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Independent Scholar, Cleveland, Ohio

The town of Ranomafana is located some 140 kilometers west of the coastal city of
Mananjary in Madagascar’s southeastern province of Fianarantsoa. For 18 months,
I lived and worked in Ambodiaviavy, a hamlet (tanana)1 nestled in the Ranomafana
region rain forest. Most of the 240 residents of Ambodiaviavy refer to themselves
as Tanala, or People of the Forest.2 Among four patrilineal clan identifications
(karazana) it is the Sambinoro who are recognized as the tompontany in Ambodiaviavy.
Tompontany, or “masters of the land,” is among the most binding relation to land that
exists in Madagascar.
In recent years, the Sambinoro’s claim to be masters of their land has been
challenged. On May 27, 1991, not long after the 1986 “discovery” of the Golden
Bamboo Lemur (Hapalemur aureus) in the area by Dr. Patricia Wright,3 the Demo-
cratic Republic of Madagascar officially established the Ranomafana National Park
(RNP).Today, Ambodiaviavy is located just a short distance from the park’s south-
eastern border. RNP planners justify their appropriation of 43,500 hectares of land
by arguing that the rich store of genetic diversity at home in the Ranomafana region
is threatened with destruction by the slash-and-burn agriculture (tavy) practiced by
area farmers. Sambinoro, however, claim “masters of the land” status over 1,700
hectares of ancestral estate (tanindrazana) now enclosed within the RNP. The Sam-
binoro believe that both access to this land and recognition of their status in relation
to it is crucial if the many different groups of people in Ambodiaviavy are to remain
cooperatively connected, and able to successfully manage the changes in agricultural
CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY, Vol. 22, Issue 2, pp. 244–284. ISSN 0886-7356, online ISSN 1548-1360.  C 2007 by
the American Anthropological Association. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce
article content through the University of California Press’s Rights and Permissions website,
reprintInfo.asp. DOI: 10.1525/can.2007.22.2.244.

Costs and benefits of tavy in Ambodiaviavy Slash-and-burn agriculture does

present important short-term benefits to many farmers. The long-term effects of the prac-
tice in eastern Madagascar, however, are decidedly negative. In Ambodiaviavy, farmers typically
isolate a 0.2-hectare area of forest that is then cut, dried by the sun, and burned, releasing
nutrients and ash to the soil. Rice and a variety of complementary crops are grown in the first
few years after which manioc is primarily grown as the soil looses fertility. Most farmers then
attempt to leave the land fallow for ten years. The burst of nutrients (needed in the nutrient-
poor tropical soil) and the elimination of such pests as rats, mosquitoes, locusts, and so forth,
represent the benefits of tavy. Unfortunately, with Madagascar’s population growth rate at 3.03
percent, the fallow periods have shortened. Erosion, gullying, and soil degradation are in evi-
dence throughout the island. It is now estimated that since 1900, tavy has destroyed nearly 65
percent of the eastern forests with close to 2 percent of the remaining forests burned each year.

production proposed by the RNP. The Samborino understand their own needs in
relation to the land not only in economic terms (i.e., access to natural resources) but
also in terms of the productive exchanges they carry out with ancestors buried in
their estate, being particularly concerned with the blessing, or tahy, these ancestors
withhold and release.
The Ranomafana National Park Project, or “Park Project,” was, until 1998,
an Integrated Conservation-Development Program (ICDP).4 In ICDPs operative
worldwide, expanses of land are enclosed, defined instrumentally as national or
global resources, and protected from a host of destructive threats, including the
subsistence practices of resident peoples. Planners understand such practices as
slash-and-burn agriculture to be driven by “poverty,” and one of the leading causes
of deforestation in and around the protected areas; planners also understand these
practices to be “non-sustainable.” These same planners, however, rarely conceive of
resident access to and use of resources in political economic, historical, or moral
terms (Peterson 2000; Spence 1999).
On the initial enclosure of estates, ICDP managers offer assistance in meeting
the needs of resident people, generally assuming that all parties with a stake in
the future of protected area resources have needs in relation to those resources.
The means for discovering, communicating, and negotiating these needs has re-
ceived little attention. Methods in the assessment of need range from rapid rural
assessment questions and fixed-alternative scheduled interviews to areawide ques-
tionnaires and in-depth, key-informant interviewing. The information gathered in
the field then travels from offices in the regional capital to overseas headquarters.
Far from their field of utterance and transcription, statements of need are given little
historical, economic or sociocultural context as they are massaged into preexisting
development agendas.

Often, there is significant struggle, overt and subtle, over the way needs are
heard, interpreted, and satisfied. As Nancy Frazer (1989) points out in her discussion
of the “politics of need interpretation,” such struggles are complicated by the fact that
many groups articulate their needs in and through differing culturally specific norms
of interpretation and communication. All need politics are discursively mediated
and are therefore dialectically tied to the wider “social process” (Harvey 1996:78).
Building on Michel Foucault’s (1991a) work on “governmentality,” I am con-
cerned in this article with “need technology” as a mode of governance in ICDPs,
and with the linguistic and textual techniques through which need technology op-
erates. My focus throughout the article is on the intersection of language, language
ideology, and governance in the Park Project. Through close analysis of a particular
speech event, I identify five elements or steps in the needs-production process—
translation, entextualization, spacialization, summation, and reporting—in which
meaning and authority are articulated. In all, particular language ideologies make a
difference, and particular languages and people enjoy greater automatic authority.
It is through these discursive processes that need technology operates in IDCPs,
and resident program participants are constructed as needy, green subjects. In this
case, as in many others, individuals who serve as translators—here Solo, Tody, and
Voara—play particularly important roles. Trained in a variety of geographical lo-
cales and responsible for a certain degree of transnationalization of ideas, these men
represent what Michael Goldman (2001:510) calls “hybridized state actors.” With
feet in multiple domains, their work is remarkable in its power to affect outcomes
for everyone in the project.
In this article, I focus on a particular meeting in 1993, conceived of as a speech
event, in which the Park Project was evaluated by an USAID team, with input from
residents, and translated by Malagasy staff. At the time of the meeting, I had lived
in Ambodiaviavy for close to one year, and had publicly raised numerous questions
about the Park Project’s goals and operations. Ambodiaviavy residents appeared to
have welcomed my participation in the meeting as a foreigner (vazaha) who both
openly questioned the Park Project in general and was not connected with the Park
Project in any direct way. USAID representatives tried to elicit my participation as
a translator at numerous points throughout the meeting. I refused the role as the
translation work carried out regularly within the RNPP was an important part of
my study. Park Project staff members were, however, open to my recording of the
entire meeting.
From well before the moment I arrived in Ambodiaviavy, my imagination was
also active in constructing my own role there. I saw a monumental struggle between

the forest farmers of the region and a powerful U.S.-backed, Malagasy state alliance
hungry for land and resources. As a scholar comfortable in the Marxist tradition,
my energies were squarely on the side of Tanala rights to land—a struggle I saw
to be the “really earthly question in all its life size.”5 As time went on, and as my
experiences widened, my sympathies for the many different struggles waged by
everyone involved grew stronger yet more refined.6 Of particular relevance here
is the appreciation I gained for the way language ideology shaped what people said
and did, and were able to hear. The story of Ambodiaviavy is indeed a story about a
really earthy question, partly played out through intonation, timing, and gesture.
In the section that follows, I briefly describe the emergence of green neolib-
eralism and how Foucault’s conception of governmentality can provide insight on
how neoliberalism—and need’s production in ICDPs—works. I then turn to east-
ern Madagascar and the many ways that access to the land matters there. The rest of
the article centers on the 1993 USAID evaluation meeting, and different steps in the
needs production process. The key argument is that different linguistic ideologies
are in play in the needs production process, driving particular modes of transla-
tion, entextualization, spacialization, summation, and reporting that, together, are
foundational to the RNP’s overall governance.


ICDP planning, in its focus on exchange values in nature and the education
of residents as individually responsible for their actions in the forest, is guided by
a political rationality of “green neo-liberalism.” As employed by Foucault (1991b),
a “political rationality” is central to the analytics of government, foregrounding
“how forms of rationality inscribe themselves in practices or systems of practices,
and what role they play within them, because . . . ‘practices’ don’t exist without a
certain regime of rationality” (1991b:79). In the term governmentality itself, Foucault
brings together two terms: gouverner (governing) and mentalite (modes of thought).
Governing, in this sense, involves structuring a field of knowledge and power so
that power itself is seen as rational. Neoliberalism, for its part, is a political strategy
dating from the 1970s that foregrounds the economy, the market as efficient and just,
and the conception of the ideal state as involving smaller government, privatization
of public services, and large-scale deregulation (Goldman 2004).
Over the last 20 years, a “green” neoliberal project has emerged, guided
in part by a rationality that Kathleen McAfee labels “green developmentalism,” a
complex of institutions, discourses and practices that facilitate objectification and
comodification of nature’s values, widespread adoption of environmental cost and

benefit analyses, and “structures to manage the efficient use and exchange of ‘natural
capital’ ” (1999:134; see also Bandy 1996).
An important opportunity opened by Foucault’s turn to governmentality is
the possibility of reconciling modes of domination with the subject’s own self-
guidance. Foucault writes, “Governing people . . . is always a versatile equilibrium,
with complementarity and conflicts between techniques which assure coercion and
processes through which the self is constructed or modified by himself” (1993:203–
204). Critical to the green neoliberal project are practices of green interiorization
and normalization through which resource-based peoples (like the Tanala) become
disciplined environmental subjects, able to rationally assess environmental costs
and benefits (Sairinen 2000). I contend that a technology of need (and its con-
stituent linguistic techniques) is critical to attempts at environmental normalization
of residents in the Park Project, in particular, and in ICDPs, more generally.
It is in the latter work of Michel Foucault that the intellectual roots of the “gov-
ernmentality approach” are grounded.7 In an influential series of lectures delivered
at the College de France in 1978 and 1979, Foucault detailed the emergence, in
17th-century Europe, of qualitatively new forms of governance whose object, in
contrast to sovereignty, is not the exercise of a totalizing will to power, but the over-
all condition of the population. Interrelated notions of population and biopolitics
are important here. Foucault’s conception of population begins with the historical
observation that, in the 18th century, a shift occurred in the way European states
understood their subjects. A concern with governing a population replaced a con-
cern for “populousness” (Curtis 2002). Populousness describes a countable group
of people with social distinctions that are conceived to be irreducible. This is an
organic view of subjects and the territories within which they reside. Population,
however, grows from an assumption of practical equivalences among those ruled.
The population is seen as an atomistic essence, a statistical phenomenon. Through
probabilities, one encounters the regularities important for rule. Biopolitics, then,
is “the endeavor, begun in the eighteenth century, to rationalize the problems pre-
sented to governmental practice by the phenomena characteristic of a group of
living beings constituted as a population: health, sanitation, birthrate, longevity,
race” (Foucault 1994:73).
Liberal rule of populations works through freedom, with agents of governance
moving subjects through these freedoms so the latter align themselves with particular
rationalities. The population, then, while being “the subject of needs, of aspirations
. . . is also the object in the hands of the government, aware, vis-à-vis the government
of what it wants but ignorant of what is being done to it” (Foucault 1991a:100,

emphasis mine). In this approach, governance—rather than being identified with a

centralized state apparatus—is seen to be a decentered process, its power associated
with broad discourses of rule (or political rationalities), governmental programs,
and technologies and techniques (“lower-level” practices) of government. In ICDPs,
need’s production is one such technology.
Needs production is a critical dimension of ICDPs and demonstrates how
these projects embody neoliberalism. Statements of need, their interpretation,
and the subsequent formation of programs related to them are constitutive of
neoliberal processes and rationalities. In Ranomafana, the ICDP process seeks to
guide a large number of slash-and-burn farmers (and other people involved in “non-
sustainable” production in the region) to be accountable and responsible for their
“damage” to the forest and the land. More generally, environmental individualization
names the process by which “every single individual becomes responsible for her
or his environmental self-control in every situation” (Darier 1996:14). During the
1993 meeting focused on here, for example, words of Ambodiaviavy elders were
translated as declaring a broad acceptance of the enclosure of their ancestral land by
the Park Project. Thus constructed as distanced from their estate, the objectification
of their needs was imaginable and the people themselves become approachable as
potential partners in the protection of the land and its resources.
Ongoing work with the youth of the region provides additional examples of
these processes. Anu Lappalainen’s (2002) study of the impact of the Park Project
on area residents includes survey research in twelve primary classrooms. The re-
sulting information, Lappalainen tells us, when given to RNP managers, will help
“enable the needs of locals to be taken into account” (2002:2). Kaisa Korhonen
and Lappalainen (2004) conducted a similar study in the Park Project in which the
“environmental awareness” of children from 18 “villages” was analyzed. Two other
education programs running in the Ranomafana area are also worth mentioning: The
National Association for the Management of Protected Areas (ANGAP) established
an environmental education center in Ranomafana called Kianjo Maitso (Green
Place) with a focus on children. The Nando Peretti Foundation, an Italian NGO,
also runs a school program in Ranomafana and Antananarivo called the Future for
the Lemurs and Children Project.
The ordering of terms in the name of the Peretti Foundation Project is in
itself striking, and suggests how the Future for the Lemurs and Children Project
illustrates the convergence of conservation, governance, and educational concerns
in the making of green neoliberalism. In Ranomafana, conservationists understand
the lemur to be an index of a complex set of ecological relations, the integrity

of which must be sustained. A similar, holistic way of thought is also operative

in state governance, in which the lemur becomes a type of citizen with rights
of protection. Alive in its natural surroundings, the lemur represents a source of
monetary exchange from tourism, conservation and development aid, and research,
as well as a pivot for various forms of management that can be outsourced to local
actors and NGOs. The protection and cultivation of what is constructed as natural
resources is paramount here. For educators in the Ranomafana, such ecological
and economistic reasoning (with the lemur as its symbol) is a rationality to be laid
out for residents to adopt at an early age. This rationality has now been worked
into primary curricula throughout the region. Since 2002, children involved in the
Future of Lemurs and Children Project have participated in reforestation efforts,
research on lemur habitats, conservation coloring book activities, and green media
Foucault’s work on governmentality is not, however, neatly applied to the
Ranomafana context, past or present. As James Ferguson and Akhil Gupta (2002)
point out, because Foucault’s approach was informed by a notion of grounded,
independent nation-states (what Larner and Le Heron [2001:3] call “methodological
territorialism”), transnational locales like Ranomafana, where state and extrastate
practices and institutions intermingle, are difficult to theorize. Arjun Appadurai
has also noted that we are now living with “new geographies of governmentality”
(2001:24). In Ranomafana, World Bank structural adjustment directives, U.S.
universities, development agencies, and scores of national and international NGOs
work in tandem with the Malagasy state. In conceptualizing this situation, the
notion of a “transnational apparatus of governmentality” is useful (Ferguson and
Gupta 2002:994), and it is important to recognize how the multiplicity of actors
hailing from different regions and countries turns language ideology and practice
into a key terrain of transnationalization. I now turn to the people of Ambodiaviavy,
offering a view of their lives that might help us better understand their need


At least three-quarters of the people living in Ambodiaviavy (see Figure 1)
claim to be part of the Sambinoro line of kin. Ambodiaviavy Sambinoro share their
Sambinoro identity with families living in six other tanana scattered around the
southeast border of the RNP. All of these family groups are “masters of the land”
on the Sambinoro ancestral estate. As Zanaka, an oral historian in Ambodiaviavy
explained, the status of master of the land was first claimed by the Sambinoro in

FIGURE 1. Ambodiaviavy is only five kilometers east of the town of Ranomafana. From the
provincial capital of Fianarantsoa, National Route 25 meanders through a series of mountains
and slowly descends into Ranofamana from the west. During the approach to the town, one
passes the entrance to the RNP, the RNPP Museum, and houses of Park Project staff. At the
bottom of the hill are the Ranomafana market and the central offices of the RNPP. The residents
of the town are spread out on the hillsides and in small, roadside homes and shops. At the
northern end of the market is the Namorona River, which separates the town and its market
from a hot springs complex (baths, offices, swimming pool, etc.), a presidential residence, and
the Hotel Thermal. With Ranomafana nestled half way up its eastern edge, the RNP sprawls
about 43,500 kilometers north and south. There are at least 100 tanana hugging the RNP’s
borders. National Route 25 continues east, out of Ranomafana, past the trail that leads over
mountains to Ambodiaviavy and to the port town of Mananjary.

Ranomafana around 200 years ago when their ascendants began burying their dead
in wooden coffins (ringo) dug deep into the floors of natural caves (lakoto). From
these coffins, ancestors continue to hold their descendants to the land, as it is they
who are the ultimate source of the “blessing” (tahy) required for such activities as
“taming” (folaka) the forested mountain floors for swidden and constructing homes to
ensure the growth of their own children. Like the Sakalava peoples of northwestern
Madagascar described by Gillian Feeley-Harnik (1991), the Sambinoro did not tell
me of unembodied ancestral land. Rather, “ancestors exist among the living, in the
land that sustains them, in trees, in their very bodies. Living, land, and ancestry are
inseparable because either people live where their ancestors first settled the land,
and thus are ‘masters of the land’ (tompontany), or they live elsewhere as ‘strangers’
(vahiny), dependent on the ancestors of others as well as their own” (Feeley-Harnik

The bulk of everyday life in Ambodiaviavy takes place between the houses
of the living in the tanana and the “houses of the dead” (tranom-paty) in the forest
caves. Community members practice a mixture of slash-and-burn agriculture (tavy)
on the mountain slopes and wet-rice agriculture on the valley floors. A seasonal
movement exists between the tanana and the “field houses” (trano antsaha), where
farmers protect the maturing rice in their swidden fields from birds and wild boar.
Each day baskets of rice, manioc, beans, and greens can be seen atop the heads of
residents returning from the fields to the family hearth. A gathering of older women
from Ambodiaviavy spoke of this seasonal movement as being indexical of the health
of the community—an indication that key needs are being satisfied. A steady flow
along the paths linking tanana to the tavy fields points to the relative absence of
illness, natural disaster (cyclones, drought, locusts, etc.) and crop failure, all of
which are caused, in the final instance, by ancestral displeasure.
Master of the land status in Ambodiaviavy determines the precise spot in the
tanana where one lives; it also determines one’s relation to Sambinoro claims on land
within the RNP. Families tied to the Sambinoro line through men (tera-dahy) occupy
the highest ground to the east of the community. Families connected to the line via
women (tera-bavy) encircle the core group. Over the years, the tanana has grown via
a set of diverse relations that include friendships, blood brotherhoods, and land-use
arrangements. Most of these latter “strangers” live to the west of the community.
Masters of the land in Ambodiaviavy farm the largest holdings of the best irrigated
land in the region’s narrow valley spaces and have privileged access to the largest
portions of swidden land closest to the tanana houses. Master of the land status
does not, however, determine all types of wealth. For example, two young non-
Sambinoro families in Ambodiaviavy have managed to acquire a good deal of cash
and boast ownership of large numbers of cattle. It is, however, the Sambinoro who
speak for the entire tanana in matters involving outsiders, and who have traditional
claims to forested land within the RNP. The needs of the Sambinoro are firmly
rooted in their understanding of ancestors and land. The health and growth of the
kin group—including those living and dead—depends on a critical set of productive
exchanges: in properly recognizing the ancestors (admittedly, a very difficult, or
sarotra—task), the abundance of the land and the growth of the people are assured.
By acting in and on the forested land of the Ranomafana region, the Sambinoro
of Ambodiaviavy also understand themselves to be Tanala (People of the Forest). As
Pierre Beaujard points out in his monumental study of the Ikongo Tanala (a group
located to the south of Ranomafana), Tanala identity is not to be conceived in terms
of race (i.e., as based on physical features or some biological essence). Rather, the

term designates “only a commonality of mode of life—founded on the exploitation

of the forest . . . within an identical physical milieu” (1983:24). As it is for many
other groups in Madagascar, Tanala is a geographically determined, performative
identity. For the Sambinoro Tanala, life with the forests in the present is also tightly
woven into the past. Access to the land—precisely that which was taken away in the
formation of the Park Project—is thus about much more than natural resources.8


In 1993, the Park Project was evaluated by USAID, its primary donor organiza-
tion. According to its final report published in the same year, the evaluation had two
objectives: “to assess the project accomplishments to date vis-à-vis the objectives
stated in the Phase I proposal; and to improve the planning and implementation of
the RNPP” (USAID 1993:1). An evaluation group arrived in Madagascar on June
24, 1993 and left on July 15, 1993. Group members spent a total of seven days
in the Island’s capital city of Antananarivo and remained in the Ranomafana region
from June 27 to July 11.
The evaluation group divided into a series of teams to handle the various
components of the Park Project, including biodiversity, agricultural development,
health, and education. The analysis to follow is concerned with the agricultural
development evaluation team composed of two U.S. consultants hired by USAID
(marked in the discourse transcriptions as Dr. Long and Dr. Ryan), social science and
evolutionary biology professors, respectively; the Malagasy Assistant Environmental
Officer in Madagascar of USAID (marked as Voara); and three Malagasy Park Project
staff, including the leaders of the education and health components (marked Solo
and Tody, both accompanying the team as translators) and a driver (Vily). As I show,
Tody and Solo are important actors in the analysis to follow.
The evaluation team met with a gathering of around 40 Ambodiaviavy residents.
In attendance was the Sambinoro lineage segment head (mpanjaka), 15 “elders”
(rayamandreny)—the most vocal of whom being Ravanomasina, Toky, Zanaka, and
Koto—and an assortment of young men, teenagers, and children. Understandings
of the encounter among participants varied significantly along a number of different
axes. In constructing an initial analytic framework for these diverse interpretations,
I expand on the ethnography of communication approach as originally developed
by Dell Hymes, especially Hymes’s (1974) later expanded explication of speech
and the speech situation, and the constituent components of both.
On entering Ambodiaviavy in early July, the evaluation team first visited the
house of the local council president, greeting the president and a number of other

elders from the tanana. The broad-level framings of the entire speech situation
divided neatly between the evaluators and the residents. For the latter, the encounter
was a fivoriana, or meeting. The primary speech style within such meetings is the
kabary, or oratory. Oratory in Ambodiaviavy is a highly formalized discourse style
that unfolds in a dialogic manner, is replete with proverbs, aphorisms, and other
ancestral words, and is open to the participation of most elder men in the community
(see also Keane 1997; Kuipers 2000:173–175).9
The team, for its part, approached the meeting as an informal interview.
In opposition to the oratorical style, the interview format regiments turn taking
according to question–answer pairs established by the interviewee, and foregrounds
the referential function of speech (or, the ability of speech to pick out and make
propositions about entities in the world).
Arguing that the definitions of the encounter fell neatly into two opposing
camps is not to say that there was not a range of what Hymes calls “purposes-goals”
(Hymes 1974:57) in play. A few of these more situationally defined goals deserve
mention. First, both Solo and Tody—Park Project staffers who were serving as
translators—were striving for positions higher up in the Park Project bureaucracy.
Both men correctly reasoned that the USAID consultants and staff present at the
meeting could help them reach their career goals. Also, serious differences existed
between the Sambinoro lineage segment chief who called the meeting in his res-
idence and the council president in whose house such meetings occasionally take
place.10 The council president, along with a number of other residents considered
to be vahiny in Ambodiaviavy, are seen, to varying degrees, as being outside of the
Sambinoro lineage. These vahiny live in the western part of the tanana, directly
opposite the chief. The council president had been interested in acquiring more wet-
rice land in Ambodiaviavy for some time. His position as council president, and thus
his relation to the Malagasy state, made this interest a threat to the lineage leader.
A close look at language practice is also in order. None of the Ambodiaviavy
residents participating in the meeting spoke either French or English. Thus, ques-
tions in French from two of the three USAID team members (Dr. Long and Dr.
Ryan) were first directed to either the Malagasy member of their team (Voara) or
to Solo or Tody (Park Project staff members) for translation. None of the Malagasy
Park Project staff spoke English well and their competence in French hovered at
around the intermediate level. The two U.S. members of the USAID team did not
speak Malagasy and functioned at only an intermediate level in French.
The meeting began with a discussion of Sambinoro perceived needs, ancestral
land, the future of tavy farming in the region, and the history of the tanana. At

the outset of the discussion, Dr. Long sought to determine whether Ambodiaviavy
residents felt they were permitted to enter the RNP, whether they did indeed enter
the RNP to search for medicinal plants and visit sacred sites on their ancestral land,
and who it was that originally explained access laws to them.
One topic requires special comment. Numerous references were made to
the 1947 rebellion, which was primarily a rebellion against French colonial rule
waged by people from Madagascar’s east coast. The repression by the French that
immediately followed was one of the most severe in colonial African history. The
1947 incident reached the doors of Ambodiaviavy because at least one of the elders
currently residing in the tanana aided rebels from the nearby town of Ifanadiana.
In retribution, colonial troops entered the Sambinoro hamlet of Antanamaso (the
hamlet from which present day Ambodiaviavy residents moved most recently),
burning houses and searching for sympathizers. Antanamaso residents fled to their
ancestral land within the forests (forests that are now part of the RNP), surviving
on lemurs, boar, and crayfish, and returning to the hamlet under cover of night to
gather stored food. Throughout the meeting, the event as a whole is referred to by
the utterance “47.”


Let us now look closely at the discourse of the meeting, and at the relationship
between translation and linguistic ideology.11 Immediately after a long historical
account of the movement of the Sambinoro people by Zanaka, Dr. Long, the
USAID consultant, shifted abruptly back to the question of whether residents felt
they were permitted to enter the RNP. Frustrated, Zanaka, the younger brother
of the ailing Sambinoro chief and the man in direct line for the post, made the
following statement:
Zanaka (elder): original Malagasy
a. Ny ilainay anie dia ohatra an izao: >
b. Ny mba tsy vita ny hoe IFANESOESO IZAHAY SY NY PARK. >
c. Fa tokony HI-FORMER NY ANAY izany an, <
d. mba tokony hiadananay fa tsy avezivezy fa hoe <
e. MANGATAHA ary amin’ny lehibe ny ala, MIDINA any Mananjara
ianareo, MIAKARA any Fianara ianareo. <
f. Dia izy no tokony HANOME AZY an, ahay kibonay. >
g. IZAY anie ka tena mangetaheta mihitsy. >

Author’s English Translation of Zanaka’s Discourse

a. What we really need for example is this: >
b. in order that it does not happen—that is THE PARK AND US RIDI-
c. [they] should TRAIN US, <
d. so that we can live peacefully, but not moving around saying <
e. APPLY there [for swidden clearance permits] with the forestry agents,
GO DOWN there to Mananjara, GO UP there to Fianarantsoa. <
f. It is they who should GIVE US [THE PERMISSION], ok,, rather than
our stomachs. >
g. THAT’S what makes [us] thirst. > [or] [THAT’s what [we] need]>

Tody’s French Translation of Zanaka’s Discourse

b. ils acceptent la delimitation <
c. déjà faite. >
d. Ceci c’est pour le PARC, <
e. ceci c’est pour NOUS, <
f. habitants <
g. des zones périphérique. >
h. ALORS, <
i. ceci c’est notre PART, <
j. laissez nous <
k. travailler librement dans notre zone >
l. et non plus nous envoyer pour chercher des papiers pour faire le
défrichement. <
m. Ce qui est au PARC, <
n. doit rester au PARC. >
o. Ce qui nous appartient <
p. doit nous appartenir librement >
q. pour que nous puissions faire tout ce que nous devons faire. >

Author’s English Translation of Tody’s French Translation

b. they accept the delimitation [of the RNP’s boundaries] <
c. already carried-out. >
d. That is for the PARK, <
e. that is for US, <

f. residents
g. of the peripheral zone. >
h. SO, <
i. this is our PART, <
j. leave us <
k. work freely in our zone >
l. and don’t send us to search for the papers for clearing any longer. <
m. That which belongs to the PARK, <
n. must stay with the PARK. >
o. That which belongs to us <
p. must belong to us freely >
q. so that we can do all we can do. >

The translation of Zanaka’s discourse by Tody contains a number of striking

additions and omissions. First, Zanaka employed the term most commonly used by
Ambodiaviavy residents to express the concept of need: mangetaheta (“to thirst for,”
from the root hetaheta; line g). In his translation, Tody sidestepped the issue of need
altogether, replacing, in line l, Zanaka’s specific need requests with an order: “and
don’t send us to search for the papers for clearing any longer.” Zanaka’s metaphorical
understanding of need, grounded as it is in relations between swidden, the body,
and the reproduction of life from ancestral land, therefore never reaches the ears
of the USAID consultants.
In his translation, Tody also remarked that the residents “accept the delimitation
[of the RNP’s boundaries] already carried-out,” and then continued to talk about the
delimitation of the RNP through line k. In his original statement, Zanaka made no
mention of the delimitation, much less its regional “acceptance.” Tody’s translation
here is important. Tody is aware that acceptance by the Sambinoro of a loss of
their ancestral land would significantly implicate how they conceived of their own
needs and identity. Both Tody and Solo believed that the best path into the future
for Ambodiaviavy would involve a move away from tavy and toward a generalized
protection of the region’s forested and nonforested land. The men repeated the idea
that the result of such a shift would be a different type of blessing from the land,
one that would benefit not only their own productive activities, but also those of
the nation and the rest of the world. Such cross-scale rationale and construction of
legitimacy can be said to be emblematic of neoliberalism.
Finally, Tody completely omitted Zanaka’s suggestion that if the Park Project
did not recognize resident needs, then both groups would end-up “ridiculing one
another.” In fact, at no time did Tody report to the evaluation team the negative

relationship between the Park Project and the Tanala that Zanaka implied could
result if certain actions were not followed.
Since the establishment of the Park Project, Zanaka had grown increasingly
frustrated with the Project’s elicitation of and response to his community’s needs.
In Zanaka’s view, representatives from the Park Project, the Malagasy state, and
the USAID had visited Ambodiaviavy on numerous occasions and little in the way
of need satisfaction had ever materialized. Zanaka repeatedly used the term fetsy
ratsy (intentional deception or cheating) to refer to Park Project–related need
visits. This perspective helps explain Zanaka’s very forceful discourse. Throughout
Madagascar, communicative norms regarding the avoidance of direct confrontation
call for opacity in the form and content of men’s discourse (Ochs 1974). This speech
style is often called “words that wind” (teny an-kolaka), and it is opposed to “direct
speech” (teny mivantana). Mechanisms employed in the avoidance of confrontation
include the nonexpression of anger, complimentary prefaces, allusions, the use
of passive and circumstantial imperatives, and “softening words” such as “building
on the sense of small” (kely) and “building on the sense of please” ([mba]; Ochs
Given the value of indirection in Malagasy communicative norms, Zanacka’s
direct and confrontational style was remarkable and no doubt was noted by Tody,
who nonetheless declined to translate its meaning. Tody was moving between two
worlds in his translation work, trying to meet expectations in each. He no doubt
wanted to please the USAID evaluation team. He also worked with a notably
Malagasy sense of what communication and translation is, which likely enabled his
sense of the appropriateness of reconfiguring the meaning of Zanaka’s message as
he translated it.
Tody’s practice here was, to a large extent, motivated by the communicative
norm held by many men across the island of avoiding conflict in public discourse.
Ironically, his translations conformed to the communicative expectation of all the
participants, except for Zanaka. A lack of conflict was precisely what was sought
by the USAID team and the staff of the Park Project.
Different conceptions of what translation can and should aim to accomplish
were also in play. Writing of English-language usage in particular, Michael Reddy
(1993) identifies what he calls the “conduit metaphor” as the semantic framework
through which speakers largely conceive of communication (see also Becker’s 1995
discussion of the “code metaphor”). According to the conduit metaphor, language
is a transfer mechanism for thoughts and feelings. Words therefore have insides
wherein meaning can be packed before departure and unpacked at arrival. The real

onus of communication, then, is on the message sender rather than the message
receiver, the latter’s job involving the simple extraction of content.
The Tanala of Ambodiaviavy do not share these conceptions of language and
communication. Briefly stated, many Malagasy speakers have a more social under-
standing of the production and reception of messages. Utterances are understood
to be tooled by multiple speakers, and by speakers and listeners alike. The envi-
ronment of referential communication (who speaks, the power of ancestral words,
intonation, etc.) thus has an important role in guiding understanding. Tanala in-
terpretation depends on nuanced understanding of gender roles in the community,
age grades, the formal features of various genres, the import of ancestral author-
ity, and community history. In short, the English speakers of the evaluation team,
the Malagasy translators, and the Ambodiaviavy participants of the meeting were
working with different “language ideologies.”
Language ideologies might be defined as the multiple and crosscutting con-
ceptions of discourse and language—varying in their degree of accessibility to
consciousness—that tie the use of language forms to specific social and cultural
groups (Kroskrity 2000:8–21). Richard Bauman and Charles Briggs (2000) draw
attention to metadiscursive practices—the characterizations of discourse embedded
within the form or content of the actual discourse or related discursive fields—as
key sites for the analysis of language ideology, arguing that “metadiscursive practices
shape, both positively and negatively, processes of producing and receiving texts,
affecting who is authorized to speak or write or to be listened to or read, and in
what sorts of social and institutional spaces” (Bauman and Briggs 2000:142).
That linguistic ideologies exist and are an essential feature of the grammatical,
semantic, and pragmatic structures of all languages undermine the possibility of any
perfect, literal translation between languages. Starting with the assumption that any
“re-wording” (including translation) introduces change, Walter Benjamin (1968),
in a now-classic essay entitled The Task of the Translator, argues that the goal of the
translator is to discover “harmonies” between the intent (intentio) of the original
and the language of the translation. The translation should produce an “echo of the
original” (Benjamin 1968:76); it must, in effect, “let itself go,” bend and undergo
modification to achieve a harmony with the original intent. It is only through such
continuous bending over time that a “pure” language, Benjamin’s elusive Kabalistic
goal, emerges.
The type of transformations pointed to by Benjamin and introduced by the
translation process into the identity of the text, its producer(s) and receiver(s),
are also present in the work of Stanley Tambiah (1990:111), Peter Winch (1979),

Reddy (1993), and Becker (1995), among others. It is in the work of Talal Asad,
however, that such translation dialectics are positioned within a type of political
economy. Asad explains that as the translator works to transform her own language
to the intention of the original, she immediately encounters the flexibility of the
language toward change. Some languages are “stronger” than others in that they
are tied to social formations that are able to affect change in other groups. Often
the result is “forcible” translations of the discourses of “weaker” societies (Asad
At the RNP, the English and French languages are integrally tied to the powerful
development apparatus at work in the region. The Tanala dialect spoken by the
people of Ambodiaviavy is diminished and ignored in a number of different ways. In
general, the referential function of the French and English languages creates a set of
expectations in Park Project communications. Tody certainly understood the power
of French and English and thus felt a sense of freedom to gloss Tanala discourse in
the direction of his own communicative goals.12


Entextualization is the process through which social actors, employing various
poetic and rhetorical devices, isolate sections of discourse from ongoing social
interactions. For example, through an attention to the patterning of volume, breath,
intonation, lexical items, and rhetorical structure, a performer of an oral history can
fix his or her discourse as being distinct from the ongoing communicative surround.
Such an entextualized text might then be recontextualized as a token of the words
of ancestors (Bauman and Briggs 1990; Silverstein and Urban 1996).
Consider an interaction that emerged in response to Dr. Ryan’s probing of
Sambinoro historical traditions. Dr. Ryan was an evolutionary biologist and one
of two USAID consultants present. Transcribed below is part of an oral history
(tantara)13 performed by Zanaka and Koto (elders of high status in Ambodiaviavy)
that describes Sambinoro migrations within the Ranomafana area along with the
translation of the performance by Solo, Tody, and Voara (the USAID environmental
Koto and Zanaka’s Oral History: Original Malagasy
a. Voalohan’ny TANANA taloha dia ANALAFOTSY. >
b. Dia lasan’ny VAZAHA ny tanana TEO an. >

c. Dia NIFINDRA izy, nifindra tany AMBODIMANGA. >

d. Nifindra moa. . . <
e. vazaha moa manambola fantany ny fanaovana ny TANY. Vao RESY KOA
io tanana tao AMBODIMANGA io, <
f. dia nilefa KOA NY olona. >
g. Nilefa koa, nandositra koa <
h. Nandositra izy dia nipetraka eto, <
i. aaah <
j. ANTANAMASO no anarana TEO fa tsy Ambodiaviavy. >
a. Fa misy any amin’ny boky ny tanana taloha—Antanamaso. >
a. Eo ANTANAMASO io [****] 47 [***] >
b. Norobaian’ny fahavalo ny tanana teto. >

Author’s English Translation of Koto and Zanaka’s Oral History

a. The first of the former VILLAGES was ANALAFOTSY. >
b. Then THAT village was taken by a FOREIGNER, OK? >
c. Then they MOVED, moved to AMBODIMANGA. >
d. They moved. . . <
e. a foreigner, you know, with money, knew how to work with the
LAND. AS SOON AS that village there in AMBODIMANGA was CON-
f. the people AGAIN fled. >
g. Fled, ran away, <
h. they ran away then lived here, <
i. aaah <
j. ANTANAMASO was the name THERE but not Ambodiaviavy. >
a. The former villages are there in the book—Antanamaso. >
a. There in ANTANAMASO [****] 47 [****] >
b. The village there was destroyed by the enemy. >

Tody’s FrenchTranslation of Zanaka and Koto’s Oral History


a. Au DEBUT, <
b. le <
c. le premier village était ANALAFOTSY. >
a. Tanana voalohany izany. >
a. Et puis,
Rahasoa (Female Elder)
Tody (RNPP Translator)
a. Et puis APRÈS ce village <
b. DOIT être <
c. transposé à AMBODIMANGA parce que <
d. un COLON Français avait <
e. délimité <
f. eeee <
g. les TERRAINS. >

Author’s English Translation of Tody’s FrenchTranslation of Zanaka and Koto’s Oral

b. the <
c. the first village was ANALAFOTSY. >
a. That was the first village. >
a. And then,

a. And then AFTER that, the village <

b. HAD to be <
c. transposed to AMBODIMANGA because <
d. a French COLON had <
e. delimited <
f. eeee <
g. the area. >

Zanaka refers to two events that had a profound impact on the Sambinoro:
the alienation of the lands in and around the communities of Analafotsy and Am-
bodimanga by a French coffee plantation owner (colon) and the 1947 rebellion and
subsequent repression. In Ambodiaviavy, oral history performances are considered
to be very serious affairs. The creative challenge for any performer of this genre is to
transport a set of formalized utterances labeled “words of the ancestors” (fitenenan-
drazana) into the unfolding communicative event while simultaneously playing down
his role in the transmission. Thus, the metadiscursive labor revolves around tying
the ongoing discourse to prior oral history performances rather than the unfold-
ing discursive surround (Briggs 1993). Zanaka, Koto, Dr. Ryan, and Dr. Long all
contextualize their discourse in different ways. Zanaka’s stance toward the oral
history embodies respect for the power of ancestral words. In translating Zanaka,
Tody is decidedly not attempting an oral history performance. On the one hand,
Tody’s respect for ancestral words (and, thus, ancestral authority) is apparent in
both his employment of the special formulae “Au DEBUT (‘In the BEGINNING’)”,
and his constant use of temporal markers of conjunctive relations such as “et puis
(‘and then’),” both characteristic features of Malagasy tantara performances. On
the other hand, Tody is orienting his discourse toward what he believes to be the
conceptual horizon of the USAID evaluation team. As Tody correctly understands,
within the technodevelopmentalist frame informing this horizon, the referential
function of speech dominates. Tody’s translation is also replete with hesitations,
pauses, fillers, and delayers, features that are not found in the formal organiza-
tion of the original performance. Tody sees his speech as translation work and not
Finally, Tody orients himself to the developmentalist frame through the
prosodic structure of his discourse, including his variations of pitch, loudness,
tempo, and rhythm. In his recontextualization of Zanaka and Koto’s oral history,
Tody does not bound statements with a lowering of his line’s intonation contour.
This strategy is exactly the opposite of that chosen by Zanaka in segment 56. In
Zanaka’s discourse, the intonation contour of lines a, c, f, and j fall downward,

while in Tody’s only lines c and g (62–66) take a turn toward the lower range.
When combined with the ongoing back channel behavior (the linguistic feedback
given by the listeners to a speaker) and the numerous pauses and fillers, Tody’s
discourse invites interruption or assistance by other speakers wishing to retell
the history, thus tying it to the context of its articulation rather than to prior
Tody consistently tied his report of Zanaka and Koto’s oral history to the
unfolding discourse event. The effect of such metapragmatic labor was to help
deflate the aura of ancestry from the original performance and help ready the
meeting’s discourse for inscription into the USAID final report. Tody’s elimination
of the ancestral weight originally fashioned into the discourse by Zanaka and Koto
exemplifies, in part, why the Park Project knows so little about Tanala culture and
Tanala conceptions of their own needs.
Needs production is also tied to conceptions and politics of space. During
the meeting, Ambodiaviavy elders expressed concern with remaining close to
their farms and friends, the painful history of their ancestors’ migration into the
Ranomafana region, the alienation of their lands by Chinese colons and French
colonial agents, and ancestral words and forces. All of these concerns are ultimately
tied to ancestral land, land that the Sambinoro residents of Ambodiaviavy see as the
primary source of their own growth.
The Park Project evaluation team had little knowledge of such space. The
spatial categories employed by the team (and by the conservation and development
apparatus more generally) can be read from the RNPP archive located in an office
in the heart of the town of Ranomafana. Here, planning documents, a multitude of
reports of various kinds, maps, and correspondences index and continually redefine
such key categories as the household, village, and state-specific political boundaries
(districts, regions, and provinces).
Park Project and Tanala modes of spatial production are at odds in Ranomafana
(see Brody 1982), and their differences recall a distinction made by Henri Lefebvre
(1991) between “absolute” and “abstract” space. Absolute space arises when a series
of sociohistorical acts transform a place whose natural qualities are conducive to
resignification into transcendent spheres (caves, mountains, embouchures, etc.).
Interestingly, the space continues to retain sociopolitical and natural qualities. Ex-
amples of absolute spaces on the Sambinoro estate (beside the estate itself as a whole)
include burial caves along with the ringo at their center, mountain top fortresses,
standing memorial stones, and ritual altars.


Abstract space, however, is perhaps most easily understood in terms of the

nation-state in late capitalism. It is through abstract space that the capitalist triad of
land, capital, and labor arises only to be conjoined to an

equally tri-faceted institutional space: a space that is first of all global, and main-
tained as such—the space of sovereignty, where constraints are implemented,
and hence a fetishized space, reductive of differences; a space, secondly, that is
fragmented, separating, disjunctive, a space that locates specificities, places or
localities, both in order to control them and in order to make them negotiable;
and a space, finally, that is hierarchical, ranging from the lowliest places to the
noblest, from the tabooed to the sovereign. [Lefebvre 1991:282]

Abstract space, in other words, is space subject to calculation and contract.

For the Tanala, much of the land in the Park Project is absolute space. ICDPs,
however, and by design, construct the lands they enclose as abstract space, of a
particularly complex kind produced by neoliberal globalism. The Park Project is one
of a number of channels through which the Malagasy state is outsourcing governance
to supranational entities. Ranomafana was, after all, designated a “national park”
by a host of international actors, informed by a foundational distinction, assumed
to be universal, between people and nature that turned the latter into an object
requiring scientific study and rational management. A telling result is that visitors
now roam the RNP freely, whereas resident access is limited and, in some cases,
subject to fees (Peters 1999).14
Particular ways of conceptualizing and referring to space help legitimate the
different kinds of privilege accorded residents and visitors to the Park Project.
From the time of the early delimitation tours and need meetings that initiated the
construction of the RNP, for example, the developmentalist notion of the “village”
has been a key frame of reference. As a unit of analysis, the village keeps complex
tensions within and between specific groups of people out of sight while also working
as a device of what LeFebvre called fragmentation. As a universalizing category, the
village allows for the normalization of individuals and their social ties. Villages are
also places visitors travel between. Named villages are an integral feature of most
maps of the RNP, and help construct residents of the regions as populations subject
to Park Project goals. The simplification of complex kin and economic networks
linking people throughout the area into villages of Betsileo, Tanala, or Betsiseo and
Tanala peoples is an important feature of the normalization of the population. A
powerful set of assumptions concerning the ethnic makeup of each village then

guides Park Project assessments and sharpens preexisting health, education, and
development interventions.


A final step in the interpretation of the oral history during the meeting itself
came near the end, in a step that I call “discourse summation.” After Zanaka’s
final statement on Ambodiaviavy and Park Project relations, meeting participants
began talking among themselves, visibly weary from the long discussion that had
proceeded. This final discussion functioned to summarize the preceding discourse.
It was Tody who, in 157, introduced this summary by arguing that Ambodiaviavy
residents distrust the Park Project and feel that the Park Project continues a long
history of violence, occupation, and the alienation of land carried-out by French
colons (understood here broadly as colonists, planters, or settlers) and the events
of 1947.
Voara, Tody and Solo’s Discussion: French Original
a. eeee <
b. eeeeee <
c. comme aaa <
d. comme une explication <
e. aaaa <
f. c’étaient ceux . . . que ça ne vien pas deux mais deux mois >
g. eeee <
h. du point de cette méfiance <
i. c’était encore une histoire du colon français. >
Voara (USAID Employee)
a. Il y a une répercussion <
b. dans l’histoire et puis actuellement aussi <
c. Ils ont beaucoup. . . <
d. ça c’est la répercussion puisque ils ont dit que/
a. /Ils ont dit que le colon français est parti et [****], c’est trop vauge. <

Dr. Long (Social Scientist with USAID Evaluation Team)

a. Ils s’ont remplacé par les autres. >

a. . . . c’est toujours leur méfiance. <
Solo (RNPP Translator)
a. C’est la répercussion du. . . qui compte. >

Dr. Ryan (Evolutionary Biologist with USAID Evaluation Team)

a. Oui. <
Voara (USAID Employee)
a. Oui, c’est la répercussion de 47. >

Author’s English Translation of Tody, Voara, and Solo’s Discussion in French

a. Eeee <
b. how aaa <
c. as an explanation <
d. the point of this distrust. . . <
e. it is the continuing history of French colon. >
a. There is a repercussion <
b. in history and even up to now. <
c. They have a lot. . . <
d. that is a repercussion because they said that/
a. /they said that the French colon left and [****], it is too vague. <
Dr. Long
a. They were replaced by the others. >
a. . . . it is always their distrust. <
a. It is the repercussion of the . . . which counts. >
Dr. Ryan

a. Yes. <
Voara (USAID Employee)
a. Yes, it is the repercussion of 47. >

Voara introduces the French term répercussion to characterize a sense of histor-

ical continuation. Possible translations of this word in English include repercussion,
reverberation, consequences, or aftereffects. Répercussion did become the key to
the final summation of the meeting uttered by Voara in 164 and is used in reference
to the events of 1947. Thus, the meeting was, in one important sense, reduced
via summarization to two lines: “it [the Park Project] is a continuing history of
French colon” (157, line I) and “Yes, it is the repercussion of 47” (164, line a). Tody
and Solo, having lived in the area for almost two years, had heard of this history
through Ranomafana region residents. Voara had no knowledge of the narrative.
Voara’s conclusion, however, that the Park Project is seen by Ambodiaviavy elders
as a “repercussion of 47” is significant. At one level, this interpretation helps render
invisible the complex power relations in the Park Project itself and shifts the causes
of resident resentment and distrust to a distant rather than more recent past (Moore
1998). History is thus captured to deflect problems in the present.
History was also, however, a means by which Tody and Solo expressed solidar-
ity with Ambodiaviavy residents, in a manner that—somewhat ironically—aptly
illustrated their roles in neoliberalism. In foregrounding Sambinoro history, and
the events of “47” in particular—both men were demonstrating nationalist feeling
about Madagascar’s struggle against colonialism. In an interview conducted three
months after the USAID evaluation meeting, Tody expressed his sympathy for the
local “Malagasy” who lost their lives for independence during the 1947 uprising.
Such nationalism raises an important point about the hybrid actors in the Park
Project. Solo and Tody exercised what Ferguson and Gupta (2002:985) have called
recursive regulation” in that they both represent and embody the Park Project and its
effects. The authority they need to do this successfully rests squarely on their ability
to appear rooted at many levels simultaneously—in Ranomafana, in the province of
Fianarantsoa, within the Malagasy state, and within the international conservation
community. In these scale crossings and the recursive regulations it enables, both
men are powerful living examples of green neoliberalism.
The conclusion that the events of 1947 (“repercussion of 47”) were behind
resident distrust of the Park Project was useful for Park Project planners in de-
politicizing resident concerns. It also occluded other historical detail. 1947 was

only one moment (although a very powerful one symbolically) in a historically deep
dialectical process within which the production and reproduction of Tanala life
continuously unfolds.
As the Sambinoro in Ambodiaviavy see it, the primary insults of 1947 were
forced migration, occupation, the capture of land and labor, and violence. Elder
Sambinoro are quick to point out, however, that these processes have been an inte-
gral part of their lives and the lives of their kin for over 250 years. In the mid-1700s,
for example, the ascendants of the contemporary Sambinoro resided in the fortified
town of Kiririoka. In the late 1780s, the Merina king Andrianampoinimerina
invaded the town and forced its inhabitants to the south. Settling a range of
mountains (the Loharana) in the Ranomafana area, the Sambinoro built fortified
hamlets (manda) on the top of mountains and practiced swidden on the mountain
slopes. It was at this point that the Sambinoro began to practice tavy as we know it
now, trying to keep close to the fortification for safety reasons. It was also during the
late 1700s that the Merina kingdom issued one of the island’s earliest environmental
legislations, banning the burning and exploitation of forest wood.15 Later, in
response to labor shortages in the highlands, the Merina kingdom initiated a more
focused attempt to manage labor and resources in specific areas of the country. An
1832 military campaign brought some 20,000 Tanala to the highlands as slaves. Ac-
companying these large-scale raids were a variety of other extractions directed at the
Tanala, including head taxes, war taxes, forced labor, and a demand for hardwood.
In the late 1800s, French colonial authorities declared the entire island’s forest
to be the property of the state. Starting in 1908, the French began moving the
Sambinoro people out of their mountain top manda to settle low-lying areas near
transportation routes. It is at this juncture that we see the beginning of what Francoise
le Bourdiec calls “the duality of the Tanala mode of exploitation” (1974:280), or, the
northern Tanala practice of combining tavy and wet rice. Meanwhile, in plain view
of the Sambinoro people, forest destruction on the part of French agents continued
unabated. Large amounts of land were cleared for both plantations and logging
operations, and the export of ebony and palisander from the region, continued
until 1973.
The simplification and elision of history that occurred in the 1993 evaluation
meeting was at least partly a result of language ideology and practices that are much
more complicated to untangle than intent or ill will. Aware of the traditionalizing
nature of oral history performances, for example, Solo and Tody decided to ignore
keys (intonation, ancestral words, pause length, etc.) found in the formal features
of the performance, and transmitted only the referential content they thought

the USAID consultants expected. More generally, the translation of Ambodiaviavy

discourse by Park Project staffers worked to background residents’ anger with
the Park Project itself and simplify complex relations between past injustices and
present opportunities. Tanala statements of need were defined in terms acceptable
to the Park Project, and force fit into easily conducted one-line utterances (see
Rademacher and Patel 2002).


The departure of the USAID team from Ambodiaviavy was not the end of
the need’s production process that motivated and configured the 1993 evaluation
meeting. The final report that the USAID evaluation team submitted in October
of the same year was another critical element. The report can be thought of as
consisting of a number of levels of abstraction, each moving further away from
specific commentary on the lives and stated needs of Ambodiaviavy residents (and
other Tanala living around the RNP). I begin with the least abstract set of statements
in the document.
Soon after his participation in the Ambodiaviavy meeting, Voara (the Malagasy
environmental officer) submitted a report to the other team members entitled
“Socio-Economic Studies as a Basis for Project Planning.” This document was
included in the final report, tucked away in an appendix toward the back of
the text. Of all the final report’s sections, this text contains the most specific
information concerning the 1993 meeting and the needs of resident communities.
The first set of excerpts to be considered are found within a section titled “Target
People of the Project:”

The historical background of the Ranomafana National Park must be taken into
consideration during the project implementation. Ranomafana was victim of
the 1947 rebellion event when the French colonialists killed many villagers
accused of having acted against the colonial regime. Some villages were left
during this period, and had to be moved to another location after the rebellion
(ex: Ambodiaviavy). They were told that they are not MASTERS of their
LAND OF THE ANCESTORS. Strangers used to, and still do, dictate to them
the land tenure (USAID 1993, annex 3:3).

Here, we encounter that part of Zanaka and Koto’s oral history that touches on the
movement of the Sambinoro during the tumultuous time of the 1947 rebellion.
Also appearing again is Zanaka’s complaint about having to travel when seeking
swidden permits. As we shall see, no discussion of the events of 1947 (events that

during the meeting Tody, Solo, Dr. Ryan, and Voara concluded to be the summation
of the meeting’s many topics) makes it to the report’s final statements.
Moving forward through the same section, we find a subsection labeled “Social
Impacts of the Project seen by the Local Population.” The comments within this
subsection are extensive.

In Ambodiaviavy, the Mpanjaka [chief] knows the park as the origin of change
for the village. . . . In the case of Ranomafana, it seems that the local population
and the Mpanjaka have no trust in the project (ex: Ambodiaviavy, Ambatolahy).
It is very important that development activities, especially in the early stages
of an ICDP, respond in large part to the perceived needs and desires of the
local people. . . Land tenure is one of the problems in the buffer zone of
Ranomafana. Locals perceive the land around them by the concept of “land of
the ancestors”. . . Local people think it is again an action of the Ranomafana
project, especially of the vazaha [foreigners] who intend to capture portion of
the “land of the ancestors” (USAID 1993, annex 3:10–11)
In this excerpt, we encounter some significant inscriptions of the 1993 meeting
including the comments made by Zanaka in his oral history performance (sections
not presented above) along with the summary of these comments made by Tody
and Voara in sections 157 and 164 regarding Ambodiaviavy residents’ lack of trust
in the Park Project. Further, the statement that “local people think it is again an
action of the Ranomafana project, especially the foreigners who intend to capture
portion of their land” is a recontextualization of Tody and Voara’s summary of the
meeting, which highlighted Sambinoro fear of continued alientation of their land
by foreigners—in this case Americans.
In the section of the text cited immediately above, it is instructive to see
Voara characterize the issues he encountered in Ambodiaviavy solely in terms spe-
cific to ICDP discourse. In a final summary of his observations labeled “Prob-
lem/Recommendation,” Voara goes so far as to construct the “problems” found in
the RNPP in stark binary terms:

Lack of recognition of Building of ethnographic museum for
the social structure, of Malagasy and vazaha [foreigners] including
the tradition, of the tourists. This will not solve the problem but
target people, of the at least give an idea of Betsileo and Tanala
history . . . way of living (USAID 1993, annex 3:13)

This brief summary is significant in that Voara suddenly drops his attention to
historical detail. No longer do we find specific references to Ambodiaviavy, events
such as 1947, and regional authorities like the chief. Rather, categories such as “the
target people,” “the Betsileo,” and “the Tanala” appear, along with the phrase (often
used in development discourse) “lack of recognition.” Even his earlier concern with
constructing complete sentences is abandoned for outline.Voara now systematically
removes the discourse from its original context.
At the next level of abstraction from the 1993 meeting is a chapter entitled
“Executive Summary.” Under a section labeled “General Findings,” we read,

In spite of three years of effort, the project has yet to develop a significant link
or relationship between the park and the park community on the periphery.
While the project would not exist without the park, the park cannot continue
to exist without meeting the needs of the local people. The park is identified
as an American project and the people identify it with the loss of the use of
the forest (USAID 1993:vii).

These comments represent the experiences gained by USAID evaluation team

members while meeting with residents around the RNP. Here we witness an im-
portant step taken by the evaluation team in its reformulation of the Ranomafana
experience. The issues of resident access to resources and resident participation
in Park Project management, issues until now kept distinct, are brought together
under the rubric of the needs specific to the Park Project itself. This reformulation
is now taken center stage in two of the recommendations found within the report’s
most abstract chapter labeled “Major Recommendations”:

5. The project needs to have improved communications with the park com-
munity. This should include developing an effective mechanism to involve the
park community in decisions about the park and about their future as park
neighbors (USAID 1993:53).
6. The project needs to implement activities, which will deliver some benefits
to as many people in the park community as quickly as possible. One suggestion
is a system of fertilizer distribution to farmers posing the greatest threat to
the forest (USAID 1993:53).
The participation of the “park community” and the goods and services
to be delivered to resident Malagasy for their loss of a subsistence base are
the two most important themes to emerge here.16 Indeed, the idea that an
exchange must occur between the planners of protected areas and resident

populations experiencing the loss of access to resources is at the core of Michael

Wells’s 1988 World Bank report, one of the earliest discussions of ICDPs in
Madagascar (Wells 1988). We should not be surprised to encounter Wells’s
formulation repeated almost word for word in the USAID final evaluation
report. Indeed, the evaluation team must be given credit for being familiar
with the ICDP literature and thus understanding that ICDPs, by design, con-
struct resident peoples as needy clients, suffering from the loss of access to

Thus, even in recognition of a failure to adequately address resident needs, a

narrowly economistic conception of needs is reinscribed.

The overall finding of the 1993 USAID evaluation was that the Park Project
had thus far failed in integrating conservation and development in a manner that
satisfied resident needs (USAID 1993:vii; see also Korhonen 2003:9).17 In 1998,
the Park Project ceased operations. Instead of working through an ICDP approach,
conservation planners in Madagascar are now working with a community-based re-
source management (CBRM) paradigm (Kull 1996). The CBRM concept represents
a relatively recent shift underway in Madagascar’s conservation and development
technologies. From Phase I of the National Environmental Action Plan (NEAP),
which started in 1992 and ran until 1997, to Phase II, which terminated in 2002,
conservation thinking moved from a top-down approach to a more decentralized
process. The widespread change lead to the September 1996 law number 96–
025, which established the policy known as Gestian locale securisee, or secured local
management of natural resources (GELOSE). This policy sets the stage for a large-
scale relegation of natural resource use rights from the state to resident peoples,
the latter organized in associations of grassroots communities (CLB).
As part of the new approach to conservation governance, planners in Ra-
nomafana have increasingly been thinking in terms of a broader corridor that con-
nects the forests of Andringitra to the north to those of Ranomafana. Numerous
contracts have been worked out between residents of this corridor, the Malagasy
state, and participating NGOs. Meanwhile, the scientific research capabilities in
Ranomafana continue to expand with the 2003 inauguration of the International
Training Center for the Study of Biodiversity.
Movement away from a top-down approach to a more decentralized one in
some ways signals official recognition of the problems with ICDPs examined in this

article. The natural resource rights of resident peoples are certainly more codified
today than two decades ago. Recent developments nonetheless remain in synch with
green neoliberalism. In these developments, the needs of resident people continue
to be constructed in economic terms, subject to contractually mediated exchange.
Noneconomic values—daily practices that allow appropriate traffic with ances-
tors, for example—remain unrecognized. The continued dominance of economic
rationality—despite years of participatory schemes aimed at coordinating diverse
interests—is, in part, because of the power of neoliberal discourse to convert all it
encounters into its own terms. As Asad has argued, a critical way power operates is
through the ability of dominant language and discourse to operate as the standard
currency against which other currencies are measured. Neoliberalism, in other
words, converts everything into itself. The process of needs production in ICDPs
is one place where such conversion happens.
In the process of needs production, it is possible to see how the micropol-
itics of language underpin the way governmentality works. In producing needs,
neoliberal initiatives also aim to produce subjects who need what neoliberalism is
able to promise if not always provide. The process is complex, involving differ-
ing and dominating language ideologies; conceptions and practices of translation;
conceptions of space; processes of entexualization and summation; and reporting
processes that progressively unmoor articulation from the context of its produc-
tion. Hybrid actors—like Solo and Tody—who cross between the different worlds
in play are also critical. Actors like these literally translate between the local, na-
tional, and transnational, illustrating how political agency is exercised through lan-
guage itself. In translating, or choosing not to translate, intonation, the meaning of
intonation, gesture and other elements of the messages they deal with, they pow-
erfully determine what is heard and recognized as significant.
In the 1993 evaluation meeting around which this article pivots, Tody and
Solo were shaped by numerous, competing influences and obligations. Although
their translation work, both were trying to advance professionally within the RNP
administrative hierarchy. Both were also shaped by historically encoded differences,
and perceptions of differences, between social groups in Madacascar. Most impor-
tant to the argument here is the way they were aware of and attempted to manage
communicative norms from the different worlds they inhabited, and were charged
to translate between. Sensitive to their role as mediators, informed by Malagasy
communicative norms and sophisticated when it came to their own understanding
of the impossibility of direct translation, these men were important agents in the
ICDP process.

Solo and Tody had very sophisticated ways of thinking about meaning, com-
munication, and translation, in part because Malagasy conceptions of language are
themselves very rich—recognizing how meaning is always collectively constructed
and socially mediated, for example.
This kind of sophistication is not unusual in Ambodiaviavy, and provides fertile
ground on which what Appadurai calls “counter governance from below” can be
built. Appadurai (2002) asks us to consider forms of local and global relations that
work to “deepen democracy” through techniques deployed among and within the
spaces of poor communities themselves. Far-term and minimally bureaucratic, these
counter techniques involve focus on “precedent-setting” prior practices (reference
to historical use of ancestral land, for example), community autoattendance (keep-
ing numbers, weights, and measures of community members and land), and mutual
observations (seeing aspects of local relations and practices that the state cannot).
This is a population knowing its own contours as a population. Negotiations with
transnational actors are then grounded in and part of a community’s own efforts
to make themselves visible and accountable (Appadurai 2002:38; see also Pieterse
and Khan 2003).
A tradition of joking relations in the RNP region known as mpisoman-drazana,
for example, fosters a high degree of the carnivalesque in every day life, facilitating
lateral social ties and collective reflection. People in the region also have other ways
of producing self-knowledge that can be drawn on in resisting their construction
and manipulation by the state and other neoliberal regimes. They are well practiced
in the use of oral history to buttress claims to land and other resources, for example,
and are quite knowledgeable about the everyday lives of their neighbors: doors of
houses remain open much of the day; children under four years old are publicly
weighed and measured; and the possessions of neighbors are common knowledge.
Through all of these practices, RNPP residents gain a visibility “from below,” on their
own terms, which can ground the inevitable negotiations they have with outsiders.
Consider, for example, the implications of the call for an ethnographic museum
in the RNP, which made it into the evaluation team’s final report. Such a museum
would no doubt be built to synchronize with the museum already established near
the RNP’s entrance, which primarily focuses on the natural history of the region,
and on the effects of tavy. The existing museum does attend in a limited ways to
the region’s material culture, displaying locally produced straw hats, vases, and a
book of oral histories collected thus far. The museum, nonetheless, reinscribes the
severance of economic and cultural aspects of tavy that has been foundational to the
Park Project from the outset.

What, then, could an ethnographic extension to the existing museum ac-

complish? The oral histories already collected and held by the museum document
Tanala claims to land within the RNP, serving as a resource for current and future
legal action. These histories also contribute to the sustainability of a “mentality of
refusal [of domination]” that has long been crucial to Tanala identity (Solondraibe
1986:163). The museum has become an important venue for the Tanala redefinition
and politicization of their own needs, suggesting how museums and ethnographic
work more generally could become a critical step in the ICDP (and now CBRM)
needs production process.18

Integrated conservation and development program planning pivots on a critical exchange.
In establishing protected areas, part of the subsistence base of resident people is enclosed.
Residents are then offered assistance in meeting needs emerging from the enclosure. The
elicitation and interpretation of need in such programs forms a technology of governance.
This article analyzes differing linguistic ideologies underpinning needs production in
Madagascar’s Ranomafana National Park Project, arguing that the technology of needs
production is part of a green neoliberal rationality through which the Malagasy state
and its citizens are being transformed, and from which an increasingly sophisticated
countergovernmentality grows.

Keywords: conservation, linguistic ideology, governmentality, Madagascar, need

Acknowledgments. For their help in the construction of this article, I would like to thank the following
people: William Arens, Robert Charlick, Rebecca Cammisa, Joyce Kessler, Michael Lambeck, Lalaina
Rakotoson, Lucien Randrianarivelo, Noro Randrianarivelo, Gavin Smith, James Spencer, and Andrew
Walsh. I would also like to thank three anonymous reviewers with Cultural Anthropology and Kim Fortun
for her patient and superb editorial assistance. I take responsibility for any shortcomings.
1. For the Tanala of the Ranomafana region, the notion of tanana encompasses the houses and wet-
rice fields of a group of people bound together by mostly kin or kinlike relations. Throughout
the present article, I avoid the term village, retaining either tanana or hamlet (defined simply
as a small settlement). As Stacy Pigg points out, within much national and international
development discourse, the category of “village” tends to dissolve local differences and clear a
space for an “ersatz sociocultural knowledge” (1992:504).
2. The term foko has been variously interpreted by European observers of Madagascar as tribe,
peoples, races, and, most recently, ethnicity. A majority of the people of Ambodiaviavy
define themselves as belonging to the Tanala (“People of the Forest”) foko. Following the
labeling and identification practices of Ranomafana region residents, I refer to a major-
ity of those people living on the southeastern borders of the RNP (it encloses much of
the rainforest near Ambodiaviavy) as Tanala, specifying any other foko identifications when
necessary. For discussions of identity in Madagascar see Rita Astuti (1995), Jean-Pierre
Domenichini (1989), Paul Hanson (2003), Michael Lambek and Andrew Walsh (1997), and
Walsh (2001).

3. It is widely rumored in the Ranomafana region that Dr. Wright’s discovery was based on the
knowledge of residents (more specifically, young men who were later labeled “forest guides”)
and their actual physical guidance to the lemur’s range. I could not definitely verify these
accounts. However, their existence and widespread circulation does index resident belief that
their own knowledge of the region, ironically, underpins RNPP’s efforts to transforms them
into appropriately green subjects.
4. On ICDPs see Roy Hagan (1994) and Wells and colleagues (1992). On the Park Project see
the Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments (2004), Paul Ferraro (2002),
Scott Grenfell (1994), Janice Harper (2002), Peters (1997, 1999), RNPP (1993), and Wright
5. The quote is from Karl Marx’s 1842 article for the newspaper Rheinische Zeitung. In this
important early text, Marx passionately examines the increasingly bitter struggle between
Prussian peasants and large landowners over resources (in this case, dead wood) found in what
had previously been seen as commons (Marx 1996).
6. The many conflictual relations saturating the social in the Ranomafana region are complex in
their multidimensionality and integration. The following simplified sketch of these relations is
offered to help guide the reader through this difficult terrain. Regard the “/” sign in terms of

*The Ranomafana National Park Project/area residents

*The Ranomafana National Park Project/myself
*The Ranomafana National Park Project views on land tenure/resident views on land
*The RNPP’s market-oriented approach to agricultural development/tavy
*The Merina people/the Tanala
*Ambodiaviavy masters of the land/Ambodiaviavy “visitors”
*Families tied to the Sambinoro line via men and those tied to the line via women
*Former masters in Ambodiaviavy/former slaves in Ambodiaviavy
*Ambodiaviavy elders with direct experience of colonization/young adults in Ambodi-
aviavy without such experiences

7. Although governmentality is less an approach than a “zone of research” (Gordon et al. 1991:2),
I do retain the term here.
8. In Ranomafana, memories of domination are inseparably bound to the freedom to practice
tavy and exploit the forest. The oral historical accounts, or tantara, I collected in the tanana
of Ambodiaviavy and Ampitavanana tell of the ascendants of the contemporary Sambinoro
people who once lived in the fortified northern town of Kiririoka, located to the northeast of
Ambositra. Sambinoro historical memory reaches back to life in Kiririoka near the end of the
18th century. At this time, the highland Merina king Andrianampoinimerina invaded Kiririoka,
forcing the Zafimaniry and Betsileo (two other foko in Madagascar) families living therein to
flee southward. From the time of this exodus to the present, the Sambinoro have been forced
to move throughout the region by Mavorongo slave raiding parties, French colonial forces
concerned with more efficient surveillance, Chinese and French coffee plantation owners, and
parties involved in the rebellion of 1947.
9. On kabary, see Maurice Bloch (1975), Hanson (2000), Lee Haring (1992), and Elinor Ochs
10. Tensions exist throughout Madagascar between the traditional authority accorded the lineage
leaders (mpanjaka) and the many power relations at work within the council (fokonolona). The
fokonolona, for its part, might be defined as a council composed of community members
residing within a fokontany—an administrative unit of the Malagasy state. Although this usage
is admittedly simplistic, it does accord with the fact that since the 1972 revolution and the efforts
of Richard Ratsimandrava, both the fokonolona and the fokontany represent attempts to return
the control of “development” to the local (or, “popular”) level while retaining central direction.
Thus, under the 1976 Charter of Decentralized Collectivities, over 11,000 fokontany were

created, the council of each being locally elected. An administrative hierarch, moving upward
from the fokontany and including district, region, and province levels ensures supervision from
above (ultimately from the Ministry of the Interior). The fokonolona is, therefore, constantly
mediating local versus central administrative control. Maurice Bloch defines the fokonolona
community in the following terms: “The fokonolona is not a kinship group but a local group
bound by kinship-like rights” (1971:44). See Hanson 2000 for a case study of a fokonolona
11. Key to Transcriptions:
1,2,3,etc. = Verses
a,b,c, etc. = Lines (discourse from pause to pause)
> = Intonation curves downward by lines end
> = Intonation curves upward by lines end
Underlines = Proverbs, aphorisms, riddles, etc.
[. . . ] = Transcriber’s remarks
/. . . / = Line overlap
(. . . ) = Unintelligible discourse

12. The all-to-common ignorance of variation in linguistic ideologies is neatly illustrated in a

recent work by Peterson (2000). In what is in many ways a very sensitive account of the
people of Central Africa struggling with ICDPs, Peterson tells us that his text is, in the main,
“an attempt to share the words [residents] used” (2000:10), to let “the farmers speak for
themselves” (2000:16), and to “record the sentiments of local people” (2000:18 and 151).
Peterson, however, offers no indication of the difficulties such a project necessarily entails;
questions of language ideology and translation are never broached. Lappalainen (2002) is an
instructive example of similar problems in recent research in Ranomafana. The author notes
that her interview data “represents independent opinions” (2002:7) from residents which is
then presented “without bias” (2002:76).
13. On Tanala tantara see Beaujard (1983:27–29, 33–35).
14. I am in agreement with Joe Peters’s assessment (Conservation Technical Advisor for the Park
Project from 1991–93) that the widespread practice in many national parks of allowing foreign
scientists and tourists access to park resources while limiting the access of resident peoples is
morally bankrupt (1999:65).
15. For historical and contemporary accounts of environmental law in Madagascar, I am indebted
to the excellent work of Diane Henkels (2002), Lalaina Rakotoson (Rakotoson and Tanner
2006), and Martine Antona and colleagues (2004).
16. Participation is a crucial concept in the sustainable development rational, first appearing in
the development discourse during the early 1950s. Majid Rahnema (1992) powerfully argues
that through techniques and technologies of participation, state power has become increasingly
worked into national populations. Interestingly, the U.S. conservation technical advisor to the
RNPP from 1991 to 1993 was self-consciously based in the Participatory Action Research
approach. This approach seeks to found development change within the population’s own
understandings of its life situations.
17. It is important to note that despite being designated a “failure,” the Park Project has had sustained
“instrument effects” (Foucault 1979). Following the lead provided by James Ferguson’s work
on World Bank efforts in Lesotho (1990:255–256), consider how the Park Project has, through
its need’s production process in particular, been instrumental in constituting the Park Project’s
“target population” along specific lines and rendering it visible to a transnational apparatus
of governance. Information on the relations Tanala residents maintain to one another, their
land, health, education, forest resources, and cattle are now shared by the Malagasy state, U.S.
development organizations, a handful of U.S. universities, and foreign- and Malagasy-based
NGOs. As conservation and development intervention in the Ranomafana region continues to
expand, the information on residents packaged by the RNPP will be repeatedly employed.

18. Editor’s Note: Cultural Anthropology has published a number of articles on conservation issues,
including David McDermott Hughes’s “Third Nature: Making Space and Time in the Great
Limpopo Conservation Area” (2005); Celia Lowe’s “Making the Monkey: How the Togean
Macaque Went from ‘New Form’ to ‘Endemic Species’ in Indonesians’ Conservation Biology”
(2004); and Stephen Brush’s “Bioprospecting the Public Domain” (1999).
19. Cultural Anthropology has also published a number of articles that examine or point to the political
implications of language practice. See, for example, Kaushik Ghosh’s “Between Global Flows
and Local Dams: Indigenousness, Locality, and the Transnational Sphere in Jharkhand, India”
(2006); Clare Ignatowksi’s “Multipartyism and Nostalgia for the Unified Past: Discourses of
Democracy in a Dance Association in Cameroon” (2004); Teresa Pires do Rio Caldeira’s “The
Art of Being Indirect: Talking About Politics in Brazil” (1988); and Bradd Shore’s “Is Language
a Prisonhouse?” (1987).

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