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Sambo’s story: Hungry wealth

As part of a series of testimonies from the Antanosy people in Madagascar, this week Pambazuka listens to Sambo. Sambo, 46, tells a twisted story: While the mining companies have brought better dwellings and healthcare, his people struggle with everyday survival. He explains that the key reason is because access to fishing grounds has been taken away.

My life used to be good, just like everyone else's in the village. I lived off fishing activities…
Fishing has been a tradition from generation to generation in the village. In addition to fishing, people farmed. Among the many crops that grew were sweet potatoes, pumpkins, beans and maize. People were successful when they farmed, but fishing was the principal source of income for many… The principal place for fishing is Somatraha… Any time the sea conditions in Bevava were bad, fishermen went to Somatraha. The problem in Bevava is that sea conditions are unpredictable. They change constantly: Within half an hour the conditions could change from good to bad, or vice versa… Even though fishermen work hard to get a good catch, they cannot match what they were able to do in Somatraha. Fishermen can only make 5,000 ariary from a day's fishing; rarely can they make up to 20,000 ariary. It seems to be a lot of money but fishermen cannot fish every day in Bevava, thus they are unable to guarantee continuity of income.


I wish you could see people working in Somatraha all day long so that you could attest that indeed Somatraha was the place for fishermen. Since fishermen lost their access to Somatraha, they had no choice but to use Bevava as a dock… Many boats have been damaged by strong waves and some of them even got swept away. Among hundreds of boats in Bevava, about 20 boats are left now. This situation is really devastating for fishermen and their families. Now, not only are people not allowed to fish in Somatraha, but they are also not allowed to farm and collect firewood over there… [With the loss of this access] poverty will be accentuated and a lot of people will starve to death.


I know what others think when they hear that people in Ambinanibe received money from QMM (QIT Madagascar Minerals - subsidiary of Rio Tinto mining for ilmenite). They think that people in Ambinanibe are now rich. Let me give you an example of how it is exactly… People did not receive what they expected. 

My father left us, my three siblings and me, a small piece of land… After QMM's payment to us of 500,000 ariary, we had to split the money into five portions, because we had to give 100,000 ariary to our mother. So each of us then received 100,000 ariary… I did not want to create tensions among us, so as soon as I received the money I had to inform my siblings how much money my father's land was valued at. It is sad to receive only 500,000 ariary for 3.5 hectares of land, especially when that land was registered in my father's name. I think lack of knowledge is a disadvantage, because my siblings and I could not argue to demonstrate the real value of my father's land. So right now, we are sad about what happened.


Anyway, everybody in the village did improve their houses; that is why the look of the village is different now. I should say that the village has a shine to it. During the construction stage, you could see people's happy faces. They were all willing to improve their lives. Right now, almost everyone lives in a corrugated tin house… 
However, this euphoria was short-lived because after building houses people were back to reality: What to eat tomorrow? It is funny to think that one lives in a nice house, but starves to death. Sometimes I see people in their improved homes, yawning all the time because they are undernourished.


I am glad to have this opportunity to express my ideas and concerns, as well as the problems in my life. I must let them out of my head so that I won't have a headache. If I keep all of my concerns in my stomach, I may risk having a beer belly [laughs]. I am not a beer drinker so I must let them out. I think it is good to express ideas instead of keeping them inside… People in the village were sad when they learned that a newspaper published news regarding the way people in Ambinanibe spent the money received from QMM… It said that people spent their money on beer. No, this was wrong. People spent their money on something that could help them ease their hardships… In addition [to building houses], many people legalised their marriage and some others registered the birth of their children… Furthermore, people also had to renew their boats because they had almost none left. In my case, I wanted to purchase two new boats. I had already built a house and another house for one of my children, I purchased clothes for my children, food and household furniture… I wish people who say bad things about us could see the struggle we face and the work we must do to maintain our lives. Now, I feel like a child left behind by his mother, alone in a forest.


The problem is that people in the village have fewer opportunities… when it comes to generating income… I think lack of knowledge among people in the village has contributed to the hardships that people are having. Women in the village are not able to go out of town and trade. They just rely on their husbands to catch some fish so that they can sell them in the market. Children in the village start their lives by going out to fish at a very young age. This has been a problem: They don't want to return to school after a weekend of fishing because they were making a bit of money. I think the fact that people are not used to migrating and finding opportunities outside the village poses a problem now… I am not able to go to Ilakaka (a sapphire-mining town on the road to Tulear). I get lost when I go outside this village because I was not brought up to go anywhere except the village. Fishing around here has been my life… No one thinks about migrating, despite the hardships that we all endure here. This is the village where our ancestors used to live and we intend to remain here for better or worse… I guess it also has to do with our livelihood practices… No one is ready to leave behind the opportunity to access the sea.


I think the problem [of disease] comes from the lack of toilets and the fact that people use open space to satisfy their needs. Flies bring microbes everywhere… QMM helped with the construction [of a health centre]… People were happy but they would have been happier if QMM had built the health centre right here in Ambinanibe… And the doctor does not live in the village. He lives in Fort Dauphin, so at the end of the day he goes home… People are worried sick that they have to wait until the next day to be able to see the doctor in the event of an emergency at night. Even then, the doctor does not arrive in time. So I think it is better if Ambinanibe has a health centre with a doctor willing to live here… I also think that a doctor who works here should be nice – sociable and likable. Because sometimes doctors are not nice to villagers.


The road used to be sandy, and then some foreigners fixed it… In the past, whenever it rained, it was difficult for vehicles to come here, so drivers avoided the village… People would have liked to have a road that has the same condition as QMM's road, but well… People here know that they cannot fix the road because they lack equipment, so they are thankful… to the foreigners who helped the villagers… It is better to have it improved than nothing at all. I think people are very happy because the road will help to bring development to the village.


The school was not built right here in the village so no one could monitor the work of any teacher. In addition, after they received money from QMM, many parents sent their children to study at better schools such as the Marillac school, run by… nuns, or the private schools in Fort Dauphin. Such migration left the school in the village with fewer students. 
Furthermore… the teacher was not committed. I don't think he was serious enough to teach children from this area… So, due to the lack of maintenance, it is no wonder the school has started to break down. I wish the school was built in Ambinanibe so that the local community could monitor progress… The local community plans to talk to the head of the education service in Fort Dauphin (CISCO) to request an additional teacher. But what people really want help with is a shuttle bus to bring children from the village to the school in Fort Dauphin or to the school in Marillac. I know a lot of women who wake up around 4am to prepare breakfast for their children and then walk them to school. This is hard on them and time-consuming… Some parents have decided to rent houses in Fort Dauphin so that their children can stay there in the week.


There are many reasons why people conduct a sacrifice ceremony. For example, when rules governing fishing activities are violated, or when a man has had sex with a woman who is close to his family, such as a cousin, or when somebody wants blessings from his or her ancestors. People also conduct a sacrifice ceremony when they have a relative whose life is in danger due to illness. The common thing among these ceremonies is that a cow must be slaughtered and some of the cow's blood is used during the ritual. People also conduct a sacrifice ceremony when they judge that their fish production has decreased. Fishermen know the period when each fish species is in abundance. If that does not happen, fishermen assume that rules governing their fishing areas have been violated… I think that some locations around here are a refuge for evil spirits so whenever these spirits feel threatened they do whatever they can so that marine resources will not be available to fishermen. 
Fishermen need a ‘mpisorona’ (elder of the village and preacher) to conduct the ceremony for them. The goal is to restore the value of the ocean or any locations that have been violated, so that people can once again catch many resources from the ocean, such as fish and lobster.


Since fishing in Somatraha is not possible any more, I spend most of my time wandering along the seashore. Sometimes, when I need money urgently, I am forced to collect coconut fruit and sell them… The land in Ambinanibe is not suitable for many crops. Lychees and mangoes do not grow here so people have no choice but to plant coconuts. However, the sale of coconuts helps people to make some money if their fish catch is bad. There are lamoty, vontaky and nato fruit trees growing in the area as well, but these are just for local consumption… My coconut sale helps to bring food to my household. My children enjoy preparing the meal and whether it is a plain cassava or rice, everybody in my family is happy to share some meals together, that is very important. This is what I do while waiting for sea conditions in Bevava to improve. With God's help, I will go fishing tomorrow and bring some catch for the family and for sale; then life goes on.


* This shortened version of Sambo’s testimonial was published
by ‘Madagascar, voices of change. Oral testimonies of the Antanosy people’ by the Andrew Lees Trust in 2009.
* Hear [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.