Madagascar: Pushed to the edge - Ambinanibe

from PANOS
Published on 26 Oct 2009 View Original

These life stories are from the Anosy region of southern Madagascar. In their own words, the indigenous people of Anosy, the Antanosy, describe their lives in the face of climate change, food insecurity and rapid development due to mining. The stories are from four communities: Petriky; Ambinanibe; St Luce and Ilafitisignana and were recorded by community members and staff from our partner, Andrew Lees Trust.


Ambinanibe is a fokontany (primary administrative community organisation – a group of hamlets) on the coast, 7 kilometres south of Fort Dauphin. Made up of seven hamlets, it is home to approximately 3,000 people. To the west is an inlet from the sea, which is protected by the coastal landscape and which provides shrimp fishing opportunities to villagers.

To the east is a promontory where QMM have constructed their port. Port and road construction, together with a new quarry, has directly affected the lives of people in Ambinanibe.

New restrictions mean that fishermen can no longer safely land their boats at Somatraha when weather conditions are bad. Bevava, an alternative landing strip, is too exposed to the waves, and the fishermen refuse to use a site built by QMM next to the port, as they consider it too dangerous. The matter is under review with the new regional administration.

Fishing is the principal livelihood and involves all members of the community, including the women, who are responsible for selling fish caught by the men. Some also create income through weaving and catching shrimp and small fish. Approximately 150 villagers were employed by the QMM mine but have been made redundant now that the port construction phase is complete. A new road that connects the quarry to the town means that villagers can now access bus transport into Fort Dauphin more easily to sell their products.

Areas around Ambinanibe have been appropriated by the mining company for road and port construction, which has reduced access to farmland, the collection of shrubs for fuel and privacy for personal sanitation. Many villagers have lost their land and compensation is reported as 100 MGA/square metre, although some say 400 MGA/square metre. The compensation process and accompanying issues are being reviewed with the new regional government.

QMM opened a primary school this year and in 2007 built a health centre in Lohalovoky hamlet. However this centre awaits a new doctor and only one midwife currently supports the community's health needs. A small number of international and local agencies implement health projects in Ambinanibe, including water and reproductive health initiatives, and QMM supports various social programmes for fishing and literacy.

It appears that the World Bank has promised a number of infrastructure supports to Ambinanibe but these have yet to materialise, as World Bank funding has been halted due to the current political unrest in Madagascar.

The village and beach are visited by tourists and foreign workers, some of whom do not respect the local fady (customary taboos) or the environment.

Sambo: life goes on

Sambo is 46 years old. His life "used to be good, like everyone else's in the village". But then they lost access to their best fishing grounds, as the mining company started to build a port, and much of their land was taken over.

The compensation money was partly spent on better housing and now "the village has a shine to it". But this prosperity is deceptive: "I see people in their improved homes," he warns, "yawning all the time because they are undernourished."

The loss of Somatraha fishing grounds and a safe dock has been "devastating" and farming has been dramatically affected by land appropriation. But with low levels of education and a strong attachment to fishing, people are reluctant to migrate for work. Sambo collects and sells coconuts when he can, and goes to sea when conditions allow.

Access to health care has improved, thanks to the mining company, and Sambo is hopeful that their improved road will "bring development". Meanwhile, people struggle with everyday survival: the "euphoria [of compensation money] was short-lived".

My life used to be good, just like everyone else's in the village. I lived off fishing activities...

Fishing has been a tradition from generation to generation in the village. In addition to fishing, people farmed. Among the many crops that grew were sweet potatoes, pumpkins, beans and maize. People were successful when they farmed, but fishing was the principal source of income for many...

The principal place for fishing is Somatraha... Any time the sea conditions in Bevava were bad, fishermen went to Somatraha. The problem in Bevava is that sea conditions are unpredictable. They change constantly: within half an hour the conditions could change from good to bad, or vice versa...

Even though fishermen work hard to get a good catch, they cannot match what they were able to do in Somatraha. Fishermen can only make 5,000 ariary from a day's fishing; rarely can they make up to 20,000 ariary. It seems to be a lot of money but fishermen cannot fish every day in Bevava, thus they are unable to guarantee continuity of income.

Boats damaged or swept away

I wish you could see people working in Somatraha all day long so that you could attest that indeed Somatraha was the place for fishermen.

Since fishermen lost their access to Somatraha, they had no choice but to use Bevava as a dock... Many boats have been damaged by strong waves and some of them even got swept away. Among hundreds of boats in Bevava, about 20 boats are left now. This situation is really devastating for fishermen and their families.

Now, not only are people not allowed to fish in Somatraha, but they are also not allowed to farm and collect firewood over there... [With the loss of this access] poverty will be accentuated and a lot of people will starve to death.

Underpayment for land

I know what others think when they hear that people in Ambinanibe received money from QMM (QIT Madagascar Minerals - subsidiary of Rio Tinto mining for ilmenite). They think that people in Ambinanibe are now rich. Let me give you an example of how it is exactly... People did not receive what they expected.

My father left us, my three siblings and me, a small piece of land... After QMM's payment to us of 500,000 ariary, we had to split the money into five portions, because we had to give 100,000 ariary to our mother. So each of us then received 100,000 ariary...

I did not want to create tensions among us, so as soon as I received the money I had to inform my siblings how much money my father's land was valued at. It is sad to receive only 500,000 ariary for 3.5 hectares of land, especially when that land was registered in my father's name.

I think lack of knowledge is a disadvantage, because my siblings and I could not argue to demonstrate the real value of my father's land. So right now, we are sad about what happened.

"Euphoria was short-lived"

Anyway, everybody in the village did improve their houses; that is why the look of the village is different now. I should say that the village has a shine to it. During the construction stage, you could see people's happy faces. They were all willing to improve their lives. Right now, almost everyone lives in a corrugated tin house...

However, this euphoria was short-lived because after building houses people were back to reality: what to eat tomorrow? It is funny to think that one lives in a nice house, but starves to death. Sometimes I see people in their improved homes, yawning all the time because they are undernourished.

Newspaper slurs the community

I am glad to have this opportunity to express my ideas and concerns, as well as the problems in my life. I must let them out of my head so that I won't have a headache. If I keep all of my concerns in my stomach, I may risk having a beer belly [laughs]. I am not a beer drinker so I must let them out. I think it is good to express ideas instead of keeping them inside...

People in the village were sad when they learned that a newspaper published news regarding the way people in Ambinanibe spent the money received from QMM... It said that people spent their money on beer. No, this was wrong. People spent their money on something that could help them ease their hardships... In addition [to building houses], many people legalised their marriage and some others registered the birth of their children...

Furthermore, people also had to renew their boats because they had almost none left. In my case, I wanted to purchase two new boats. I had already built a house and another house for one of my children, I purchased clothes for my children, food and household furniture...

I wish people who say bad things about us could see the struggle we face and the work we must do to maintain our lives. Now, I feel like a child left behind by his mother, alone in a forest.

"No one thinks about migrating"

The problem is that people in the village have fewer opportunities...when it comes to generating income... I think lack of knowledge among people in the village has contributed to the hardships that people are having. Women in the village are not able to go out of town and trade. They just rely on their husbands to catch some fish so that they can sell them in the market.

Children in the village start their lives by going out to fish at a very young age. This has been a problem: they don't want to return to school after a weekend of fishing because they were making a bit of money. I think the fact that people are not used to migrating and finding opportunities outside the village poses a problem now...

I am not able to go to Ilakaka (a sapphire-mining town on the road to Tulear). I get lost when I go outside this village because I was not brought up to go anywhere except the village. Fishing around here has been my life...

No one thinks about migrating, despite the hardships that we all endure here. This is the village where our ancestors used to live and we intend to remain here for better or worse... I guess it also has to do with our livelihood practices... No one is ready to leave behind the opportunity to access the sea.

"The doctor does not live in the village"

I think the problem [of disease] comes from the lack of toilets and the fact that people use open space to satisfy their needs. Flies bring microbes everywhere...

QMM helped with the construction [of a health centre]... People were happy but they would have been happier if QMM had built the health centre right here in Ambinanibe... And the doctor does not live in the village. He lives in Fort Dauphin, so at the end of the day he goes home... People are worried sick that they have to wait until the next day to be able to see the doctor in the event of an emergency at night. Even then, the doctor does not arrive in time.

So I think it is better if Ambinanibe has a health centre with a doctor willing to live here... I also think that a doctor who works here should be nice – sociable and likable. Because sometimes doctors are not nice to villagers.

"The road will bring development"

The road used to be sandy, and then some foreigners fixed it... In the past, whenever it rained, it was difficult for vehicles to come here, so drivers avoided the village... People would have liked to have a road that has the same condition as QMM's road, but well...

People here know that they cannot fix the road because they lack equipment, so they are the foreigners who helped the villagers... It is better to have it improved than nothing at all. I think people are very happy because the road will help to bring development to the village.

Obstacles to education

The school was not built right here in the village so no one could monitor the work of any teacher. In addition, after they received money from QMM, many parents sent their children to study at better schools such as the Marillac school, run by... nuns, or the private schools in Fort Dauphin. Such migration left the school in the village with fewer students.

Furthermore...the teacher was not committed. I don't think he was serious enough to teach children from this area... So, due to the lack of maintenance, it is no wonder the school has started to break down. I wish the school was built in Ambinanibe so that the local community could monitor progress...

The local community plans to talk to the head of the education service in Fort Dauphin (CISCO) to request an additional teacher. But what people really want help with is a shuttle bus to bring children from the village to the school in Fort Dauphin or to the school in Marillac.

I know a lot of women who wake up around 4am to prepare breakfast for their children and then walk them to school. This is hard on them and time-consuming... Some parents have decided to rent houses in Fort Dauphin so that their children can stay there in the week.

Sacrificial rites

There are many reasons why people conduct a sacrifice ceremony. For example, when rules governing fishing activities are violated, or when a man has had sex with a woman who is close to his family, such as a cousin, or when somebody wants blessings from his or her ancestors.

People also conduct a sacrifice ceremony when they have a relative whose life is in danger due to illness. The common thing among these ceremonies is that a cow must be slaughtered and some of the cow's blood is used during the ritual.

People also conduct a sacrifice ceremony when they judge that their fish production has decreased. Fishermen know the period when each fish species is in abundance. If that does not happen, fishermen assume that rules governing their fishing areas have been violated... I think that some locations around here are a refuge for evil spirits so whenever these spirits feel threatened they do whatever they can so that marine resources will not be available to fishermen.

Fishermen need a mpisorona (elder of the village and preacher) to conduct the ceremony for them. The goal is to restore the value of the ocean or any locations that have been violated, so that people can once again catch many resources from the ocean, such as fish and lobster.

"Life goes on"

Since fishing in Somatraha is not possible any more, I spend most of my time wandering along the seashore. Sometimes, when I need money urgently, I am forced to collect coconut fruit and sell them...

The land in Ambinanibe is not suitable for many crops. Lychees and mangoes do not grow here so people have no choice but to plant coconuts. However, the sale of coconuts helps people to make some money if their fish catch is bad. There are lamoty, vontaky and nato fruit trees growing in the area as well, but these are just for local consumption...

My coconut sale helps to bring food to my household. My children enjoy preparing the meal and whether it is a plain cassava or rice, everybody in my family is happy to share some meals together, that is very important. This is what I do while waiting for sea conditions in Bevava to improve. With God's help, I will go fishing tomorrow and bring some catch for the family and for sale; then life goes on.

Jean-Claude: we are not livestock

Jean-Claude, 39, is clear that by accepting cash for land his community has lost "sustainability" and become vulnerable and dependent on others: "You could get fired any time." Although he built a new house with his compensation money, he does not see this as an enduring asset in the way that farmland was. He describes the negotiation and compensation processes and it is clear that for him, trust has broken down.

He believes the government bears responsibility for their precarious economic situation as well as the mining company. However, he gives credit to the improved transport services, which have "helped us enormously". Even though he and his wife can't afford the fare for themselves, they can pay to have heavy bags of cassava transported to market, while they follow on foot.

Ultimately, though, he resents the restrictions that have been imposed: "We are not like livestock to be restricted to a stable; we are human beings who have a right to live normally."

Before, I could say that my life was good. Agriculture and fishing were my occupations... I used to farm my land three times a year and harvested lots of crops; however, this is not possible any more because the government took our land. Thus, people are deprived of their land to farm, resulting in food insecurity... In addition...Somatraha, an important source of fish for us villagers, was prohibited for fishing...

Even though I received money in return for my land, I thought it was not enough. The money was spent building a house and buying some items that I needed for my daily life. Worse still, the money did not last [any time]... Even if we got work for foreign companies, this would not be a sustainable activity that would help us forever. You could get fired any time, if your manager wanted.

"I lost the real value of my land"

The way my land was measured was not fair, because they only estimated my land surface instead of actually measuring it... The estimation was based on counting the number of steps along its width and length. Why didn't they use a proper ruler? For me, I want transparency... I lost the real value of my land...

I complained on five different occasions. But so far there has been no answer. First, they...promised that they would give money in an amount that was appropriate to the return on my land; but many people were not satisfied with the money they received. In addition, some of my land was not registered under my name when they made their estimate. I was disappointed by this. Instead they showed me on television; they filmed me on my farmland. Now, I think that that film was just used as publicity for them, instead of benefiting me.

We inherited land from our ancestors... So this land should belong to our next generation but given the current situation, I don't think my children and grandchildren will enjoy it.

Food security at risk

[In the past] in addition to my sweet potatoes, I harvested my corn crop. These crops could last six to seven months. I harvested corn three times a year. I am totally convinced that the money I received in return for my farmland was too little. I think they took advantage of my illiteracy...

I am not trying to block QMM's (QIT Madagascar Minerals - subsidiary of Rio Tinto mining for ilmenite) projects but the food security of my children is the most important thing to me. I am ready to go to [the law] to protect my land... but I am a bit afraid to execute my plan due to a lack of knowledge. I accepted the exchange [of money for land] because I didn't know exactly what was going on.

Loss of fishing areas

Somatraha is a big loss to us... Somatraha had a lot of resources. We used to catch 20 sharks with our fishing nets. Even people who just visited Somatraha for a short time could get about 1 kilo of lobster. As for us, we caught 3 to 4 kilos per day. I think that these resources should have been inherited by our children and our next generation...

Before the foreigners (QMM) came here, Somatraha was our main source of income. During the winter, from May to August, we fished in Somatraha for three to four months, then we switched back to fishing in Bevava... This switching was based on the wind direction, which affected sea conditions. Somatraha and Bevava were like rice and corn and cassava. If we eat cassava today then we eat corn the next day, and rice the day after...

We had about a 30 metre-wide shore. But since QMM took over these places [to construct the port], there is hardly anywhere to moor our boats – because the seas have risen due to QMM's work. Our boats moored in Bevava suffered from the impact of waves, showing cracks that jeopardise their future performance. There used to be about 400 boats in Bevava, but now there are only 20...

Our efforts are unproductive – even if we buy new boats – because the winds that blow from the south and the east are really strong, which makes the waves even stronger and further breaks up our boats... The shore has become flooded due to a rise in sea level, which makes leaving boats there impossible. As a result, people must lift their boats from the shore up to higher ground.

"Our government underestimates us"

Somatraha is not only our traditional fishing area but also our farmland. According to a meeting at the mayor's office in Fort Dauphin, which was broadcast on TV, they said they would build a smaller harbour for us fishermen to use in Somatraha, when they started restricting access to Somatraha. Now, this is not the case – because we are not allowed any access at all.

I had a hard time believing that they would build this harbour for us, because they had already restricted us from collecting firewood in Somatraha... Besides, they expanded their appropriation of land towards our remaining farmland, getting closer to our ancestors' tombs...

Currently, they are proceeding with the laying of the boundary markers. I asked [them about these] when I saw them measuring the land around here. Their response was that they were measuring the road, not the land. But in fact they marked the boundary [of the land]. I think our government underestimates us villagers.

"We are not livestock"

I will be struggling if I don't have access to Somatraha. That is my source of income. In our village no one went to school. Even if there are people with education, they may not be able to find jobs. Nowadays, even people who have a degree cannot find jobs, let alone those who are illiterate... We are not like livestock to be restricted to a stable; we are human beings who have a right to live normally... We'll lose our resources if the government restricts Bevava too. Where to go?

You never know what the government and the foreigners are planning... At the beginning they started building a road; afterwards they built another road that led to Somatraha. We thought they came here for some agricultural activities, but we were wrong. Once we signed the letter, our farmland became their property.

"Most of the money was used to pay back our debts"

The first thing I did was to build a house because I knew that the compensation money would not last long... So at least I have a house for my family. I also built another house, 6 metres long, from the money I received...

I can see a tangible benefit from my money... But I also had to pay back my loans with a high interest rate. So that is why I only built a house 6 metres long. My income from fishing was about 10,000 to 30,000 ariary every time I fished in the sea. So if I compare this income with the money I received in return for giving up my land, I think I lost out in a big way... Most of the money was used to pay back our debts...

My income decreased enormously [with the loss of fishing grounds]. Therefore, I had to take out loans to avoid famine for my family. I had no choice... Now that these fishing activities are restricted and we don't have land to farm, we are exposed to loan sharks.

Empty promises

I would have liked to see [my children] receive some education. I am illiterate so I don't want to see them in the same situation as I am...but if I want my children to study, I must send them to Fort Dauphin. This is impossible for me because I don't have money to send them to study there. If the government want to help us, they could build a school in our village...

I would very much like the government to take action to help us... We, the local community, have already given up on the empty promises of each election time. Candidates promised to rehabilitate our roads... What they did was that they started the road and then for some reason they could not finish it. Instead they filled the open hole with sand, making conditions worse...

We were given a promise that they would bring electricity to our area, along with street lights, but so far it is an empty promise. This is one among the promises given by candidates [standing] for election.

"The bus service enlightens our lives"

I am really happy [about the bus service]. If I have heavy bags to carry and I have money, I can take the bus. For example, today my wife sent her bags full of cassava by bus. She walked because she did not have enough money to ride herself. But this helped us enormously because instead of walking with heavy loads, we could send her bags by bus.

We always take the bus whenever we have enough money. I think the existence of the bus service enlightens our lives in Ambinanibe because I feel like we lived in a dark zone surrounding a lamppost. There are remote villages such as Sarisambo and Analapatsy that have hospitals available to their residents; so I think it is time for Ambinanibe to have this bus service – to show that we too are trying to improve our lives.

Rosette: story of change

Rosette, aged 54, brought up her children as a single parent and they now support her. "Elderly parents like me rely greatly on our children to supply food because we are too old to fish," she says.

She has seen many changes over the years. Describing the impact of the mining company's activities, she explains how they gradually kept expanding their requests – leaving the villagers at a disadvantage during the negotiations. Her main regret is that villagers weren't given jobs in return for giving up their sources of livelihood.

She is knowledgeable about the restrictions that have been imposed on where they can fish and keep their boats, and understands how intensive fishing threatens the community's long-term future. However, she is sensitive to the fact that most people who fish are driven by a desperate need to feed their families: "It is hard to tell someone to stop using a net because that is the only way he can supply food for his family..."

I am a single parent. I have few family members and my children help me in my life. I have six children: four sons and two daughters...

We are all illiterate here. So what we do is fishing and we sell our catch in Fort Dauphin; we purchase food for our family in return, such as cassava and sweet potatoes. We don't have any sources of income except fishing in the ocean, for example in Bevava...[though] we don't make most of our catch there. Unlike Somatraha - that is where we get large catches of lobster, fish, deda (a type of shellfish) and shellfish. Our lives depend on these resources...

The inconvenience of Bevava is that when the wind blows from the south like today, in the tsiok'atsimo (windy season), our children [who fish] remain on shore because the sea conditions are really bad. Elderly parents like me rely greatly on our children to supply food because we are too old to fish.

"We have no way out now"

Somatraha was to fishermen what rice paddies are to farmers, and it sustained their lives... Losing access to Somatraha was a terrible thing. We have no way out now. In addition...we can't make good catches using the [type of] net imposed on us because [the holes are too big]. Furthermore, fish stocks have decreased tremendously...

We used to dock our boats in Ankitsikitsiky; but since they built a road from Ilafitsignana, where the QMM (QIT Madagascar Minerals - subsidiary of Rio Tinto mining for ilmenite) quarry is, to Somatraha, where they are now building a seaport, we cannot dock there any more... Our boats were always secure when moored there... [but now] people are forced to dock their boats in Bevava. As a result, about 400 boats were damaged due to the violent waves there.

Even if they took Somatraha, they should let people continue to farm the remaining land around there that these foreigners did not use for their house construction... But QMM has security guards that prevent people from accessing these lands, including the forested area that falls within QMM's delineation... Now people in Ambinanibe are afraid to walk in the forest to collect fruit and firewood.

"We were not offered jobs"

These foreigners (QMM)...should have at least given fishermen access to Ankitsikitsiky. Instead, they paved over with tar some places that we needed to access the farmland and fishing area; and their road construction continues up to today...

It would have been different if people in our village were offered jobs to work on the port construction in Somatraha, in return for our fishing rights; instead, they hired people from Andramaka, Tsihary, Toliara and Antananarivo, distant villages and cities. People in Ambinanibe lost their farmland, but were not offered jobs...

People in Ambinanibe are willing to work; they are hardworking... Our children now wander around without jobs...two of mine are unemployed.

The story of change

At the beginning, a man working for QMM came here to talk to our village chief...he requested access to [land] where they could build a road, and to a location in Somatraha where they are now building the port.

He explained that the people who would receive the benefits of his requests were none other than our children. Knowing that, people agreed. They were indeed excited that his request would bring development to our village and...[that] our children would now have an opportunity to study and get jobs...

This man continued to make frequent visits to our village. Suddenly, he announced that his supervisors planned to build houses and would offer [building] jobs to our children. People started to wonder and reminded him that he originally came here to ask for road access and a place to build a port and now that request had shifted to housing construction in Ehoala – where our farmland is.

Then he responded that they would not appropriate the land in Ehoala for free. People would get paid with some money, he said, enough to make them happy.

Negotiations and regrets

Some of us were sceptical and did not want to trade their farmland for money... some were convinced that once foreigners were involved in taking our land, there was no way to oppose them, so it was better to accept their offer [of money]...

I didn't accept the idea of them taking Ehoala from us. I asked my fellow farmers where they would collect their vegetables if their farmland was gone?

Despite opposition from some of us, their plan to appropriate our land moved forward. People were asked to sign agreements. Soon after this they came to measure the lands. Amazingly, they measured our land using their own paces, [step by step], which I think was inappropriate given the size of our land...

Finally, the estimation was done. They announced on television in Tana and Toliara and Fort Dauphin that the payment was about 40,000,000 ariary. So when we heard it, people said, OK, 40,000,000 ariary - but it was not in the hand yet, but still on TV... [We] received much less than what had been announced...

Some of the people were happy with the money, and some others immediately regretted it, realising that the amount they had received would not last long enough to feed their grandchildren in the way their farmland would have done.

"We didn't know that it would end like this"

When the estimation of our land was finished, people from our village complained a lot about the results. People went to see the Prefet de Région and the mayor in Fort Dauphin, and QMM. They changed the price of our land to 100 ariary per square metre. Their excuse was that for fallow land, the price was a lot cheaper. But I know that Ehoala didn't have fallow land because people farmed extensively there... I think it was a way to reduce the value of our land...

For me, a single parent, I did not get enough in return for my land. I inherited much land from my parents...yet with five pieces of land, I could not even build a house with the payment I received for them... I think it should have been valued higher...because the crop that I produced in the past was worth more than the money I was paid.

We didn't know that it would end like this... Even after what happened, if they had offered jobs to our children, it would have been different. Someone like me, I could clean windows and sweep floors, just to have a source of income.

Unsustainable fishing driven by poverty

Unlike the past, when we collected shrimp and lots of fish, our river doesn't produce enough resources to help us. Now we barely catch enough for our own consumption. Use of large fishing nets hurt our catch... A large fishing net not only catches big fish, but also the smaller fish that should be allowed to grow and reproduce – as opposed to the past, when people used nets only three fingers' size...

People also use nets with a tighter weave now, similar to a mosquito net, to catch as many fish as possible. This type of net catches fish along with their eggs.

People also destroy the habitat by taking algae out of the river. People need it to wrap their fish to assure freshness of their catch... Someone like me who does not have a net, I can only use fish traps to supply my family with food.

I feel sad about it, but you know, it is hard to tell someone to stop using a net because that is the only way he can supply food for his family... These people who use large nets fish [day and night]...

Maybe these fishermen will listen to government officials, but if only the people in our village try to stop them, they will never listen. That is understandable because that is their job: to feed their family. If the government offers them a job, it could be an alternative.

Further threats to fish stocks

I am glad that people in my area (the lower part of the village) do not use these kinds of nets and that people recognise the bad consequences of using them... In the past, we only trapped fish and we could satisfy the needs of our family, such as food and clothing. But now, since the use of mosquito an interior layer of a fishing net, our production has suffered a drastic decline...

The doctor is amazed at how people use mosquito nets to catch fish. Even if he insists on explaining that the nets are only for domestic use, to protect against mosquito bites, people don't really listen to him. They continue to use them to catch smaller fish...

In addition to the use of large fishing nets, the sea and river levels have risen, which makes fishing very challenging and this may impact on the existence of fish. So I tell you, currently Ambinanibe faces a critical time.

"The river was sacred"

In the past, my ancestors, my father's grandfather, named Remandria, and later Marofotsy, gave their blessings to our river and the sea around our village... My ancestors were the first to come here. They started clearing forested land and then people arrived after them, because they discovered that there were abundant resources nearby. The village expanded little by little.

Ever since I can remember, it was forbidden to dispose of rubbish in the river... It is taboo to clean meat and wash pots in the river...even someone who has eaten pork must clean himself before touching the river. I don't understand why people violate these rules. I think people just do not want to listen.

Whenever they slaughter a cow, the water they've used mixed with cow's blood flows into the river, although they have been warned not to do that... These people are newcomers, people who are working around here. Local residents warned them about this, but I guess they think we tell them a lie.

[All this] threatens the availability of food in our village. The river doesn't produce the expected catch, as it did in the past, because the traditional rules governing our river are being violated, let alone because of the use of large fishing nets.

From what I know, the river was sacred and anyone, whether a resident or a visitor, who violated traditional rules could suffer the consequences of the angry river. People did not raise pigs...[because] when it is hot, pigs want to cool off – so it would be difficult to keep them out of the water...

But now people do keep them and they wander around and they go in the river, which is taboo. People try to keep them fenced in, but the situation got worse when butchers came here to buy pigs and cows...and slaughtered the animals near the river.

Funeral obligations

If the family has a cow, they slaughter it [for a funeral]. If a family doesn't have one, they must do whatever it takes to afford one.

People in rural areas feel ashamed if they do not have a cow to kill during a funeral of a family member. People try to avoid the label that "the funeral was like a burial of a snake" – a burial without the sacrifice of a cow or chickens. The slaughtered cow is used to feed the people presenting their condolences.

"People still rely on family ties"

In the past people only used mats to decorate their floor. Now people purchase plastic rugs from Indian-owned stores in Fort Dauphin. It is such a change. In addition, people now have CD and video players. These things did not exist in our village before... People have furniture to sit on as opposed to just mats. Some of us own houses with a second floor and some others made their house with metal sheets.

Such changes took place because people received money in return for giving up their land... People threw away their old mats because they were impressed by their neighbour's house...

But people still rely on family ties and friendships. If I have a friend who visits me in my village, I must introduce that person to my family and people in my village so that whenever my friend runs into one of my family members or my fellow villagers, my friend can rely on them if he needs help.

This interview has been specially edited for the web and cut down by more than half. Some re-ordering has taken place: square brackets indicate 'inserted' text for clarification; round brackets are translations / interpretations; and dots indicate cuts in the text. The primary aim has been to remain true to the spirit of the interview, while losing questions, repetition, and confusing or overlapping sections.