Community Profiles

Madagascar

Ampombofo Village, Baomby Region, Northern Madagascar

The village of Ampombofo is situated in an isolated region north of the Bay of Diego, near to Cap D'Ambre (northern most tip of Madagascar). The Frontier-Madagascar Forest Research Programme (FM-FRP) moved to this area in October of 2006, after the Frontier Expedition Management team identified it an area of outstanding biodiversity potential. The involvement of this village in future conservation activities will be integral if sustainable levels of biodiversity and conservation management are to be met.

The arrival of the FM-FRP was, for some villagers, the first time they had seen white people. The population of the village live a very traditional and isolated manner, with many of the villagers never leaving the area. This isolation and traditional life has meant that they have retained many of the traditional beliefs that have been lost in other regions in Madagascar. During the first research phase FM-FRP conducted detailed socio-economic surveys to gain a better understanding of the local community, its beliefs and values. During the survey several local taboos or ‘fadys' were highlighted, some with clear health and environmental benefits; however, the reasons for some were not clear. Listed below are a few of these highlighted fadys.

Fady Origin of Belief/ Result
It is fady to carry fire at night After dark is the time for the 'ancestors' to come and see what is happening within the village. If you walk outside with fire it is seen by the ancestors as you trying to find them which is seen as disrespectful. Long ago a man carried fire at night and was surrounded by ancestors who surrounded him in flames.

It is fady to work on Tuesdays, especially to turn soil It was unclear as to why it was bad to work on Tuesday but it was mentioned that a man refused to stop working on his plantations on a Tuesday and his entire crop failed.

It is fady to pollute water This fady has obvious health benefits to the whole village, and probably arises from previous pollution causing health problems.

It is fady to use technical equipment to work the land The village continually expressed how sacred the land was to them because the ancestors were buried in it. Hence they were not able to use technical equipment (anything other than axe and spade). Due to this there were only specific areas of the forest that they could utilise due to difficulties with the soil. This is the primary cause for the retention of much of the primary forest and a vital conservation tool for future management of the region

It is fady to kill lemurs Lemurs are recognised as very similar to humans, for example they pass around their babies after birth to show the rest of the troop - like people! In history it was a 'babacoto' (monkey ancestors of humans) that was naughty, and so was hit by a big spoon and turned into a lemur. It is also fady to hit people with a big spoon.

It is fady to point in the sea, you have to use a clenched fist It is unclear where this fady originated but if you do point whilst on the sea apparently a whale will come and tip your boat over.
 

How the villagers relate to their environment is a very important aspect when it comes to management options. All of the villagers seem to be very aware of the cascading impacts that recent events have had on the environment. The lack of rain causes a lower rice yield which leads to them relying on charcoal burning. The loss of trees in the forest causes less water to be retained by the land and so on. In areas where the trees are cleared, the land becomes "steeper" which suggests recognition of erosion. The prevention of burning cleared land has caused an increase in invasive species which they cannot utilise, thus the zebu enter the forest for grazing.

The village of Ampombofo is clearly very aware of the environment that surrounds them and the important role that a healthy environment plays in their daily lives. Much of this has come from the retention of their traditional belief system which, as yet, has not been hugely influenced by the outside world. Although economic development is an important part of poverty alleviation, traditional beliefs and agricultural practices are often lost because of it. Working with the village of Ampombofo provides a unique opportunity to show that sustainable development does not come at the cost of losing traditional beliefs and practices.

Development