The Archaeology and Anthropology of Landscape: Shaping Your Landscape

By Peter J. Ucko; Robert Layton | Go to book overview

25

Ancestors, forests and ancient settlements: Tandroy readings of the archaeological past

MIKE PARKER PEARSON, RAMILISONINA AND RETSIHISATSE

The region of Androy in southern Madagascar is a semi-arid zone, about 150km north-south by 200km east-west, of grassy plains and spiny forests, watered by unpredictable rains from December to March and baked in the heat of the long dry season, when the rivers and lakes dry up as the land becomes scorched. Androy, literally the land of thorns', can be divided into four regions. The south coast is a broad strip of sand dunes, both active and ancient. North of this are the largely deforested sandy plains which are the ancestral lands of many of the older clans among the Tandroy people. Further north, these flat plains are still covered by extensive forest and brush. The most northerly zone is a large stony plateau of hills and plains covered by a mosaic of forests, brush, open areas and bare rock; this region was not occupied by the Tandroy until the beginning of the nineteenth century. Tandroy daily life is hard, particularly towards the end of the dry season, and many have migrated northwards in recent years into the sparsely populated vast inland grasslands and to towns and plantations throughout Madagascar. Most Malagasy are rice cultivators, whereas the people of the dry south (the Tandroy and their neighbours the Mahafaly, the Karimbola and the Bara) are pastoralists. In contrast to the Bara who concentrate on raising cattle, Tandroy herds consist of fat-tailed sheep, goats and cattle. Subsistence crops of manioc, sweet potato, maize, ground nuts, beans, melons, onions, prickly pear and even tomatoes are grown in the cactus-edged fields that surround the dispersed villages throughout Androy.

Aspects of traditional life such as dress, domestic utensils and, in northern Androy, house-building styles have changed dramatically in the last twenty years. Yet the Tandroy way of life has been relatively unaffected, partly because of the region's isolation from the rest of Madagascar and partly because of a strong sense of identity. The south of Madagascar was the last region to be subdued by French troops in 1900. The French colonial authorities established a series of posts which have continued as markets and administrative centres since independence in 1960. However, their small populations are largely composed of outsiders from other parts of Madagascar, since most

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