent missionaries, and will be contextualized by assessments in the secondary literature.

Mitchell T. Irwin, Jean-Luc Raharison, & Karen E. Samonds, (Respectivley from Redpath Museum, McGill University; Department of Animal Biology, University of Antananarivo)

The Economics, Ethics, and Ecology of "Transfert de Gestion" in Madagascar

A major trend in natural resource management in Madagascar over the past few decades has been the devolution of control of natural resources to local levels. Protection of natural areas in Madagascar began with the French Colonial government. Starting in 1927, "Reserves Naturelles Integrales" were gazetted and placed "out of bounds" for local residents. Later on, the protected area network was expanded to include other types of protected area ("Parc National" and "Reserve Speciale"), which allowed greater use by local residents. President Marc Ravalomanana declared in 2003 that he would expand Madagascar’s protected area network from 1.7 to 6.0 million ha, and this expansion has already begun. Finally, in 2007-2008, the Malagasy government (Ministry of Environment, Water and Forests and Tourism, SAPM program – System des Aires Protegées à Madagascar) is aligning Madagascar's protected areas with the IUCN international standard (6 types of protected area ranging from completely off-limits to managed extraction and exploitation of local resources).

"Transfert de Gestion" is one way to delegate control of natural resources to local communities. Following the "GELOSE" (Gestion Locale Sécurisée) law of 1997, local community associations may apply for a contract to manage Classified Forests in their areas. One such transfer occurred in the Beanana region of Tsinjoarivo in 2005. However, the local control of resources was an illusion. The community association's application was heavily assisted by Water and Forests personnel who later bought the rainforest trees and sold them at profit (because the latter could procure the trucks necessary to transport them to the capital city). Local residents initially did the cutting themselves but were rapidly replaced by migrant workers who had more experience. Thus, the local residents were left with a small cash payment (much less than the true value of the timber), no jobs, and a rapid degradation of natural resources. Benefits were much greater for the wholesalers who bought the timber and the migrant workers. Thus, we suggest that although the spirit of the GELOSE laws favours the empowerment of rural Malagasy, the system is easily hijacked by commercial interests. Fortunately, the Minister of Environment, Water and Forests and Tourism, perceived this and other problems, and in January 2008 cancelled all "Transfert de Gestion" contracts in Madagascar. The next step remains: how to truly empower local villages while still promoting sensible natural resource management and ensuring sustainable use?

Jennifer Jackson (University of Toronto)

The ethnopoetic power of place: exploring democratic process in the link between language, land, and belief in the oil-rich regions of Madagascar

This paper will provide preliminary findings concerning the social and political implications of the very recent discovery and sourcing of oil in northwest-central Madagascar, an area estimated to contain more oil than all of West Africa. The proposed site for this research is the oil-rich region of Tsimiroro, and Antananarivo, the capital city of Madagascar. Leading to a more substantive understanding of the relationship between language, place, and belief, the paper aims to explore how the voices of everyday people and political elites negotiate the extent to which their ancestral lands are usurped by state-sanctioned international collaborative business ventures and, therefore, reread and rearticulated as property and resource. Traversing the terrain of everyday talk from people on the ground—the stories, the public debates, the political speeches and commentary—this paper hopes to clarify on the one hand how language plays an integral role as a mode of political action shaping democratic process in a country that only recently restructured its economy, its governance, and its alliances toward a more neoliberal orientation; and on the other hand, how in highland Madagascar ideologies about language and linguistic practice in the public sphere are inextricably linked to notions of land and land use, because both are embedded in a larger system of belief and moral order, namely in association with ancestral belief. Following how language mediates understandings of land as place, memory, and identity when competing interests and points of view about the physical environment are at play, this paper’s link of speech and space to a larger system of belief organizing everyday material experience will question the extent to which a community has access to the linguistic resources to contextualize place and narrate that sense of memory, membership, and identity, and in turn effect its own political agency and possibilities for its participation in political process.

Conrad P. Kottak (Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor)

Poverty and Environmental Degradation: Is Madagascar a Window onto Global Climate Change?

Increasingly anthropologists employ longitudinal, comparative, and multi-scale research to illuminate aspects of global change and development. Insights about climate change and development emerge from my observations over four decades (the most recent in October 2006) in the Betsileo region of Madagascar (and the Malagasy highlands more generally). This region, like the nation of which it is a part, is one of dramatically increasing population, diminishing natural resources, and growing impoverishment. What solutions have been suggested, have worked, have failed, and might be proposed to combat Madagascar’s twin ills of poverty and environmental degradation?

Susan Kus & Victor Raharijaona (Professor of Anthropology, Blount Chair of Social Sciences, Rhodes College; independent researcher associated with the Universite de Fianarantsoa).

Don't we all want a world filled with "bright faces" and "fat-cheeked babies"?


Political conflict and persecution perpetuate horrific human tragedy. Yet we are also reminded daily by contemporary images in the press of the horrors of famine, of disease and of the natural disasters of flood, fire, earthquake, tsunami, etc. Health and well-being seem to be so removed from the contemporary human condition. Yet they are, one could argue, a cross-cultural universal pre-occupation/hope that springs from the human condition. As such the themes of health and well-being have become tied to arguments used to legitimate (or condemn) political regimes and claimants to authority. If we focus on Madagascar and its pre-eminent historical political figure, Andrianampoinimerina, there is much evidence in the recorded oral traditions of a hegemonic political discourse equating the health and well-being of Andrianampoinimerina's charges with his singular rulership. Under his rule his well-nourished charges are said to show "bright faces," "foreheads without wrinkles," and have "fat-cheeked babies." This is a sovereign who claimed to have no effective/serious political rivals (rafy). Yet he did have enemies (fahavalo) and they were flood (rano vaky), fire (afo), famine (mosary), hail (havandra) and wind (rivotra); and he had but one equal, rice (vary). The ideology perpetuated by Andrianampoinimerina (et compagnie) engaged a political logic that confounded the natural and the social order. Consequently, prosperity and polity were intertwined and natural and political enemies confounded. To claim that "the moving waters are the boundaries of my rice fields" was a statement of expansionist political ambition that was powerful: poetically, culturally, and existentially.


Large scale natural disasters and tragedies bring the cosmological order and the political order into stark relief and challenge the political order. Yet, health and general well-being are also a day to day pre-occupation of individuals, families and small-scale social units in most, if not all, societies. Malagasy society possesses many specialists whose talents are sought after: some to correct or deal with afflictions and some to prevent affliction. One element critical to assuring well-being or fahasoavana (i.e., the health and well-being of family, growth in offspring, productivity of agricultural fields and herds, etc.) is the respectful and harmonious insertion of individuals, actions and projects into the flow of the changing forces of space and time. Among Malagasy specialists of the highlands are mpanandro-trano and mpanandro- fasana who orient houses and tombs in the flow of space and time. We have had the good fortune to work with such mpanandro for more than 20 years. When one is asked by a non-anthropologist to explain what it is that one does as an anthropologist, it becomes a tricky business to straddle the Scylla of simplification and the Charibdis of an excessively compact undergraduate lecture. Oftentimes in negotiating those troubled waters individually and collectively, when we have tried to explain the talents of the mpanandro, we have been greeted by the sympathetic comment, "Oh, it is like Malagasy feng-shui!" Certainly, the idea of well-being understood as a respectful alignment with the larger cosmological order is a critical appreciation of many "traditional cultures" and is a useful lesson to members of contemporary state societies. Yet, popular understandings of feng-shui evoke ideas of a spiritual "lightness" and formulaic universal application. We argue rather that a closer look at the practices of mpanandro allows us to appreciate how the conventional prescriptions of Malagasy culture repeated in the anthropological and popular literature are anything but formulaic for practitioners. The practice of the mpanandro demands discerning observation of a cosmological, historical and contemporary landscape/environment as well as the occasional audacious poetic “re-“interpretation” of conventional Malagasy wisdom to foster the life, health and well-being of individuals and families.

Himla Soodyall & Trefor Jenkins (MRC/NHLS/Wits Human Genomic Diversity and Disease Research Unit, Division of Human Genetics, National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) and University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, SOUTH AFRICA)

Reconstructing the Genetic Trail to Madagascar

The island of Madagascar in the western Indian Ocean is thought to have been colonized only in the last 2000 years. Anthropological, cultural and linguistic data have indicated two major regions from where the immigrant populations originated: Africa and Indonesia, with possibly minor contributions from India and Arabia. The exact geographic origins of the parental populations, however, remain unresolved. Between May 1992 and November 1996 we organized six field trips to Madagascar during which we collected 2392 blood samples from individuals throughout the island. Our preliminary research made use of samples collected from individuals in whom both their maternal and paternal ancestry was derived from the same ethnic group. We used blood groups, serogenetic markers, ?- and a-globin gene variation, G6PD, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and Y chromosome variation to assess the level of genetic variation in the Malagasy and to gain insights into their parental origins. For example, Y chromosome lineages show a remarkable continent- and population-specificity making Y chromosome polymorphisms well-suited to tracing the geographic origins of the male founders of Madagascar, and for reconstructing their history. High-resolution analysis of the present-day Malagasy Y chromosome pool was performed by analysing 440 male individuals for 21 bi-allelic and eight microsatellite polymorphisms. Based on the bi-allelic markers, 16 lineages or haplogroups were identified. The contributions to the Malagasy Y chromosome pool from sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and Eurasia were estimated to be about 68%, 14% and 12%, respectively. There seems to be no detectable male-mediated gene-flow from Oceania. The analysis of microsatellite variation within the major haplogroups provides evidence for bottleneck and founder effects that accompanied the colonization events. This paper will summarize some of the findings inferred from the various genetic studies used to shed light on the peopling of Madagacar.

Caroline Seagle (MSc. Candidate, Department of Anthropology, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam)

Discourse, Development, and Legitimacy: Re-considering the Environmental and Socioeconomic Risks of the Rio Tinto/QIT Mining Project in Fort Dauphin, Southeast Madagascar.

While Madagascar is one of the most biologically diverse places Earth, it is also one of the poorest, and much remains at stake in "economic development" projects, both from socioeconomic and environmental perspectives. Given the widespread criticism of international mining operations in "developing countries," Rio Tinto/QIT Madagascar Minerals has been under enormous pressure to take socioeconomic and ecological precautions into consideration in their $350 million dollar ilmenite (titanium dioxide) mining project in Fort Dauphin, Southeastern Madagascar. While it is hoped that the mining will bring much needed "economic growth" to the region, which is one of the most impoverished parts of Madagascar, many also expect it to cause massive environmental degradation, livelihood insecurities, social conflicts, and increased HIV/Aids rates. The purpose of this paper is twofold: 1.) it will present an environmental risk assessment using GIS (Geographic Information Systems) mapping in order to consider how coastal erosion, which has not been addressed by the mining company even though it presents considerable risks to communities living near coastlines, could result from the deforestation for sand mineral extraction, and 2.) the paper will attempt to better understand the extent to which Rio Tinto’s powerful discourse of “sustainability” is a reality in Fort Dauphin by analyzing how divergent narratives of "development" operate within a context of impoverishment, deforestation, and environmental conservation. The case of the Rio Tinto/QIT mining project is a potent example of how relative notions of "human security" actually are, and how certain development ideologies, embedded within various prominent discourses, can mask conflict and local complexity in order to gain international legitimacy.

Kirsten Stoebenau (Post-Doctoral Fellow, University of Ottawa, Institute of Population Health)

"Ny tokantrano tsy ahahaka": Gender and health effects of women sex workers' romantic relationships in Antananarivo

Women who work in the sexual economy in Antananarivo, Madagascar often out-earn their male counterparts, resulting in a reversal of the gendered expectation that men are the household provider. What might be the gendered and health effects of these reversals in earning power? Does a sudden increase in economic capital provide women with an increase in gendered-power more generally, in decision-making, "autonomy" and other dimensions of the relationship? Or, alternatively, does this shift result in abusive relationships, as emasculated men resort to physical violence and other forms of control to maintain their position of power? In this paper, I use data drawn from life histories and in-depth interviews to compare accounts of romantic relationships among sex workers working in different social positions of sex work (from women practicing toward basic subsistence to those earning a substantial living) to the romantic relationships of matched comparison non-sex-working women. I contrast expressions of gendered-power and expectations within these relationships; as well as health concerns resulting from these relationships. I consider if and how women's gains in economic capital have resulted in any differences in the health risks that women experience in the context of romantic relationships.