Sakalava - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Sakalava territory is vast, encompassing four diverse ecological zones: the west coast and the adjoining sea, riverine areas, savanna pasturelands, and forests. The local ecology shapes a highly diversified subsistence economy. Sakalava are avid fishers, who use outrigger canoes of the same design as those used by proto-Malagasy when they made their voyages across the Indian Ocean. Canoes are propelled using paddles; some also deploy a rectangular sail when there are winds. Sakalava consume fish of all sizes as well as shellfish and turtles; since about the 1970s, fishing for sea cucumbers for Asian markets abroad has become a highly lucrative commercial activity. Sakalava also catch freshwater fish; settlements are found along all major rivers and many lakes in western Madagascar. Seafood is prepared in a variety of ways: cooked in stews, fried, smoked, or salted. Hunting and occasional gathering of wild foods further supplement local diets. Crickets and other insects, which are available seasonally, are rich sources of protein, as are hunted animals, including birds, fruit bats, lemurs, and wild boars. Wild honey is also gathered.

When the French arrived in northern Madagascar, they were struck by the quality and quantity of cattle raised in the region. Although herd sizes diminished during the colonial period, Sakalava continue to raise humpbacked zebu cattle for meat and for ceremonial purposes and to pull two-wheeled wooden carts. Cattle were owned collectively by clan members, and large herds were a mark of wealth and prestige. Within the last generation or two, private ownership of cattle has become more common. Cattle of particular colors and markings continue to be reserved exclusively for royal herds or ceremonial use. Other animals raised for food consumption include goats, chickens, guinea hens, ducks, geese, and turkeys. Meat and eggs are consumed sporadically.

Sakalava are also horticulturists who practice primarily swidden agriculture. Local diets are supplemented by what is available during the two primary seasons: the wet (November to April) and dry (May to October). The two main staples of the Sakalava diet are rice (dry and paddy, depending on the terrain) and, especially in the dry regions of the south, manioc. Accounts from the early 1600s also report millet as a staple. In some regions, Sakalava cook with coconut milk, which is used either as an ingredient in stews or is added to rice as it cooks. Vegetables consumed include an assortment of leafy greens that are boiled in a copious amount of water. Other fruits and vegetables vary according to the terrain, temperature, and fertility of the soil: these include mangoes, green and sweet bananas, papayas, oranges, cashews, maize, beans, and other garden vegetables. Participation in cash cropping varies considerably from one region to another. The city of Majunga, for example, is a major source for cashews, whereas, in the north, cocoa, coffee, and, to a lesser extent, spices (such as vanilla, pepper, and cinnamon) are grown on plots ranging from large-scale private and state-owned plantations to the smallest of village and individual gardens. Madagascar also has a copious pharmacopoeia of wild and domestic plants from which teas and medicines are derived.

Arts and Industrial Arts. Knowledge of indigenous textile arts has declined considerably within the last generation or two; earlier in the twentieth century, Sakalava textiles exhibited complex weaving techniques. Single ikat designs, with colors derived from plant dyes, were woven in cotton and raffia on a horizontal loom with a fixed heddle. Today mats and storage containers are plaited by hand into a basket-weave design from palm and other plant leaves. This, like weaving, is the occupation of women. Fishing nets, on the other hand, can be made by either men or women, depending on the region. Men are responsible for boat building, woodworking, and carpentry, depending on local economic needs; items produced include ox carts and outrigger canoes as well as furniture made of palasander, ebony, and other tropical woods. Today embroidery, lacework, and riche-lieu cutout work decorate even the most modest homes and provide supplementary income for many women. Both men and women are actively engaged as tailors and seamstresses, making use of electric and hand-driven sewing machines.

Trade. From the tenth century onward, accounts written by Muslim traders describe the Sakalava as being active participants in Indian Ocean commerce. From the fifteenth through the nineteenth centuries, Sakalava ports were central to the success of the slave trade that linked Madagascar to the African continent, the Middle East, Europe, Asia, and the Americas. As the British and French developed sugarcane plantations on Mauritius and Réunion, they created a large-scale and regular demand for slaves; by the eighteenth century, Sakalava were among the more important slave traders for the region. Sakalava themselves raided East African ports and the Comoro Islands for captives, although most slaves were brought to Madagascar by Muslim traders sailing from Kilwa, Zanzibar, and the coast of what is now Mozambique. These captives were exchanged for cattle and rice, supplies that were generally taken to Mauritius and Réunion to feed the inhabitants there. Slaves purchased by the Sakalava were generally resold for guns, ammunition, or rum. Sakalava kept slaves of their own to work, for example, in the royal rice fields; slaves were also sold to neighboring Malagasy groups or were marched across Madagascar and resold from eastern ports. Defiance of local and international decrees that outlawed slavery was rampant throughout the nineteenth century: Sakalava cooperated with Muslim and European traders in clandestine slaving activities, and the trade continued to flourish well into the 1870s (and, along the northwest coast, as late as 1900). In Sakalava territory, the term "Makoa" (derived from the ethnic label "Makua" in Mozambique) denotes slave ancestry, and today it is applied to people whom Sakalava assume to be of "African" origin. Some continue to work for royalty as their ancestors once did, set off as a loosely defined group of royal laborers.

Small-scale commerce is also very much a part of Sakalava economic activity today. Even the smallest villages often have a local epicene, where such essential items as kerosene, salt, sugar, cooking oil, soap, and matches are sold. Larger stores sell items varying from freshly baked cakes to fabrics and brightly colored body wraps manufactured in Madagascar and abroad. Marketing activities are widespread throughout Sakalava territory. Larger towns and cities have daily markets; there are also regional rotating markets that occur in specific villages or towns on a weekly basis. Both Sakalava men and women engage in market activities, selling goods they themselves have produced or that they have either bought at a larger market in the region or in the nation's capital of Antananarivo. Individual sellers may also develop personal networks, selling items to favored clients in the privacy of one another's homes. Many children become involved in commerce at an early age, assisting adults with clients, running errands, or setting up their own small market or roadside stands; their clients include adults as well as other children. Commercial specialization by age and gender is quickly evident in any large market: for example, young and middle-aged women sell dried fish; grandmothers specialize in woven mats and leafy green vegetables; and older men sell a host of medicinal herbs.


Division of Labor. For Sakalava, "to labor" or "work" ( miasa ) is an action that includes subsistence activities, household chores, ritual affairs, and national development. The most essential agricultural activity is rice farming: men, women, and children are involved at all stages of its production. Until the late twentieth century, work was taboo on Tuesday (Talata), providing a respite from the arduous work in the rice fields. Among fishing communities, the division of labor along gender and age lines varies radically from one region to another: in some areas, only men and boys fish; in others, men and women of all ages as well as children fish. Men and boys hunt, using rifles, slingshots, and hunting dogs. Women and children are most often responsible for water retrieval and cooking. Daily housework is shared by all; chores are often divided between boys and girls. Girls, however, often do the more time-consuming work, such as polishing floors, washing dishes, and doing the laundry.

As noted, the act of honoring royalty is a central defining principle of Sakalava identity. Such loyalty is demonstrated by periodically performing royal work that honors both living and dead rulers. Among the most important ceremonies is the "royal bath" (called fitampoha in Menabe and fanompoa-be in Boeny), the annual purification of a dynasty's sacred relics (and sometimes the reigning ruler). Other forms of royal work include entombing royalty, building a new royal residence, celebrating royal circumcisions, and instating new rulers. The division of labor for royal work was determined by birthright, each clan having its particular duties. Although clan-based labor is being forgotten in many areas, a special caste, called the Sambarivo, continues to be actively involved in royal work. Sambarivo live in special villages; both men and women help orchestrate royal events and perform a multitude of duties during royal ceremonies.

Colonialism has had a major impact on the division of labor throughout Madagascar. Household, head, and cattle taxes drove Sakalava men in particular into wage labor and cash cropping early in the twentieth century. A French bureaucratic system that favored the nuclear family has given rise to a patriarchal bias within many Sakalava households. Adolescent boys and men were affected in other ways as well: they were conscripted into the army, police, and civil service. Men, more so than women, were saddled with the much-despised annual labor quotas that were designed to build up the colony's infrastructure. In the plantation areas of the north, Sakalava refused to work on plantations, and Malagasy from other areas were brought in to work the fields. The French instituted primary schooling throughout much of Sakalava territory; boys, in particular, however, received more advanced training at centers for teachers and civil servants. In postindependence Madagascar, both Sakalava men and women have made their way into these professions as well as medicine, government, and other high-status work.

Land Tenure and Inheritance. Sakalava typically practice virilocality, and inheritance patterns exhibit a patrilineal bias; hence, land most often passes from fathers to one or more of their sons. Nevertheless, women often inherit land from their brothers, fathers, and maternal kin, exhibiting the bilineal (or, more recently, bilateral) quality of Sakalava commoner kinship. The point at which men and women inherit land can best be understood by examining the life cycle: young married men (particularly those who do not relocate or migrate out) generally assume the care of their aging parents' fields, whereas older women (who are often widows) will return to their natal villages upon inheriting fields, homesteads, or houses from maternal or paternal kin. Women also buy land for their personal use. In regions where the soil is fertile and large-scale plantations exist, it is essential that small-scale peasant farmers have land deeds in their possession. Although the concept is not as strongly held as it was prior to the colonial period, land continues to be considered collectively owned as well: the Sakalava of a given region are the rightful tera-tany or tompontany, the "masters of the soil," of a region the boundaries of which coincide with those of the local kingdom.




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