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Le terroir et son double

Chantal Blanc-Pamard
Hervé Rakoto Ramiarantsoa

Summary. Return to Tsarahonenana

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1This book is the result of research conducted on village lands in sub-Saharan Africa and in Madagascar in the middle of the 1960’s. Several experiments of this type were carried out that follow the same approach to “revisited lands”. The book on the village of Tsarahonenana, in Madagascar, fits into an intermediate category. At one end of the scale, a village is revisited by a single individual; at the other end, it is revisited by a large research team. In this case, two geographers made up the team. The study of each small rural area was made to follow in the tracks of the reference study, while including the changes observed that are at variance with the model.

2The introduction describes the significant changes that were observed to take place between 1966 and 1992. At the national level, a policy of socialist decentralization replaced the liberal economy and centralized State structure inherited from the colonial government. The crisis of the 1980s severely affected Madagascar. However, the resulting impoverishment, the increased social inequalities, the insecurity and various scarcities affected each part of the country differently.

3Public and private agencies take a continued interest in the region of Vakinankaratra, in which the village of Tsarahonenana is situated. The agricultural policies that were implemented there were not always successful. Rural development projects, the renovation of the hydrological and agricultural infrastructure, the restructuration of farmers into groups, all this was carried out with mixed results. The increased and greater diversification of agricultural production in the region of Vakinankaratra was the result of farmer initiative rather than project success.

4While rural development agencies aimed for a better utilization of the agricultural calendar, the farmers strove for an optimum agricultural use of their area. They tried out the most suitable crops while participating in the development projects. The book on the village lands of Tsarahonenana studies this trend over the last quarter of the 20th century.

5In his book, Tsarahonenana, Joël Bonnemaison describes the countryside of Vakinankaratra, a rice-growing plain surrounded by mountains. The research, conducted in 1992, is the continuation of the work he began in 1962. He talked to the same farmers, evaluating the changes that had occurred between 1966 and 1992.

6A more specific study was made of the dynamics of the agrarian system and of rural practices. This was accomplished for three reasons. First, in this high-altitude environment where cropping conditions are often limited, there was a striking agricultural dynamism that contrasted with the “fixed agrarian system” described by Joël Bonnemaison. Secondly, changes resulted from initiatives taken by the inhabitants of Tsarahonenana village in making optimum use of village lands. These, Joël Bonnemaison considered were already overpopulated some twenty-five years ago. Thirdly, the researchers who returned to Tsarahonenana expanded on themes that were more closely related to their area of specialization.

7The population figures of Tsarahonenana appear substantially the same. In 1992, Tsarahonenana numbered 303 people living in 61 households. In 1966, 255 people lived in 53 households. The figure of 303 residents included 133 absent migrants. As in 1966, the population remained very young: in 1966, 42% of the population was over 20 years old, as opposed to 47% in 1992. The population density increased from about 100 inhabitants per square kilometer to more than 120. The moderate increase in population did not reflect the significant changes observed in the patterns of land use. The book studied these patterns as well as time cycles and relates these to population pressure. To help with the understanding of the nature of change in the village, the local economy was considered, including factors of human mobility, new agricultural knowledge and the types of rural support programs coming from the lower areas.

8Rural landscapes bore the mark of changes observed in a generation. The land was almost permanently occupied. The southern part of the plain surrounding the village was the first to be developed. A national plan to reclaim Small Irrigated Areas, initiated in 1986, also began with the southern part before tackling the plain in its entirety. An improvement in water management was supposed to lead to improved cultivation techniques and higher yields. Rural communities were to contribute to the project. The hydrological plan was designed for a wider context than the village of Tsarahonenana itself and consisted in the irrigation of the maximum area of the plain possible with the available amounts of water. This was intended to extend links of solidarity beyond village lands.


9The first part of the book dealt with agricultural techniques. These were inherited but were also constantly being improved, thus contributing to a dynamic change in village lands. The techniques underlined a thorough knowledge of arable lands. They combined agriculture and farming, seeking to reduce risks while taking optimum advantage of the land’s potential. In terms of water management, the book identified a need to conduct a thorough study of soils and their connection to the environment. Fertility and agricultural production were the object of a detailed analysis.

10The book included a survey of fertilization procedures. The plots were treated with fertilizers that varied in quantity and according to the season. Organic fertilizers based on animals and plants were the most frequently utilized. Of the fourteen types of fertilizers, two were animal-based, four were plant-based, seven were a mixture of animal, plant and mineral, and one was mineral-based. Frequently, fertilizers were a mixture of cattle dung and plant litter. The fertilizers varied due to their availability and farmer ingenuity.

11Agriculture was managed at the village level, rather than plot by plot. Farmers decided on the type and quantity of manure depending on the crop cultivated and the yields expected. While farmers were concerned with the availability of manure, agronomists gave priority to agricultural yields.

12Fertility cycles revealed new connections between agriculture and animal husbandry. Joël Bonnemaison described a gradation from extensive farming at the bottom of the plain to highly extensive farming at the higher end of the area. This changed later into an intensive agriculture, with an optimized specialization of each agricultural area. Agroforestry is practiced in the tanety, while out-of-season crops and rice are grown in the plain.

13Intensification also resulted in a change in agricultural techniques. According to farmers, the transition observed in the tanety from the tolaka technique of agriculture (ridges alternating with furrows running parallel to the slope) to the veli-kiba technique (wide ridges perpendicular to the slope) in the last fifteen years was mainly linked to land degradation due to continuous land use. The slopes showed striking differences. Such was the case of the “tout-banquettes” area situated north and south of the central plain lying between the two rivers. The slopes were terraced, which produced a massive change in the topograpy.

14These changes indicated a dynamic agrarian system. There was an extension in the acreage of land under cultivation. Farmers rethought their strategy. The area of risk changed. Development agencies interested only in scientific standards neglected this aspect. They took natural risks into account but did not recommend any preventive measures, which would help assuage the farmers’ constant concerns. “Tsarahonenana in 1992” showed the farmers constantly adapting to interior and exterior pressures.

15The book described a reconfiguration of the social structure. It discussed the relations of individuals and groups with their founding ancestors. The village was made up of family groups with a plurality of ancestors. In 1992, the village was composed of eleven lineages working the village land. Farmers making economic decisions either locally or outside the village depended on these lineages. The social structure was maintained through these vertical connections. Horizontal connections, generated from within or without, helped bring about other types of cooperation, tested the group solidarity and led to new social relations.

16The new social structure strengthened the established order. For instance, the Hovavao lineage which is the progeny of former slaves remained isolated, having contracted no marriages into other lineages. Lineages owned between 0.14 and 190 acres of land. There was a strengthening of the connection between social power and land power.

17Farmer associations created a new network of relationships. There were six associations in 1992. Four were set up as the result of development projects, and two were created by farmers in response to a specific need. All farmers belonged to an association. Certain lineage members belonged to them all. However, only the most powerful farmers benefitted from them.

18Holding several jobs became a rising phenomenon. It was widespread among farm hands and those engaged in non agricultural activities. Farmers managed to get the highest wages in the plain, which caused them to travel long distances. Craftsmen however did not migrate to towns but remained in the villages.

19A few households engaged in local trade. There was however no grocery store in the village. In 1990, a husking machine was set up in the village by a civil servant working in Tananarive, belonging to the most powerful lineage. There were only a few administrative jobs and a few so-called “tertiary” jobs. Most people involved in the latter category no longer lived in the village. All of them belonged to the most powerful lineage and some of them had access to higher education.

20In this manner, old lineages strengthened their influence on the land, on the economy and on society. To be mobile became a necessity for most lineages. Migration was a way of managing the population pressure within, and a way of seeking monetary resources. The two main causes of migration were marriage and the search for money.

21The dynamics observed in Tsarahonenana must be considered within the context of the Ankaratra highlands. Some people maintained contact with the mountain, even after settling in the plain. As was observed in the past by Joel Bonnemaison, the new social structure in the plain cannot be interpreted without taking the highlands into consideration.

22Andranomangamanga settled down, after the pioneering phase described by J. Bonnemaison. The second part of the study dealt with the highlands, the changes observed and the initiatives taken by the population in the areas of farming, land management and economic activities.

23Farmers were knowledgeable about the local milieu and aware of how to tend the soil for agricultural purposes. Each household creatively experimented with the local terrain, deserving a characterization as farmer-agronomists. They tried cultivating sweet potatoes, taros (a local cultivated species), tomatoes, avocado trees, orange trees, grapes, rice, apple trees and maize. Some crops were successful while others were abandoned. These results caused the farmers to make changes and helped them make further choices. An unusual association of trees and crops, not mentioned in 1966, was found in the management of woody plants such as apple trees, mimosas and pines. The inhabitants of Andranomangamanga developed a form of agroforestry that made full use of the interaction between plants, woods and agricultural production, a process profitable to soil fertility. Burned plants provided soil inputs. Rotten apples were used as fertilizers. The manure produced in cattle pens, although insufficient, remained the best organic fertilizer. As in Tsarahonenana, this was central to local cattle raising.

24Andranomangamanga, situated at an altitude of over 2 000 meters, was constrained by ecological conditions unfavorable to rice growing, as well as lack of access. The first was a drawback to all households, since they must procure rice. They moved in order to cultivate it or earn the money necessary to buy it. To obtain rice, people made money from the sale of local products: potatoes, apples and wood products. However, the village economy was hampered by its altitude and isolation. This limited the farmers’ control over the outlets of agricultural production.

25In 1992, the inhabitants of Andranomangamanga were solidly established on their land. The population structure was made up of several generations, a sign of well-established families. They sought independence from the villages of origin situated in the plain. For this reason they built cemeteries and adopted death rituals, and looked for ways to optimize what the environment offered. A local land system regulated property transfers, providing the rules of transaction between the lineages.

26246 people lived in the central hamlet of Andranomangamanga. They were divided among seven lineages, which tended to cluster in the same neighborhoods. The importance of family in the village was highlighted by the links between the members of a lineage, and through the marriages concluded between the lineages. This system controlled the land, which led to the strengthened position of certain groups. The spouses in a marriage did not necessarily come from the Ambohibary plain. Marriages concluded between mountain dwellers highlighted the fact that the connection between the original village and the new one had become more tenuous.

27Although the village of Andranomangamanga continued its connections with the “mother-village”, the dynamics of its society and economy no longer depended upon it. Long-lasting relations were maintained, but new ones took shape as with the building of cemeteries by those wanting to establish their family identity: 57% of the households living in Andranomangamanga had cemetery plots. Transporters of goods in Andranomangamanga became independent of Tsarahonenana. They no longer passed through Tsarahonenana. They developed trade relations with the north, in a direction opposite of the plain from which the movement of colonization was initiated. This move towards the north was a return to the land of Tsarahonenana’s founding ancestors, who left the region in the 19th century.


28The conclusion highlighted the value of revisiting village lands. It characterized agrarian dynamics by observing change at a local level over time. It revealed the social dynamics of land management. In Andranomangamanga, it showed the role played by the lineages in the system of land distribution and patterns of ownership. Tsarahonenana embarked on a process of land capitalization, establishing new relationships, bringing large families to the forefront, creating new horizontal groups and a more global network of interdependencies. An assessment was made of the degree of internal initiative at the village level (Tsarahonenana), the highlands, the region, and finally in the migration patterns at the national level.

29Joël Bonnemaison returned to Tsarahonenana in 1993 after a geographic adventure which led him from Madagascar to Melanesia, whose peoples belong to the same cultural world of Austronesians. His analysis underscores the significance of the cultural paradigm in Tsarahonenana and Andranomangamanga. “As in Oceania these are people who straddle two worlds; they are both rooted and on the move”. The paradigm reflects a will to preserve a merina identity. The first step is to live like merina people, imitate their gestures, cultivate and eat rice, conserve extra amounts of paddy to celebrate ancestral rites in the course of great family feasts. Growing rice in high altitudes shows a willingness to remain merina in a boundary area and to reproduce the conditions of the old countryside rather than create a new rural landscape. This also explains the strong links maintained with the former society. Moving into the Ankaratra highlands is seen less as an appropriation of the mountain as it is seen as a way to remain faithful to one’s area of origin by controlling the route to that area. The Ankaratra road serves as this decisive link.


30The return to Tsarahonenana was a pilgrimage to a place and to a people. The prevailing sense of insecurity, almost unknown twenty-five years ago, helped explain the clustered nature of the houses and lack of new construction outside the villages. This has led to an increase in population densities. Despite an increase in social pressures from within, the village faces the outside world as a block. It survived the past political crisis by cutting itself off, which may account for its deep attachment to merina values.

31Society has changed, land occupation has evolved, the socio-economic situation is more constricting, and the local brand of isolationism has not survived. Despite this the cultural paradigm of Tsarahonenana has remained more or less the same. These rural people remain somewhat the masters of their fate, and hold on to what constitutes the main source of their strength. They cling to their culture. Having come from the north, they keep it in mind, and innovate or migrate only to the extent that they maintain the geographical circle that links them to their area of origin. The Vakinankaratra people are thus not so much wandering pioneers as they are “searchers for space” who leave to reproduce the living conditions of back home. The world to them is a circular road reflecting their own representation of life, an eternal living circle of residence.

© IRD Éditions, 2000

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