Constructing Mikea Identity: Past or Present Links to Forest and Foraging
Abstract

Cultural identity is flexible, rich, and often debated, shaped by local and larger contexts. In this article we explore some of the complexity and diversity of how Mikea identity is constructed, particularly by those who identify themselves as such. The Mikea of southwestern Madagascar are associated with the forest and foraging and contrasted with Vezo fishers and Masikoro agropastoralists, yet these groups and their economic strategies both intermingle. Mystique, pride, stigma, and resource claims together provide diverse, often conflicting motivations in the use and manipulation of Mikea identity. Those who claim the label for themselves generally construct a relationship with the forest, either through present behavior and context or through oral histories linking the living with the ancestors. Nevertheless, behavior and descent may be diversely interpreted in identity claims and neither is sufficient alone to explain self-assertions of Mikea identity in every case. As with any identity, that of the Mikea is continuously recreated and transformed.


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