The University of Arizona

Written with seed: the political ecology of memory in Madagascar

Sarah Osterhoudt

Abstract


In this article, I bring together work in political ecology and environmental anthropology to examine how smallholder farmers in Madagascar articulate and embody political and economic histories through the everyday interactions with the commodities cultivated in their fields and forests. I ask: how does the work of cultivating land connect with the art of cultivating memory? In considering this question, I draw from ethnographic research in the agrarian village of Imorona, located in Northeastern Madagascar. In Imorona, smallholder farmers turn towards the materials in their agroforestry fields to reference the more painful political epics of their collective pasts – memories that otherwise remain largely silent within everyday realms of Malagasy culture. I show how the stories people tell of their shifting relationships to commodities including rosewood, vanilla and cloves bring together political and economic 'histories writ large' with more personal and intimate 'histories writ small.' Overall, I argue that the analytical approach of a 'political ecology of memory' offers the productive capacity to look both outward towards others, and inwards towards self. In the process, it elucidates the ways that people render global histories personal.

Key words: Political ecology; memory; agroforestry; commodities; Madagascar; Indian Ocean.


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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2458/v23i1.20215