Stealing the sacred. Journal MCD.

Stealing the sacred: Why “global heritage” discourse is perceived as a frontal attack on local heritage-making in Madagascar

Sandra J.T.M. Evers, Caroline Seagle


This article analyses Malagasy notions of land as heritage through the concept of fomba gasy, known as ‘Malagasy customs’, within the context of foreign land acquisitions for mineral extraction. Fomba gasy is a concept intimately tied to land – as it provides a social, economic, existential, cultural, and ontological web, which ties past, present and future generations. Global or ‘western’ conceptualizations of heritage generally adopt a more static definition of land as their point of departure, wherein biodiversity or clearly demarcated ‘heritage sites’ become objects of frontier conservation. This vision directly conflicts with Malagasy conceptions and ontologies of fomba gasy – a concept inherently anchored in dynamic, material and intangible uses of land. The model of heritage as universal patrimony does not sit easily with beliefs held by local (land-based) groups within Madagascar. On the contrary, it challenges a core tenet of Malagasy power and belief: their sovereign right to define fomba gasy and heritage through land, and to harness the powers of the sacred. The contested nature of heritage claims in Madagascar is discussed using a case study concerning a mining/biodiversity protection project where international and local stakeholders are vying for the same land.



Cet article analyse la notion des terres malgaches en tant que patrimoine à travers le concept de fomba gasy ('coutumes malgaches'), dans le cadre de l'acquisition de terres par des compagnies étrangères pour les extractions de minéraux. Fomba gasy est un concept étroitement lié à la terre car il fournit une toile environnementale, sociale, économique, existentielle, culturelle et ontologique, qui relie les générations passées, présentes et futures. Les conceptualisations globales ou occidentales du patrimoine tendent généralement à adopter une définition plus statique de la terre comme point de départ. Cette vision se heurte nécessairement à celle de fomba gasy : un concept fondamentalement ancré dans la dynamique matérielle et immatérielle d'exploitation des terres. Au contraire, il remet en cause un principe fondamental et sacré du pouvoir malgache : le droit souverain de définir le fomba gasy et le patrimoine à travers la terre. Cet article discute un différend foncier à Madagascar où un projet minier et de protection de la biodiversité locale met en opposition divers intervenants revendiquant tous des intérêts dans les mêmes terres.


land as heritage, conservation, mining

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