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Cultural and social change

Now, people just ask a doctor to circumcise their children without a big ceremony. Not only do the resources needed for such a ceremony no longer exist, but [people] also lack the money to provide food and drinks [for their guests].
Say Louise, female, 38, Ilafitsignana

The undermining of a once strong traditional culture is a major preoccupation in these testimonies. Narrators offer various explanations, but clearly change has been caused by a combination of factors – of which the most important are economic constraints and environmental decline.

Depletion of natural resources and restrictions on forest access mean that many items previously used in traditional ceremonies and practices are now hard to come by. At the time of circumcision, for example, boys used to be given honey and a particular kind of rice, which are no longer available.

The high cost of living also affects the way people conduct their ceremonies, as they “reshape” them to fit their straightened circumstances. Most people now take their children to hospital to be circumcised; sacrificial rites once required the slaughtering of a cow, but nowadays a chicken is usually killed instead. And because parents can no longer afford to provide newly married couples with many essential items, marriages now tend to be conducted out of doors so that large numbers of guests can be invited and the couple acquires more gifts. There is some recognition that observing social customs, especially around funerals, for example, can potentially bankrupt families.

Some narrators say that the presence of outsiders has also diluted the observance of fady (customary taboos) and rituals. Taboos helped protect natural resources – for example, by keeping the river clean of animal meat and blood – and some narrators see this kind of violation as a factor in both their deteriorating environment and general situation.

A number of older narrators express regret that the younger generation is losing traditional skills and knowledge of the environment, especially regarding medicinal plants. Some discuss how the modification of culture brings about social change. They comment about people no longer “living in harmony” and about changes in relations between the generations. Young people, they say, do not listen to their parents as they did in the past – for example, they now choose their own marriage partner. They are also concerned that as the environment keeps changing it will form an increasingly smaller part of their children’s experience and identity.

Some testimonies contain very detailed descriptions of wedding and circumcision ceremonies and how they have changed, along with other ceremonies around fishing and the sea.


Due to the lack of rain and the forest destruction, people in the village have a hard time finding the necessary materials…such as vandagnira (a tree species)…to make a circumcision ceremony fit the old tradition… What people do now is take their child and have someone circumcise him, without any ritual. The tradition of circumcision has also changed due to the high cost of living. People often choose to organise a low key ceremony in order to minimize their expenses… they do not invite many people anymore… The more hardships that people have, the less tradition is being followed.
Brinaldine, female, 42 years, Ilafitsignana

People are preparing a sacrifice ceremony at the harbour. My grandfather is responsible for the ceremony. He is the one who gives the blessings and restores the value of the harbour so that resources will be available in great numbers once again. After a cow is slaughtered, my grandfather will pour its blood into the sea, then the blood will be swept away by waves and as soon as it disappears from view, my grandfather will say a prayer. After that, people will distribute the meat among the people from three villages…
Mija, female, 28 years, St Luce

As far as rivers are concerned, it was forbidden to fish with a bucket, as well as to wash dishes in the river, or to wear red cloth while crossing them. But I think these taboos are being violated these days because people think that development has taken place so there’s no need to still follow the old traditions. Visitors – people who were not from the village – were forbidden to swim in the rivers but this taboo has been broken for a long time now. In the past, it was also taboo to wear gold jewelry when crossing rivers.
Miha, male, Ilafitsignana

As the wife of a fisherman, I am not allowed to comb my hair while he is at sea. I am not allowed to take a shower nor wash my genital area. I am not allowed to look at a mirror, to sweep the floor, or do laundry. All I can do is just sit and pray for him until he returns because fishing on the ocean is very dangerous. Nor am I allowed to have an argument with anyone. If I don’t respect these taboos, my husband may have an accident while at sea…
Flogone, female, Ambinanibe

Another effect of losing income is that people cannot maintain their traditions. For example, during marriage, circumcision and funeral ceremonies, people should perform a specific ritual but [now] they eliminate many steps [of the ceremonies]. …people have reshaped their traditions according to their new economic situation.
Benagnomby, male, St Luce

If there was a death in the family, people would slaughter a cow and collect up to 2,000 kapoaky of rice. This served to feed all people who would come to present their condolences. The family purchased alcohol drinks as well for the guests. Anyone who had a death in his family was seriously concerned with the expenses he had to incur. This was an old tradition. But now, people sometimes sell their land to raise money to cover the expenses that may occur during the funeral. Sometimes people sell one of their cows as well or even kill one of their cows.
Tema Pauline, female, 36 years, Petriky


Cultural and social change is a key theme of the Pushed to the edge oral testimony project.


Constand: middlemen control everything

Olina: money talks

Fanja: forest is forbidden

Sorahy: education is crucial

Kazy: rains aren’t coming

Zanaboatsy: needing the forest

Sambo: life goes on

Jean-Claude: we are not livestock

Rosette: story of change

Bruno: hotter and hotter

Say Louise: when hardships started

Sirily: working for foreigners

Key themes

Background to the region

The project and partners

Rivers and the sea


Land and compensation

Farming and food security

Environmental change


Economic conditions


Cultural and social change

Communications and power relations

Local development

The future