Tovoke: interview transcript

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Tovoke: interview transcript

Tovoke lives in Tanandava, Androy, Madagascar. He was 44 when he was interviewed on the 19 November 2009 for the Rural Poverty Report 2011. The interview was recorded in the language of Tandroy and carried out by a staff member from the Andrew Lees Trust. The interviewer had an existing relationship with the community and had experience of in-depth interviewing from a previous oral testimony project undertaken with Panos London.

Thank you for agreeing to take part in these personal interviews. The reason for this personal interview is that an organization named IFAD has a procedure in which they make a report every 10 years: The Rural Poverty Report. So that is what we are about to contribute to today. So we'll be chatting together for the next hour or two according to how our conversation goes. It would be good if we introduced each other first, my name is Emelie and I work for ALT; now I'd like to know your name. What is your name?
My name is Tovoke.


Tovoke, do you have a wife, do you have children?
I do not have a wife [said hesitantly], that is, I have a partner and have not completed the fomba (traditional marriage custom) because the years have been hard, and I don't have the possessions necessary for it. But with this woman, a friend of mine, I have four children, but that's what I said, that the years are hard, life is hard, and I've no way to marry her [officially].

Regarding what you've just told me I'd now like to hear about your life from a child until this moment.
Regarding me, my life: first of all I don't have what you call rae (lit: fathers; father). I have a mother but no father. My life has been one of wandering. As soon as I could walk, and was old enough to know, I grabbed an angaly (spade). I took the spade and planted. Then my mother went off and married. So I was alone to make my own living. My second was an older brother but he'd migrated for work. I didn't go abroad (outside) for pay but stayed with the spade. So that's what I've done, made a living by, only the spade. Once I was older [and] still working with the spade, I went to work on the sea. The reason I had to work the sea is that my mother did not own a field. So I had to plant on other people's fields. But the landowner was disturbed with me on the field—the man had a child and wanted his son to plant it—so they wouldn't let me farm there any more; so until now the sea alone is my life.  After some time, I migrated for work and then bore the suffering of emigration.  When I arrived abroad, I wasn't comfortable on the land of that person, and though I was alive, I wasn't comfortable on the land of another person, so I came home. What little cash I could pick up got me back, and then I went to work the sea again. From then until now that's been my life from childhood; only the sea and the spade.

According to your life story, you were using a spade, then the sea. How old were you when you began to work at sea?
I was a child of 12 years when I began to work with a spade; I was 12 years old and continued with a spade only. Then when I was a full 20 years old, I began to work the sea. Working the sea, I fished, I netted, I tossed in lines. So now being 20 years or so I began to paddle (go out in a canoe). So then I was paddling and paddling, and that was my life; until now I dive, I net, I paddle, and have been doing that till now, being now about 44 years.

Your age?
My age. Now.

With that then, what are your thoughts regarding the work on the sea 10 years ago until now; is the produce you catch the same, or has the harvest changed until now, compared to 10 years ago?
The difference between them, well, the livelihood is not the same with the spade as with the sea. Now with that spade, as I see it, we had better harvests back then, but because I don't have a field the spade doesn't produce. So when I say the sea is my livelihood, it's because that's what I can reach, that's how I'm able to make a living. That spade, I do use it, but in another person's field. So the sea is the basis of my livelihood, so I consider the two not equal since the sea provides me with a living.

Now what I want to know, you work the sea, you catch fish – I don't know what you catch – how then does your catch 10 years ago compare with your catch today?
When I first started fishing in the sea, certainly it did produce a better harvest back then; at this time I do catch but it's for today. It still provides but there is no one to take it (no purchasers). Second what comes out now isn't the same as what we got out before; the numbers have decreased. It's an intense search to find anything, and we're lucky to find fish for us to eat today.

What do you think then is the reason that, before, you had a harvest, but now you don't get much? And why are there no takers?
Before there were many fish [before], because there were not too many who worked it. Now there are many fisherman, many workers. And then somapesy (he means sambo-peche: foreign fishing boats) here and somapesy there, which block the fish from coming in, that's why the fish are scarce now.

What then are the tools you use? Are you in a cooperative or does each bring his own means for fishing? And what is all the equipment you use in fishing?
Regarding tools, I don't really have any of my own, but I join a team that has; so the equipment I own is a net, a mask, heavy nylon line - those are what I use here. Those are mine, but I don't own a canoe, so I go out with people.

Is there a custom you follow in going out in a canoe, that is, do you take turns?
We take turns. Now the owner is always with the boat, but we who beg, take turns. So if it were me today another would go tomorrow, and a different one then next day.

What are the kinds of harvest you bring in?
The produce? We get fish, lamatra (king mackerel), alovo (black pan-fish), atsantsa (shark); those are what we bring in with a canoe. And here near to the shore (reefs) [diving] with the mask we catch lobster, deda (large edible shell fish; the shell is also sold to purchasers from the city), sokiñe (sea-urchin), horita (octopus); and fish then with the net. That's the produce we can get out of there.

Your harvest then, what is your practice in selling it? Is there someone who comes to you here (on the shore) or do you take fish to the market or to Faux Cap?
Occasionally there is the mpanao kinanga (middleman, usually a woman) who comes down to the beach but rarely. If not, then we take it around a circuit when we get in.

Among the tools you mentioned, you said you had a mask, when or under what conditions can you use that mask at sea?
That mask, how it's employed, when the sea is mah'ke (low), masay (low tide), we take that and use it to mañirike (skin dive). But if the sea is high, it has no place, it doesn't go out. But we'll use it when netting at low tide, diving for deda, lobster… that's when we use the mask.

When you're out with a mask, diving, do you just happen upon a lobster, or do you set a day, saying: "Today I'll dive for lobster, or today I'll dive for deda?" 
Yes, that is done according to the season, and if I decide, today I'll dive for lobster, that will be it, and if [I am] blessed, I'll find some. If not blessed and I don't find any, then tomorrow I'll dive for deda. The deda, then, are frequently found; [we are] not finding many but usually a few.

Now if you were to compare the diving for lobster before and today,  which gave you the more harvest, then or now? And where are the lobster sold?
Before, the lobster produced well, but they had no price, the price was very low, because back in the days of Andre1 the price was 150 ariary (0.075 US$)2 a kilo; the lobsters were many but they didn't fetch a [good] price. Now we can't usually find a lobster but the price is high. The purchasers then are operators from Fort Dauphin who purchase from us here. But we here – there still isn't a refrigerator, that we could sell them locally. So it's the operators for Fort Dauphin who purchase from us here.

Now if diving for lobster, how many kilos would you harvest and what would be the price per kilo and for your earnings in a day?
Diving for lobster, it happens, if I'm blessed, in a day, that I might catch 10 kilos. Otherwise we might get, if not blessed, 7 or 8 kilos in a day. That would be each day. Now the earnings from those lobster depends on the price – let's say, the ones from there weigh in at 6000 (meaning 6000 per kilo) then I'd take in 60,000 ariary (30 US$) with 10 kilos; if they weigh it at 7000, I'll find 70,000 that day with 10 kilos.

That would be now?
At this time!

Now considering that bi—considerable [restrains herself] income of 60000 ariary a day, considering you can catch 10 kilos in a day, now in a week you'll have such and such a sum, now what do you do with that money?
That money, how it's distributed? Like me: I don't have a field that I can raise; I could buy livestock but then I wouldn't have saved anything against tomorrow. But in fact I do split the takings, half [for] purchasing food and the other half stored in my house. That's how I divide that money.

So you store money in your house?
Yes I store it in my house, because the sea is not dependable. There may be a good day tomorrow then another month before another good day. So the funds I put away I will have for food until the day the sea calms.

You also dive for deda, now how much does that bring in by the kilo and in a week and where are those deda sold?  
Those deda will be 5 kilos or 6 kilos in a week, but not per day, for deda are not that plentiful. Operators from Toliara (two days drive northwest) purchase those deda [shells] from us, and they don't come daily, so it's according to when the operator comes from Toliara that he'll purchase deda here.

Is there anything else in the sea from which one might have an income?
In terms of income from the sea, it's really only those three things that bring in money. Not too frequent now, but fish, shark, lobsters, those are what carry a price. The lobster, now, is not a daily catch, it has its season, there is an off-season. Then there are times they come out and others they do not come out. It happens that we work them for six months, then it stops, and for the next six months we don't work them, then we'll work the deda after that. There is a time that the deda also stop. Then we're in a strait as there are no purchasers for the deda; it might be six months, five months that they don't go (there are no purchasers). Then earning money comes to a halt, for the deda are getting hard to find. For there are days they run and other days we're in a fix. When the deda stop, we then begin to work the fish. In fishing there are good days that bring them up, and there are bad days that we can't find any fish. Then when we can't catch fish we'll work the octopus, but the octopus also has its time. There will be a month in which it comes out, then two before it comes out again. When that stops, we'll have to search for other products of the sea to be able to eat that day. Not finding, we'll try fishing, look for anything we might find. That we can endure until the lobster come out or the fish come out again, then a good day will come along and we'll dive for deda or dive for lobster if in they are season, but again lobster are not every day for there are months that it is stopped. There are months in which they can be worked. Canoes also don't go daily, but it depends on the weather whether they will go. They'll go on calmer days. And now especially we can't work at all either for fish or for lobster, since we're blocked by this ship. Since the ship came in and sank there it's been killing us fisherfolk. Because the sea has been closed we don't fish. So now we sit around, we rent out for work in fields just to keep alive. Because that ocean, our profession, is stopped by that ship. The sea is blocked, and now we don't work, since that ship came.

How many months will you be prohibited on account of that ship?
It's been four months since that ship came. It's been about four months that we have not been able to fish, that we have stopped. Now there was this godorò (tar, pollution from the wrecked ship) that would have put the fishermen to work (skimming the tar into plastic bags), but the fishermen did not get the work. It went to other people who are not fisherpeople that were employed on it and not fishermen.  And then there was 20,000,000 ariary [as compensation money] for us fishermen, but we fishermen did not receive any of it, it was divided among the big guys up there. And then there was that 20 gunnies of rice (actually 200) but it was not distributed among the fishermen for whom it was intended, as they are suffering from this ship. But again it wasn't given to us but was divided among other fivondronana (old name for district). Then another gift of assistance for us, fañafoly (medicines), from Toliara, from an organization called Maitso, which gave the gift of these medicines to us fishermen as a saving gesture to us. But they did not give these medicines to the fishermen but took them to the hospital, which is selling them for a profit. Now we fishermen are fearful lest we contract some disease from the sea and have no access to medicines for these bodies [of ours].

Okay now with reference to those pieces of equipment –  a mask, a net, fishing line… where did you acquire those things?
Where I got the mask and the fishing line was when I was by myself, wandering to and fro, working for pay in Toliara. So I was working there, and purchased the mask, then the net, and those I brought down here.  But it's been a long time since I've been using those, but as I don't have the funds for them I must use the old ones, to raradrarahako (to be poor with), the net being quite tattered. So I use those anyway, because I can't find any [other], or find enough money to purchase and renew them. So those are all I use, that old worn mask and that tattered net. That's what I manage with and live by.

When you were in Toliara, what kind of paying job did you have?
In Toliara, I did guard work on arrival. Then, the guard work completed, I went to pulling posy (rickshaws). But I did not continue for I was not at ease with pulling the posy since the posy belonged to someone else.

How long did you stay there?
I was away for one year and two months, that I stayed there. I worked in Toliara but stayed at Ifaty (a village several kilometres north of the city).

So whose posy did you use, how were you able to make that money, for buying that net?
The posy of a gentleman by the name of Noty, a canoe builder in Ifaty, was the owner of that posy. The posy was used in Toliara, here in Soafily (a subdivision). He then set me to Soafily with the posy. That posy was then rented, [I was] paying 500 [ariary] daily. Every evening on ceasing work, the 500 is paid for the posy

To the owner?
To the owner. So I worked at that, and that was the method with which I was able to purchase that net. And I bought that mask, and I used it for the fare home.

Now in a day of pulling the posy, how much would you make?
It all depends on how the work of pulling a posy goes. Some days, if a good day, one could make 2000 or even sometimes 3000. And if the work does not progress, it's only the rent of the posy that that is seen. Not even enough for a meal is made, but only for the rent of the posy. On easy days one could make 2000, maybe even 5000. In that case 4500 is for myself and the 500 for the owner of the posy. But there are days where not even the rent is made, so the posy stays with me and maybe three or four days the posy just stays with me. Then a good day comes along and the posy works, bringing in the dues for those days, paying them all at once.

You said also that you'd migrated for work in Majunga. What did you do there?
My job in Majunga. I still pulled posy for my work in Majunga. On arriving I pulled posy first. Gaining some profit on the posy I went to selling, having a small store, and that's how I gained some money to take home. But having returned here, I've never found enough to raise the fare so have not gone again. So here I sit making a living on the sea.

But you feel that it's important to be able to migrate if one is in a strait?
You mean the problem with emigration?

No, I mean your going north for a job, what pulled you north to seek a job?
What attracted me to go look for a job was suffering. Suffering was what moved me to go north for pay, since sitting here I had no field to plant. I had no work to do, not even day labour. So then I reasoned, being without work, l had no livelihood. So in my thinking, I decided it would be better to depart and look for a job. I'll migrate north so that I might live, for staying here is just suffering, heartbreaking lack of work and livelihood. I don't really plant, but request a field of another person. But the small field given me doesn't produce and can't keep me alive. I'd rather suffer, I don't have a father, I don't have a mother, I don't have any relatives; just myself. For there was no one to say: "Here is this brother of mine in a sorrowful state, let me help him out." So it's by my muscles that I eat and make a living. So there was nothing to expect. I went then and migrated, looking for work.

What to you are the negative aspects of going away to work?
The negative side of going away to work is that the land belongs to someone else, but if one owns land, it's his own land. But if there is nothing to expect, and one is suffering and sorrowful, there is nothing left to do but to go to work in that land of another. But even though one can make a living on that land it's not his own but belongs to another, so one returns to his own land even if it's poor. That's what I see as the negative side of going north.

Otherwise do you maintain that going north is a good thing?
It's not bad, it's good that one can go, but there is the negative side of it. One doesn't have any relatives out there, so if one dies away [from home], there is no one to bring my body back here, to my fatherland. There being no relatives there, if one gets in trouble there is no one to save you in that land of no family. But here, if one dies, my neighbours will not let my body rot there but will bury it. And there is no one who sees you not having eaten for two or three days that will say: "Here's some hot water, drink that and you will see the morning, that you might find a job." But in the land of strangers there is no one to do that to you. It's only by your own energy that you survive.

So when you went to Toliara and to Majunga, how did you arrange for your children's mother and your children?
The way I set that up on my first trip away, I put her with her father, saying: "Here, my father, is your family, I'm leaving her here for a while. I still have hope to have (marry) her, but I don't have possessions, I don't have the wealth to complete the dowry. So I'm going away to work, that God might bless me, that I might raise my children, that I might complete [the marriage with] my wife. So there's my wife, I'm leaving her with you." So, "yes", he says, and I go. And look for work, but the job, the work I have there, I don't live [well]. I don't find any [work], I don't find it there, so I go home. And present myself to my in-laws, present myself to my wife, and the in-law asks: "How did it go?" And I say: "Here, I am father, I went away to work to complete [the marriage with] my wife, to complete [it] for my children, but I didn't thrive so I returned to my fatherland. For the land there wasn't mine but of another, and to stay there would be just for hand to mouth. It's not that I dislike my wife, I don't abhor my children, they are still mine though they stay with you, in case there be a year, there be a day, that I might be able to support them." That's the way I settled my wife and children there.

So the mother of your children just waited for you?
She has waited there with them from then until now.

So what did that woman do during your absence?
What she did to make a living when I wasn't here, she farmed, she weeded (for others), she carried water (for sale), to bring up her children, to support herself. She planted a little, she carried water, that little money she found from carrying water, or from the harvest of what she planted, she turned into products to sell, to purchase necessities, to sell around; so that's how she managed, and raised her children.

For you, does it not have its effect on you that Tovoke doesn't have a field? Does that bother your thoughts, of your life? What does the town think, the local society that John Doe (generic term for an ordinary man) doesn't have land that he might plant?
The living together [helps],  there is [assistance]. There are those who in their mercy say: "What is this that Ano (so-and-so) hasn't any land to plant? That he has nothing to make a living with for himself. Seeing that he has nothing, that he is truly poor, so what do we do?" So those who know will provide a small parcel of land and say: "Here, plant it." That he might eat, to keep himself alive, in the society. That is how a small parcel was given to me by an elder in the town. And on that land I have planted a little, on that which the elder provided. But I wasn't settled in thought on that land, and said: "Lest I just suffer here, it's better that I go away to work for a while, then I might find the wealth to purchase land, to support myself. So I go, and work, north as far as Majunga, and Toliara, but I did not live well, so I returned with nothing, and had nothing with which to purchase land. So I returned to my way of living of before, took up my old existence in the society, saying: "Here I am, Fathers, I went away to work but still have not made it, so I'm going to plant on the parcel you presented to me, until I can support myself and live". So here I've been sustained by God and it's been a long time. So that over there is the land they gave me, and that's what I've managed with till now.

That land then... Well that means you are planting at this time?
I do farm now, but the land will not yield as there is no rain. I would plant, but with no rain falling I don't plant. There is no rain to [enable me to] plant.

What are all do you plant in that field?
What I plant there is sweet potatoes, I plant manioc. I plant corn, vañemba (type of bean); then I was attracted by this Ampemba (Sorghum) Cooperative, and planted sorghum which I'd obtained from those members. I requested and they gave. 1 kapoake (can; dry measure) from their association. "Give some to him," they said, "for though he's not a member he's a member of our village and wants to plant since he requested." And so I planted that sorghum, and harvested a little, I made a little, this past year, at that sorghumharvest. I planted corn with that sorghum and had a small harvest. I didn't have a large harvest like those with big fields, but according to its size it did yield and provide for me. That's what I plant in that field.

Of that one kapoake then, how much did you produce?
Of that 1 kapoake I received 3 gunnies (there are 200 kapoake to a gunny).

Three thrashed gunnies?
Three thrashed and clean, I got from that single kapoake.

Was there any remaining for seed, or did you sell it all?
What remains to plant when the rains arrive--I saved out 20 kapoake that I'll get out when the rains come and plant.

Now, at this time, is there still some for food?
For food now there is none.

Did you then sell part of that?
I sold 1 gunny. For clothes, for all my clothes were in tatters, and I had nothing to wear, and I purchased those things that were bothering me. That 1 gunny I sold, then a close friend died and I had nothing to give, so I sold that next gunny to take to mitaitse that corpse. The last gunny I ate and saved for seed.

You found then that that single kapoake from those members of the association really saved you?
Yes I appreciated that, as it did good to me, because I had a harvest from it. And I decided: this sorghum is really good, considering it produced as well as giving me a livelihood. And I observe that this sorghum is really worthwhile in that it produced for all who planted it. And that single kapoake that was given to me, allowed me to face my problems, and of that I obtained clothes, and cloth. That's why I saved that amount to be able to plant in the next year when the rains fall, because the sorghum was good to me. It raised me up.

In your opinion now, as you see it, is it necessary in this society to have animals to raise?
Yes that is necessary, for those husbanded animals are used to store wealth. They are needed by the association, for they are raised against future needs. An association need them for cash. Too much money (any cash above what is needed immediately) is something that can be put away. So it's put into living things to husband. Then in time to come when some problems crop up they are sold to raise up (rescue) that association in their needs at that time.

As you were saying, you can make a little money from your fishing. How do you manage that?
I manage that on those small things that I need for fishing, and I set a little apart for my support. So let's say I get 1000 today, I'll purchase food with the 500 and set aside the remaining 500 as savings against the bad sea tomorrow and the day after. For the sea does not continue in its calmness, there is a day that is good and there is a day, or five or six days, that are poor. So whatever I get today I split in half; the half I eat, and the half I keep for tomorrow and the next day.

Regarding goats, sheep, chickens, can you compare your life now with before in respect of those? Your animal husbandry 10 years ago compared with your husbandry today?
My fiompiako (to Emelie this means "animal husbandry" to Tovoke it means "management of resources"); last year?

Ten years ago,
My management 10 years ago, what I managed back then. I hired out for work, I sought money in the sea. A little, I found a little back in those days. And things before were cheap, not like at present, for things were sold cheaply before. So If I got a little—you see 1000 [ariary] in those days would get a goat. If I got 1000 I'd set aside the 500 and purchase a chicken with the 500 balance. But this land back then had many diseases and insects in the plants. Now chickens are the most I've been able to raise, as goats and cattle I've never owned at all. So I purchased chickens and raised chickens with the little money I brought in from the sea. Of those chickens I got, there were many I received, and I had a hundred in those early years; now those chickens caught a disease, my chickens were slaughtered by a disease called koropoke, they died en masse, none were left living, so I quit raising chickens since the illness was massive that killed all those chickens. Now in this past year I began to plan to raise animals again, that I might have some gain to support myself, but there is not yet any harvest to expect at this time, for it would have been from the sea that I would have produced it, but the sea is not well, and the ocean has been blocked by officials. Even the Chef de Region (Regional Head) has now sent a letter to us fishermen asking that we don't work the sea, and they put a limit on it of six months not to work the sea, for there are poisonous chemicals from that ship. But us, there is no work that they could offer us fishermen that we could do during that six months. So I don't have any hope in how I can go on and support myself as there isn't any money.

Now on health, let's say someone is sick in the household, what do you do about that, where do you seek health services?
If there is someone sick in the house, then if there's someone from whom we can borrow money, who is willing to give, then we take that money to rescue the sick, to take them to the hospital in Faux Cap, or we take them to the hospital in Antavy. Those are the hospitals one can approach, all the way to Bema, but those doctors, now, don't just receive patients, but money is used. There is no doctor that is available to accept a person without money. They don't understand the poor, who have nothing. It's money that the doctors must receive at this time. So if I'm sick in the night I'll go to look for bitter herbs, I seek befelañe (rosy periwinkle) and varantsihe (medicinal plant found only in southern Madagascar), those are what I boil and drink against that disease. If the disease is severe, and I'm able, I'll go and borrow, and when I'm healed I'll go to find work, a daily job, to pay off my debt. That's how I treat myself if I suddenly fall ill.

Do you borrow from relatives or friends, and is interest exacted, or is it a simple loan?
If it's a relative, they will do what they can to rescue family [members] and will not charge interest. But if there is none to be had from relatives and one borrows from another, he'll put interest on it according to its repayment. So for a relative one pays no interest, but with another person he'll say: "Here's the amount to rescue yourself and this will be the interest you return on that when you bring it in." So I take it, for what are my options, one takes it to save oneself. Once healed one finds work to pay off that of that person, and to procure that interest.

Is there a reason you moved to the sea and don't reside in the village?
Yes there is a reason I moved here to the sea. The reason for my moving here is my suffering, my poverty.  For to me to live in the village, I have no field, I have no means of making a living in that village. I also don't really have any relatives in the village. My mother is dead, we're only two and my elder brother is not here. So with me alone living there I think: What am I doing to support myself in this village? I don't have a field to plant, I have nothing to support myself in this village, and I could just take a walk. I'd rather moly (to make a home) of the sea, make my living at sea, for to stay in this village, I'm a poor person, I'm a person having nothing, lest someone thinks I'm a thief, and I'll just die for want of anything to receive, for want of having anything to eat. So better for me to go to the sea to seek from there what I can live on. That's why I sought to move to the sea.

Do your children study, go to school, or don't they study at all?
They all study, that is three of them study, the fourth is still small, nursing. But they go to school, do not stay with me, but stay with their grandparents, and stay with their mother, for with their mother, I've still not completed the custom. I have not yet completed the custom for my children, so the youngsters stay with their relatives and go to school, three [of them]. In that, though they are staying with those grandparents, I take money to them to purchase notebooks, to buy pens, for their clothes, to take care of their tuition, and I give it to their relatives towards their education.

But isn't your woman with you here?
Yes, she's with me here. 

To you then is it really important to teach those children, why do you think it's important for those children to be in school?
It's important to teach children at this time for this is not the time of old, but the time of now, the age of the vazaha (foreigner), and she (a child) needs to learn to get along, to learn how to write her name so she can get by out there. In the former times, there was no way to send them to school, as there were no schools and no one to teach them. So the time now can't be compared with how one lived before. But they must be taught, so that they will learn, and know how to take care of themselves. So that they might find employment, not forgetting their parents, to support them once they have succeeded in their studies at that time. They'll go to a distant place for work and will not be lost because they can read paper, and use it to support themselves, in the land they migrate to. If they can thus support themselves, they will also support their parents through their education. That's what's important about education.

Now you make a living from the sea, how is it that you hear news, how do you hear about the weather, saying: "This is what the weather will be, there is a cyclone over there and they shouldn't go to sea, there is…" -- any and all news, how do you get it? How can you know it?
Pertaining to the weather, if for example, it will be a good weather here, we follow it by, that is, it's the sound of the sea that we follow, saying, it will be favourable seas, for that is its voice.

You mean as the waves are right now [lazy waves heard breaking in the background]?
Now regarding cyclones, it will be by one who owns a radio that we will hear the warning: "Don't go out for a cyclone is on the way." So in the city I suppose they get it from the news magazines and pass it over to the radio saying: "A cyclone will arrive." We fishermen don't really know when a cyclone is coming, for us fishermen it all depends on the appearance of the day, saying: "Thus is the voice of the sea, thus such will be the day." So will it be favourable, so will it be bad? That's what killed many people last year, they were killed by that cyclone, in the area west of here, because they did not own a radio. They went because of the drought, the famine was severe, so they all went out to fish; the cyclone caught them out there, as there was no way for them to hear, not having a radio to tell them when the cyclone would be approaching. All went, even those here, but we didn't lose any in that cyclone, but to the west many died from the cyclone because of not having a radio.

We'll change the subject now. You may know who is doing development work around here in Bema or Faux Cap?
Yes, I may know, especially if there is something I could do to get ahead, for I have worked with an association, not for years, but only for months. Our association did not succeed, in the days of those CDs (development committees). The warehouse is still there in Tanandava. It began with the first president being Maravirijaona, who led it, and they did research, when they came we did a lot of research on the organization of the association. Mara then stepped down from presidency and another man, now deceased, named Miha replaced him. That's who replaced Mara as president of the association - regarding fishing. That came to an end, and the association disbanded. Because the founders weren't there. And so I made another attempt, and in that building from before, I gathered some friends and said: "Come on, guys, let's organize an association, that we might find progress for ourselves in this fishing." So we did that, and I was a leader of it, and we progressed while I was in charge. We salted fish, we fished, we purchased a canoe, we paddled, we gathered deda which we transported to Toliara, and that went into the fund of our association. Here in time that thing didn't succeed, it disbanded, and now again we don't have an association.

Was that long ago, how many years since that happened?
A long time, that was a long time.

Would it be 20 years or 10 years ago?
It may have been 20 years ago that it ceased.

Let's say, you, then, in this development work, were made the leader to direct some development work, what would you choose to do for that development work?
I would attempt to do what I knew would have a chance of success if I worked at it. That would bring work for me, by which I could gain support for myself. That's what I'd do for development work. So for instance, if the ship had not blocked the sea, I would say that through a canoe I could make it and find what to eat through that. So that is what I'd do toward progress that I could help my friends progress, for in that I could find something little from which I could eat. But considering the sea is blocked at this time, perhaps agriculture or animal husbandry would work, and that would be the better path for an association since the sea is off limits and secondly there is no canoe that my associates could use--but in the end working the sea may still be an option, so only the equipment to bring that [catch] in is absent.

Pertaining to this canoe, what are you trying to get at? Please enlighten me on that.
How I came upon the [idea of the] canoe, the canoe with respect to development work: suppose we combined into an association and researched, and decided to purchase a canoe, then that canoe would be employed to bring development. 

Mmmm… Now for you, what does rarake mean? In your society, as you also use the word rarake to indicate that big sand dune over there. But in your speech I often hear the word: rarake, rarake. So what does that mean in your social sphere?
Rarake in society, you see rarake means two things: the first use of rarake is that mountain [pointing to the dune], this dune that we have made a request about, and there was someone who was to be occupied with that, but though there was to be someone they haven't arrived to date. The second meaning of rarake is one who owns nothing. Rarake means having no wealth, having no relatives, having no animals; that is the second meaning of rarake.

Okay, now in the society is there someone truly rarake in comparison to others, so is one that's rarake really down and out, or does that describe one who has no relatives; or are there those who literally have nothing and no relatives? 
There truly are the rarake, there are the rarake who have no possessions, rarake who have no wealth, yet have family, there are rarake who really have nothing, he has no possessions, he has no family, for his family is all dead, like me; myself! I am truly rarake at this time,  I am truly rarake.First of all I have no field, secondly I have no family and no father, and I have no mother. My mother died, my father died, there were only two of us born of my mother, no other children. My family is just myself, so I'm truly what's called rarake, having no family, none, and having no field.

Besides you, now, let's say there is someone truly rarake and downright rarake, what brings on that poverty, what makes that person so poor. Yours is clear, but let's say there's another in your society who is also extremely poor besides you, what brought on their poverty?
What makes them poor: first of all they have no family, and they don't have a field or if they have a field, they don't have the means; they have no plan laid out for themselves: "Thiss and thiss I shall use to support myself."  So even though they can lift a spade they aren't able to cultivate. They sit around and aren't about to take on a job. Thus, they have nothing as they never come to any conclusion about how to be employed, how to support themselves. This will be my work to sustain myself, seeing that I have no family, and they stay in that position, they don't even have clothes. Even something to eat, they can't find, in the end they just beg. They beg because they cannot support themselves. That is the rarake, the lowest possible state of not having anything.

In your society then there are truly those who beg?
There are, there are some; there is that woman named Sakainee over here in Marobey. She does have one child, but it's not known where that child is. She alone is there. Now she is an old woman, she can't plan, she can't sustain herself. So in the end, she goes to the market each week and begs. That's her livelihood, begging is her profession.

Mmm, now you, do you anticipate change or will you stay just as you are?
The way I look at my state, if something could change for me, if I could find a way, then I might see change in the future. It may be that God will give me haveloñe (state of wellbeing and sufficiency) or there would be a helper, a saviour who could employ us on this dune, if that would ever come through, or if there were some work for me to do in the midst of that rarake (poverty). But if there is no such development work then I'm not sure what would become of me. My life in the future might well change. It would change if there were a supporter from afar, so that I could purchase the tools I need for my work in the sea. That would help with means, with tools, a mask, a net, a canoe, lines and hooks. If I could acquire those, if there were some help from afar towards those, then I could survive, for I would have the tools to work the sea. If there were one with an open hand out there that could give those things then maybe my life would change. But the way I am now, I don't like this suffering I'm in, but it's my not having [anything] that makes me suffer. There is no harvest that I can bring in for myself. But if there were someone out there who could help, I would be saved. For as I'd hope there would be that help coming through for a canoe, a net, a mask, tools I could use for the sea, then I'd be saved.

Now have you gone through a period where you had nothing to eat, and no money to buy food, and how many days or how many times in a day might you have eaten?
Yes, I have; that one year, maybe four years ago now, I went, I went out in this famine, looking for weeding work. I went into the commune of Marovato (20km west). But on my journey I couldn't find any weeding work, nor did I know anyone; my journey [on foot] lasted from early morning,through noon, into the afternoon, until evening. I could find no food, no water to drink, so I kept on going. In the night I could not endure, as I'd had nothing to eat. I couldn't find weeding for pay, I couldn't find money with which to buy food; in the end I dug up roots of plants, that's what I chewed on as I continued into the night. I chewed the roots and swallowed my saliva till the morning would catch me.  I kept going until I reached Bevazoañe, and I found raketamena (the weed, prickly pear cactus) for breakfast that morning, and that day I found work for pay on that second day. I received some money with which I could purchase something I could eat. So that one whole day I'd not had anything to eat until night when I found parts of a tree for sustenance.

Do you have some plans, some hopes for your children in the future, would the livelihood of your children be different than your life now, or… what are your thoughts on that?
Pertaining to my children in the future, for their livelihoods, I believe they will be improved over my life, for there is this thing called fampandrosoana (development, generally with outside funding), for there would be supporters from abroad that would help; and they would also be knowledgeable at that time, for they are in school. They may be avotse (advanced) in their lives in the future. They will be avotse, they will not be like their father who had no helper, no supporter, but subsisted on his own. For from birth and just old enough, my mother left. But the lives of my children will not be like the life I had. I also had no teacher that I could learn from, I don't know paper (how to read); so that's why I'm educating my children, so they don't follow a life like mine, their father, who doesn't know how to read. So they must be avotse, they will succeed; they will gain a profession through their schooling. They may migrate for work, there may be a supporter from afar, to help them, they'll think about that. That will be the life they are being schooled for. They must be avotse in the future. 

Let's say there's a person, avotse in his life, and you also may be avotse some day, what happens that they are avotse and why is another one not avotse?
What may allow one to succeed, and another not? You see their lives are not the same; what makes one succeed even though they have the same livelihood, there is that inequality in their lives; for some may have a supporter, some may have someone from abroad that makes them avotse, and helps them, so he takes that to lift himself and to avotse himself. But like me, I have nothing that could avotse me, no way for me to get ahead in that association. But if we did associate, maybe there would be a supporter that would help him succeed in that association.

Do you recall something in your life that brought you joy?
What brought joy to my heart, one day in the midst of this poverty, not having anything, just living off the sea, was that I went out one day to dive for lobster, and in diving for lobster--now the price of lobsters then was 2000 [ariary] - I weighed in at 40 kilos in that single day. I was thrilled then for I received money. That income was never repeated, but on [the strength of] that event I could purchase clothes, I bought chickens with the money from that, and those chicks had eggs, and became many, but in the end many were eaten by those saka (wildcats), many died of disease until those chickens were gone.

1/ Andre is probably the name of someone who came by periodically to purchase the catch

2/ Average exchange rate (1996 ariary = 1US$), November 2009, Interbank rate, source:

3/ Literally, awaken; meaning bringing a gift to the family of the deceased:clothes, embroidered draperies, or cash.