Kazy from Petriky, Madagascar - “We have all abandoned the practice of our ancestors to use, boil and prepare medicinal plants.”
Kazy, who is 50, reports that there has been no rain for a year and food crops have failed. In the end, she and her husband let their cattle into the fields to graze on the dried-up plants, and now planting has to “start again at zero”.
She stresses the importance of Petriky Forest to many aspects of their lives: providing wood for construction; firewood and charcoal; vines for handicrafts; shelter for the river fish and plants for fruit and medicine.
The younger generation, she says, no longer uses medicinal plants, preferring modern medicines: “We have all abandoned the practice of our ancestors to use, boil and prepare medicinal plants.” Nor do people perform the sacrifices and ceremonies that brought rain: “Their thoughts are focused on their survival instead.”
Schools and health facilities have improved – “now, children are lucky” – but she fears that the mining company will prevent access to the forest and its resources, a decision she predicts will have a “catastrophic” effect.
I am enduring hardship due to drought. Although I do all I can to satisfy my needs, it is not enough… I plant rice, cassava and sweet potato, tomato and all sorts of beans, but there are no results because it is too dry… There was a lack of rain in the past, but at the moment, it is worse. It rained a year ago… Since then, there has been no rain and there have been consequences for our crop production…
We tried to plant rice but it didn’t grow – except in the rice paddies that have a little bit of irrigation… All the other land that is waiting for the rains was not able to produce anything. Most of the rice paddies could not be planted because they were too dry. Instead, we let the cattle into the fields to graze the little bit of rice that grew but then dried up.
“The rains are not coming”
We also planted cassava and laboured on the earth, but it was too dry and the cassava didn’t grow. It was the same for our maize…eventually we let our cattle graze these fields since the plants did not mature. If the rain does not come, we will start again at zero and replant our fields…
I don’t know why the rains are not coming. I am not God, who can predict such things… In the past, there was rain and everybody had a lot of food. At the moment, every year we have seasonal food shortages…
Perhaps we need to have a sacrifice. Now people no longer perform them; their thoughts are focused on their survival instead. The location for the ceremony was on the river bank… Volamaka (May) was the time when the sacrifices were done. It was also the time when we put the umbilical cords of newborns in the river… After the sacrifice, our ancestors would bathe themselves in the ocean. Then the rain would fall.
In the past, when there was a harvest, we would give the first part of it to the mpitan-hazomanga (village elder)…it is only then that other members of the family can consume the harvest.
However, the person has died on whose land the hazomanga (sacred tree, site of village meetings) grows, and [at the moment] the younger generation just brings the first part of the harvest and leaves it next to the hazomanga.
In the past our ancestors and our parents harvested medicinal plants in Petriky Forest. People collected plants and boiled them and gave them to the sick person, and then they would be healed. For example, in my case, what helped me to grow up were medicinal plants…
The younger generation no longer uses medicinal plants because they use foreigners’ medicine… We have all abandoned the practice of our ancestors to use, boil and prepare medicinal plants… It is due to the foreigners, who have influenced our society. People are starting to forget, little by little, the traditions of their ancestors.
There is also a perception that Western medicine is more effective and works more rapidly than medicinal plants. For example, if somebody drinks the liquid of a medicinal plant, it takes two to three days for the person to heal…
[We had] fanota, tingo-tingo, fanola, soazanahary (medicinal plant species). Our ancestors used all of these and they were given to children as an infusion. Fanota was used in cases where evil spirits possessed somebody. Tingo-tingo was used for coughs… Also tingo-tingo is given to women who have given birth.
Fanola leaves are used in cases where people have marasme (slight temperature). People take a bath in hot water with the leaves. Also, the leaves can be placed directly on the muscles that hurt. Soazanahary is boiled and consumed when people think somebody has cast a spell on them.
The need to protect forest resources
[We can still use these plants] because the forest still belongs to the people of Loharano village. When there is drought, we go there to collect vines. Children make handicrafts from them and sell them to visitors to make a little bit of money…
At the moment, it is the collection of vines that is helping each family to survive… However, the amount of vine available has greatly decreased, because it has been widely exploited to generate income… People also consume the fruits of this vine…and collect wood with which to build houses…
Not only do people collect wood for building, but also to make charcoal, especially in Tsihala and Ampefinala. People from these villages access our forest as well, despite the fact that people of Loharano and Tambovo villages are the real owners. The forest is surrounded by many villages, so people access it from different sides.
We have elected a few people to enforce the dina (traditional forest management system) but the [regulations] are not operational yet. A driver from QMM and the forest service officials have started to explain to people the goals of the dina and how it will be put in place. Mainly they said that collecting construction wood and making charcoal would be prohibited.
They have not [yet] prohibited us here, in our village. They have only started with people from different villages. But the regulations are not in place because they don’t yet have security guards to protect the forest.
“It will be catastrophic”
QMM is going to prevent us from having access to all of these [forest] resources… This decision is going to change a lot of things in our lives.
The shade from the trees that grow along the riverside acts as a shelter for fish. If the forest is cut down, this will have an impact on fish habitat… There will be no more fish. The river will diminish… Also, the medicinal plants will perish. The vines will be destroyed. The construction wood will disappear…
It will really be catastrophic… The reason QMM is here is to exploit this forest. Once they finish the construction of the new seaport at Somatraha, after five years, they will come here… We are really going to suffer if we lose this forest because it is our life, and the river is also our life.
However, we do not dare oppose the foreigners (QMM). Instead, we accept them with fear… Each time they find something that they like, they can easily acquire it, and they will move us to a different location.
Taking crops to market
We are obliged to purchase food [nowadays] because we are not able to produce any. The only other activity that we can do is fishing… [But now] there are not a lot of fish.
People take [their crops] on foot to Fort Dauphin – sweet potatoes, tomatoes and beans. If they have a lot of produce…they bring it little by little, going back and forth, and they also recruit people who are strong to help them to carry the merchandise on their shoulders. However, these people have to be paid, and given food to eat…
If somebody sells everything in the market, then he returns the same day… It also happens that it can take three days to sell everything.
People go to Manambaro since it is closer… However, the inconvenience of selling our goods there is that we are not able to sell them all. It is for this reason that we [prefer to] bring our merchandise to Fort Dauphin since we are able to sell it more quickly there.
“The medical team comes to our village”
Stomach-ache, fever, headache – these are [the ailments] people have very often. Luckily, all of the children in the village and at the school are vaccinated… When it is the day to vaccinate all of these children, the medical team comes to our village to do them. This is different from the past when our children had to go to see the doctor [elsewhere] to receive their vaccinations…
We need to have a hospital in our village… If there is a pregnant woman [about to give birth] or somebody who falls ill, we have to…carry them on a stretcher…three hours to Sarisambo or four hours to Manambaro…
In the past, there was only one road that came to the village, but then QMM built a new road… [Still], this road is so bad that only four-wheel drives can come here. Whenever QMM notice that the condition of the road…is bad, they speak with the village chief to organise the maintenance. Sometimes, QMM distributes food such as meat and rice to villagers, who help with the maintenance…[but] I don’t think our road will ever be [properly] rehabilitated.
“Schools in almost every village”
[Our children] go to a school built by QMM five years ago. There are Grades 1 to 5. After passing their first official exam in Manambaro, they continue to study in the Manambaro Junior High School. As for the ones who fail, they come back to the village and repeat for another year. Now, our school has two government teachers. In the past we only had a substitute teacher.
[Before], they studied in Sarisambo. They walked for three hours to get there. Even myself, I studied in Sarisambo. We brought lunch with us and stayed there until the school day was over…at 5pm. Then we walked home again. And this is what we did every day. But now, children are lucky because there are schools in almost every village. Now the schools are close to the homes of children, so they are not too tired to walk there…
In the past, children helped their parents a lot. For example, they would help them search for firewood, or carry their bags of produce if they were heavy. However, children do not do that any more. Young people do not even help their parents to work the land…
If we want to give youth our advice, they always have something to say in return. Our children just listen to themselves. It is very rare to find a child who still respects the advice of his parents.
Money will not last
This land is the land of our tanindrazana (ancestors) and QMM (QIT Madagascar Minerals – subsidiary of Rio Tinto mining for ilmenite) are also going to take our harvests… Even if they give us money for our land, it will not be enough to last us for the rest of our lives, because we still have small children to raise, who also need to survive – and the land will no longer belong to them.
It is for this reason that I said that they are going to kill us by taking our land. This has not yet happened in our village but it has happened in Ambinanibe and Ilafitsignana.
This interview has been specially edited for the web and cut down by more than half. Some re-ordering has taken place: square brackets indicate ‘inserted’ text for clarification; round brackets are translations / interpretations; and dots indicate cuts in the text. The primary aim has been to remain true to the spirit of the interview, while losing questions, repetition, and confusing or overlapping sections.