Identity and History
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Ethnohistory 48.1-2 (2001) 319-322



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Commentaries

Identity and History

Manassé Esoavelomandroso, University of Antananarivo


This volume contains a variety of contributions, all with rich documentation, on several regions of Madagascar. Each is as interesting as the other, and they bring new views on a variety of subjects.

My commentary will center especially on the contributions concerning the south, a region with which I am somewhat familiar. The guiding theme in these five articles is identity, which is approached through many criteria but mainly history.

Until now, we thought we knew the Karembola as Tandroy or Mahafale through the works of Defoort, Decary, and Schomerus-Gernböck. Because of Karen Middleton’s piece, we are beginning to know them better. "Ondate añivo"–people who lived between the Tandroy confederation and the Mahafale Menarandra kingdom, and who maintained multifaceted relationships with their neighbors–the Karembola deserve careful study outside the earlier, often deforming, prism. This concept of ondate añivo, and especially that of tane añivo, defined by Middleton as "Inbetween land," "land in the middle" or "land between two," can facilitate the study of Malagasy populations who have refused royal authority (like the Tsimihety) or who have lived on the periphery of a kingdom or in the margins of a kingdom.

Due to her meticulous historical study, confronting variants of the same tradition or tracking incoherences contained in the same version, Middleton reveals how much people use and manipulate history and how this better defines the Karembola. She gives minute details of the constitutive elements of Karembola identity. The image she provides is not really different from the view held by the Mahafale. A Karembola kingdom led [End Page 319] by Andrianjoho existed until the Maroseraña Tsimamandy conquest at the beginning of the eighteenth century. The defeated king, Andrianjoho, was displaced into Mahafale country with numerous followers, but without his hazomanga he was not able to cross the Menarandra. The name of the territory–Karembola–was adopted by the newly established immigrants. Because the Maroseraña had subdued the territory, these new Karembola had to recognize Maroseraña authority and themselves as vassals or dependents or subjects. In effect, they were as dependent as the tsimahaivelone of the Maroseraña. The Folohazomanga are not tsimahaivelone; and all Valohazomanga, except the Tehisatse lineage, fill this function. Moreover, upon the death of the king, the Karembola, in the Valohazomanga and Folohazomanga manner, offer livestock and shrouds and, especially, shave their head.

James Yount, Tsiazonera, and Bram Tucker also lean on historical data to present the Mikea, who up to now had been defined as dwarfs or "savages." Until the mid-1970s, authors who wrote about the Mikea had not studied these populations in their forest territory. It was necessary to wait for articles by Jeanne Dina and Hoerner as well as Fanony to release the Mikea from the ghetto in which they had been enclosed.

The fundamental contribution of Yount, Tsiazonera, and Tucker is presenting evidence to support that the Mikea, living mainly by food-foraging in the forest, exist and live between Vezo–fishers–of the coast and Masikoro–agro-breeders–of the interior. They live by being distinct from each other, even if "their economic strategies intermingle," and even if today the three societies interpenetrate, as is evident in the existence of Masikoro-Mikea and Vezo-Mikea. Now nobody can deny that Mikea identity, strongly characterized by geography and food-forager activities, has a largely historical basis. And one can only follow the authors when they suggest that "the Mikea emerged gradually, perhaps over several centuries, as a result of economic specialization, regional conflict, and deliberate self-isolation."

Methodically, Mansaré Marikandia dismantles one by one the constitutive elements of Vezo identity to affirm with assurance that Vezo exist as a definite group fashioned by history. In his time, Bernard Koechlin, who was interested mainly in the techniques involved in making dugout boats, navigation, and fishing, advanced the view that Vezo identity corresponded to their way of life but never explained his assertion. In fact, one could have also said that it was their way...


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