Main Article Content

The cattle raiders leave us no choice: New transhumance in the Mahafaly Plateau region in Madagascar

Johanna F. Goetter


This article reports findings from a qualitative case study on the recent development of a pastoral transhumance movement in the Mahafaly Plateau region in Madagascar. Interviews with pastoralists from 26 villages are analyzed within a framework of contemporary new institutional economics to investigate pastoral mobility, as a response to the Madagascar-wide problem of cattle raiders (dahalo). The conditions for the new movement are compared to a traditional transhumance movement comprising the same actors but in reverse geographical direction. Contrary to many previous studies from Madagascar, the results reveal that property rights regarding access to ancestral land are not a constraint to pastoral mobility. The new transhumance movement was enabled by pro-social norms of solidarity, guest rights and unconditional hospitality (fihavanana) shared by the pastoralists in the region. Additional vital elements are mental models of kinship (raza, longo) and the formal indigenous institution of trust creation by sincerity oaths (titike, kine). However, frequent cattle raids have led to social change and an environment of mistrust; placing social constraints on pastoral mobility. Hospitality and guest rights are increasingly bound to kinship relations, and the pastoralists’ interpretation of kinship has become narrower. These social constraints are far more relevant to the new movement than to the more institutionalized traditional transhumance. The findings illustrate how Madagascar’s cattle raiding problem has influenced the rural society’s social norms and mental models. The study highlights how supportive social norms and fitting shared mental models influence people’s capacity to adapt, especially in sociocultural settings ruled by informal indigenous institutions.

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1662-2510