Academic journal article African Studies Review

Tòkana: The Collapse of the Rural Malagasy Community

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Tòkana: The Collapse of the Rural Malagasy Community

Article excerpt

Abstract:

Madagascar is often cited as an example of a country with a long history of local institutional strength and stalwart community participation in the decision-making process. This article explores the crisis of community life in southern Madagascar, particularly the changed nature of community involvement. Associational life is in decline-a result not only of challenging economic conditions, but also of eroded social norms, as the rule-making institutions of the past have been replaced by the loose guidelines of the present. This situation, which has the potential of exacerbating economic problems, is also likely to have grievous political and ecological consequences.

Let us today our grave destinies join

That in the sky our songs may have equal course:

Our souls are similarly misfortuned

For we both have lost our ancestral force!

The earth that nourishes your vigorous roots,

The doves in love that your crest elect,

And even the air - none is of your roots,

Your presence here is as that of a shadow!

And as for me, a son of abolished kings,

Leaning on a wall of a forgotten tomb,

I sing with a voice, but not that of my dead!

J. J. Rabearivelo (from Hasina)

Madagascar is often cited as an example of a country with a long history of local institutional strength and stalwart community participation in the decision-making process. Despite significant fluidity of intracommunity identity, for five hundred years community-based institutions grew, adapted, and changed, shaping and being shaped by feudal, monarchal, colonial, and postcolonial political structures. Yet as Rabearivelo's poem made clear half a century ago, this strong sense of culturally based Malagasy community has been largely eroded by external force and internal decay. There is now, in many places, a popular sentiment that people are not part of a community acting together, but rather are alone (tökana)} This article explores the crisis of community in southern Madagascar. In contrast to the vision of rural communitarian culture struggling to ward off state excess, people farm together little, celebrate together little, and solve problems together little. Even the process of mourning, once so deeply rooted in diverse Malagasy traditions, has become an abbreviated community event.

This article looks at the ways in which villagers in southern Madagascar associate with one another, paying special attention to the type of associations that have been formed, the nature of participation, and the reasons for community erosion. The primary argument is that the way in which people go about participating in community life has changed. The rulemaking institutions of the past have been replaced by the loose guidelines of the present. Robert Putnam's now venerated (2001) findings in regard to the United States - that associational life is in decline - holds in Madagascar as well in that the decrease in social capital is having grievous social and economic effects on the community members. Yet in contrast to Putnam's U.S. example, the root cause of the decline in Malagasy community life is economic hardship. People do not associate with one another because they are too busy trying to eat. Decreasing resources and the diminution of arable lands have collided with demographic changes, ecological challenges (Rakotoarisoa 1998), and the problems of self-serving elites, external interests, and economically challenging social norms to reduce associational opportunities.

It is potentially a grievous loss. The growth of community participation is crucial to the preservation of Madagascar's unique ecology and to the broadening and deepening of Madagascar's fragile new democracy. Most important, by leading to the collapse of southern Malagasy community, short-term economic crises can lead to a long-term economic downturn.

The research for this article was conducted predominantly in the Amboasary district northwest of Tolagnaro. …

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