Ranaivo Jean Noelson: interview transcript

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Ranaivo Jean Noelson: interview transcript

Ranaivo Jean Noelson lives in Tanandava, Androy, Madagascar. He was 23 when he was interviewed on 27 April 2010 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.

I greet you and thank you for being willing to participate in this interview. Today is the 27th day of April, 2010, here in Tanandava fokontany (smallest administrative unit), Faux Cap. This interview will be part of the work of IFAD which is pre­pa­ring an agricultural and developmental report. Thus Madagascar, and Bema has been appointed representative of Madagascar, and you have been one of those selected to take part in this interview. And this interview will be recorded so that nothing be motso (lost) or dropped of what will be said. The goal of the report is to produce a strategy for decreasing rural poverty in the future You are free to answeror not to answer that which you don't want to; also you don't need to give your name if that troubles you. I'm Emilie, and work for ALT. You probably know that already. That's a short introduction before we get into this interview.
Thank you, and I'm prepared to undertake that work of interviewing we are about to do. My name, then, is Ranaivo Jean Noelson.

So... you then, are living here in Tanandava?

Actually a resident?

What do you like about Tanandava? Is there something particular about Tanandava that you like?
What I like about Tanandava: it's my fatherland, it's what we're used to. We've been here a long time and I was born here. That's what I like about here in Tanandava.

What do you dislike about Tanandava? Really dislike.
There's nothing I dislike about Tanandava, but if there were, it would be the drought that occurs here in Tanandava.

What have you in mind towards improving Tanandava, here where you live?
What I'd like to do to improve this village where I live is work, communal work, a project like when we are associated under our president, towards the improvement of our village.

Will you then tell me the story of your being a child until now, you being an adult?
I can tell about my childhood until I became an adult. For when I was a child I went to school, six years old. At six years old I began school. And I studied and reached T1 (first grade), passed and entered T2, so I continued in school, at eight years I entered T3. I continued in school, continued in school, [repeated to indicate the length of time], I was just small then but continued in school, with that craziness, so when I completed T4 I quit school. Having quit, I just wandered around in stupidity, drinking alcohol, doing what my peers did, smoking tobacco. And my father said, this son of mine is about to lose his head, I'd better fetch him a wife.

So he got a wife for me and provided a house for my wife and me. So there I was with my wife living alone in our place. And we cooked, until it was done, and brought it to our father; and we weeded, my wife and I in the fields. We bore children, now we have three children. And things continue to change, we are also raising other people's children. No longer are there all those friends for cavorting around, for drinking and smoking [with], not cultivating, not having a job, not providing for my father; I've left all of that behind. I'm getting older now and raising [a family]... that's me at this time, the story of my childhood until now... And I go every morning, at the time the sea is right, to the ocean, and I dive, when the lobster [season] is open, I dive, and I'll find a half kilo, when a kilo is 6000 ariary 1 (3 US$), it's 3000 for the half. And I'll buy a kapoake (standard measure of grain) for the home that was provided us, we'll buy petroly (kerosene), we'll buy lamba (cloth; clothing).

We'll go, at the crowing of the cock, waking, I leave my wife there, and go out fishing, we go paddling, paddling; returning from out there, and there is my wife also waiting, for she will now sell those fish, while I clean up the canoe we used, sweeping it out, and we go home together leaving the sea; on arriving home she begins to cook while I go to the field to cultivate. Returning from there we'll spend the afternoon together at my mother's place, visiting until the evening.

In your cultivating, did your parents give you land, did you purchase, or do you rent from someone?
My parents gave us teteke (fields), that's what we eat from, from which we sell the produce, they gave us one, and we purchased another one. So then it's two teteke that we plant.

What and what all...
We plant corn, ampemba (sorghum) and vañemba (a red bean). Those are the crops in our

Now about that agriculture, you said you plant sorghum; from whom did you acquire that seed?
Who gave us the seed?  We purchased it in the market... We purchase that in the market, purchasing maybe 3 kapoake, and that's what, with the rains, we'll plant, and that's what we cultivate. We weed that, and if we produce a lot, we put it up in a crib which we call by the name riha. And part of it we may sell to buy lamba, to buy petroly. Some we'll store here for the drought, which we'll then eat, and some we'll store carefully as seed for planting again. And when the rains come we will access that which we set apart for seed for the fields. Once it is harvested we'll gather it in and do to the same with that also.

I want to ask you about fishing, you said you fish and there are those who purchase it. What things do you produce from the sea... besides lobster?
What we bring in from the sea are fish: king mackerel, shark, pona, deda (large shellfish), sokiñe (sea urchin), octopus, that's the produce we receive from the sea. The part of that we'll sell, and the rest will be our food to eat. We'll purchase clothes and other necessities with those we sell.

Are those sold on site? Is there a purchaser who comes there, or do you take them to some place like Tsihombe or wherever you sell them?
Coming in from the sea there is someone there to purchase, who does ma te mañefa (take on consignment), which they'll take to Tsihombe; coming back from Tsihombe having sold they will return our share in cash to us. That's when we receive our money and can buy our food. And so we go again the next day, and they may give us a loan, having some cash in hand that they received from the selling, which they will advance to us. And they will take that, and on their return pay up, and from that balance will we purchase the kapaoke.

For you then, what produces best for you, working the sea, or farm work?
What produces best for me? Agriculture will produce the best for me, if the rains come. For the sea is not the same, there's that wind, there's those stormy seas; that cuts out days; but farming doesn't leave out days, if the rains come it just continues and provides our livelihood.

Of your family here, are there those that go? Those that migrate far away?
Most of our family are at pay (have migrated for work), we are only a few who remain here, most are gone, we are few.

What do you think about those who migrate?
About those who go away for work: I don't know, but they say they've gone to make a living, to gather wealth, to find for them to eat. It's because they don't know how to farm here that they migrate, so my thoughts are, given I know how to cultivate that I'll continue in those fields, in the sea.  But for those that go to find jobs, it's to clothe and feed themselves, to supply what they wear, what bothers them - that's why they migrate.

Have you migrated?
I have not yet gone to find work. That is, I have travelled there, but only to visit family who were working there. I went because I was lonely without them, and they gave me cash, gave me clothes, and food to be eaten here, and then I left for home, and got back to my work in the fields, my work at sea, having returned from there.

Have you been to Llakake (the sapphire mines)?
I have not been to Llakake yet.

So it's to get out of poverty that they've migrated, is that how you see it?
My thoughts are that they want to leave that suffering. Maybe I'll live [better] if I go, they say. Having worked there, they'll return and purchase cattle, purchase fields, they'll buy all kinds of things, whatever they need to live. It was to get out of his earlier frustration that he went, and free of that he returns.

Is that pretty important, possessing cattle?
To me having cattle is very important, like when my father died, it was cattle that buried him, that's why cattle are important; when the drought comes, we sell the ox so that we might buy the kapoake. That's why the possession of cattle is important to me.

You also raise animals?
I raise them but they (the cattle) are gone, now sheep remain for me to raise. For our land is never free of drought, and we can't neglect to purchase food, and with remaining [animals], those sheep... We purchase those as savings, and when there isn't enough for those, say [only] 6000 [ariary], we purchase chickens as savings, and when those chickens increase to five, we can sell those, receiving about 25000 which gets us one sheep. Then raising the sheep, birthing, birthing, we achieve five of those, we'll sell those five for a single ox. That's our animal husbandry.

Do you have an association, or are you a member of an association?
There is no association and I'm not in any association.

Is there not an association here?
There is an association, active, but just beginning; an association for working on the sand dunes, a cooperative working on that dune. That's the first one, but it will continue. Then there will be a fishing association but that's just in writing now (collecting names, signatures).

Now that Dune Association, what are they doing?
Like that Dune Association, they'll work today, having been given tree seedlings which we plant, and planting lalandañe (beach creeper), and planting halamavo (leguminous shrub). After a day of that we receive 2000, as soon as we come back from work we reach that 2000.

Per person.
Per person... now for me, in that dune work, I plant four filao seedlings, and in planting those, it's my responsibility also to erect a fence of shrubs around each, so that it is not inundated by that dune, and I'll surround it with halamavo so that seeds of that halamavo will pop out to grow then to assist the filao to hold down the dune.

How do you hear news? By what means do you hear the news?
For us our hearing of news is by radio. Like that announcement back then about the cyclone, and we didn't go because of the warning. It prepared us so we just stayed home and tied down the house in the village. So it's the radio that we hear that.

You don't have another way to get the news apart from the radio? Like friends?
The second way we get news is this cell phone. The cell phone brings us news. We may hear from our distant family, that such and such will happen, there will be a strong wind, with heavy rains, we're preparing here, you also ought to prepare. That's how we hear that.

Now if there is a problem in your life, worries, some thoughts, then who do you share that with, how do you go about it?
Let's say I have a problem, my wife and I are fighting, I go then to meet with one of our elders, an elder of our family, telling him about our problem, the argument I'm having with my wife, he then guides, he counsels my wife and he counsels me. He removes my problem and removes the problem between my wife and me, we are then free of our problem, the elder helped free us of that problem.

Now let's say you have a personal worry, or you have a plan, with whom will you talk about it?
So let's say I have a plan, I want to build a house, or another project like purchasing a field; first I'll share it with my wife, then I'll take it to an elder so that it becomes clear with me, that'll ripen my plan, all my plans go through the elders.

Who is your model here, the one you'd like to emulate?
The one who is my model is my grand-father... my raza, for he's old and has seen all the successful ways of our forefathers, I want to copy his ways. He'll teach, "This is the way we made it work out before." And I'll follow that. "Get yourselves out of drinking alcohol, for that has ruined many before," and we follow that, for all his advice is sound. He is the old one.

Now beyond your farming and fishing, what is it that you do for relaxation, for vacation, outside of that farming, husbandry, and fishing?
So, when the rains don't come, the seas are high, then we sit around repairing our equipment that we take to sea, either improving what's there or making new; or we'll seek out a friend and do debà (converse); we'll weave new nets in anticipation of calm seas, we'll make spades, and the women, our wives will weave mats, all those are side tasks, waiting for the days that don't permit work out there.

You don't have other work, I mean play, that you do to spend the day?
We might play cards or dominoes to while away the time.

When will you do those things?
It will be when the rains don't come. When there are strong winds, when we're not in the fields at noon; that's when we'll do it.

Who would you call rarake (truly poor) among your people?
Who of our community that is called rarake: a person that has nothing. In our family, all of my elder relatives, have [animals], I do not have, I only have sheep, they all have cattle, have 10 have five, have six, I only have two sheep, one, so I will be called rarake by them.

So who do you call having and who do you call rarake, in terms of poverty?
To distinguish between haves and the have-nots , let's say someone dies here, so we'll attend that [wake], driving our flocks, and the ones that possess will kill an ox. They prance around, flaunt, parade, because he has; and all the participants will know that that person has, but I who they call rarake will come to the havoria (wake) bringing nothing, and sit in the back, for I can't flaunt, or parade, I have nothing. And the people will say "That guy over there has nothing, he's rarake". That's what differentiates the haves and the have-nots.

But you have two sheep, or one, but alongside of you there is one without anything, not even a chicken, who'd be the one you'd call rarake now?
We would call the one who has nothing at all the rarake.

Do you have any like that among you?
We do have among us one that has not yet anything at all, not even a chicken.

What brings a person to that lot, considering that if they try they might have a sheep as you do?
What brought them to that, they have too many worries, are raising too many children, there were burials that followed one after another, like ours, [and] was exhausted. And being single that person having many mouths to feed, can't get much farming done, and whatever cultivation is done will be consumed rapidly by all these children and there is no surplus to sell, that she could buy, and raise up to buy an ox, but the children eat it all. So this person is forever humbled and never has enough, that of the single person with many children.

So it's a woman who's poor among you?
Women are the poor among us here. Her husband died and she couldn't raise herself out of it. Whatever she does is to raise those small children, to raise them to be able to support her. Some of them will migrate to replace that spade, to replace those cattle spent on the burial of her husband.

You then, if you compare your status of living with those around you, how do you compare?
If I compare the livelihood (standard of living) of me and my wife, we may not be equal to the livelihood of the mpañarivo (literally: having 1000; wealthy person), he will not be equal to me who has one [animal]. He's too high, being clean, and eating well. He doesn't need to seek far but finds what he needs in his corral. But my wife and I are rarake, and it's what we acquire by our sweat today that feeds us tonight. But that one out there, doesn't have to seek far but takes out of his corral, sells it, not being like us, he can eat in peace, for my wife and I it's by the dropping of our sweat that we have something to eat in the evening.

How do you see it for you and your wife now, are you truly rarake or has there been some improvement?
We had really been poor but we are not so badly off now, we are improving little by little. For she sells, and the income from her selling purchases us food. And it's from my cultivating, my income from fishing, that we'll purchase chickens, or sheep; so we are improving, we're rising.

So what do you do when a problem comes along, during a drought, or someone becomes ill, how do you manage that?
When one of our family is sick, we'll extract one of our sheep and sell it, and cash is what we'll take against that, or during drought, it's what we saved from [the sale of] that sheep that feeds us during the drought. Just as with the case of the sick, it's with what we've saved from that sheep that we face that [sickness], until we can restore that again.

Now what does the poor person do, the one who has no chicken or sheep, how do they face such times?
What the person does who has not even a chicken will be to say to the one who has, "Please give me one thing, one sheep, so that I can sell to take my child to the doctor." So the one who has, it being but a small portion of his 10 cattle, will have compassion on this one and give her a sheep. So the one who borrowed the sheep will take it to market to sell, which she will take to save her sick one. Then she goes on living and working to acquire again what she borrowed and bring it to him saying, "Here is what I borrowed from you."

You trust each other here.
We trust each other because we are all one.

No one does vola-mitombo (literally: growing money; a saving system) here?
We don't usually have a harvest here that allows us to invest in vola-mitombo. That is usually done in Tsihombe, but that's far from us. Here then we just all make an effort but do not save in vola mitombo.

For your family, have you faced a time when there was nothing to eat, a real drought that affected you?
There was a time like that.

In 1986. I wasn't married yet, but that was with me and my younger siblings. We were caught in a massive drought in 1986, so what we ate then was raketa (prickly pear) pads. We'd break off the spiny raketa pads and burn off the spines. My mother would cook that and divide it out one to each. Those beañe (a shrub with a swollen root) in the field, we'd dig them up and eat them during the drought. There was nothing growing at all in the fields at that time.

How old were you then?
I was three years old.

Now for your household now, have you undergone a time like that?
There has not been, no famine on that level has happened to us. For now there is food to buy.

How many meals would you take in a day, then or now that you can purchase?
We'd eat only once per day, in the evening.

We would not eat at noon.

And when you have raketa as now?
We would eat the raketa at noon, and eat in the evening.

Is that raketa sold for food, or do you eat the raketa?  I don't know.
There is among us one who sells raketa, and we use that income to purchase fresh manioc, that's our noon meal, what remains will purchase corn to be eaten in the evening.

Regarding your livelihood, what are your thoughts and dreams about where you'll be in 10 years?
My thoughts, what I dream of and think of is that at that time I'll be older, will have changed my position, I'll be older, having many children, and my children will all know something, they will all be in school, there will have been some progress.

In that progress: explain what that progress will look like to you, how you'll be living 10 years from now.
What I dream is that I'll be big, I'll have possessions, because I'll have grown children who will support me.

Why is it that you can dream your children will support you?
They will learn; get an education so they can work. I will teach them so that they can also work, then they can work for me.  And as for my dreams, I believe I'll have cattle, about 20 then. My thoughts are to build a stone house, to have a sarete (ox-cart), like other people; I'll buy fields, to have about five; purchase a team of oxen to work my field. That's my dream for 10 years from now.

And what do you dream for the life of your children? Will you put them into your kind of work, or what are your thoughts?
What I'll do with my children, if I'm still living, is to have them go through school first; I won't let them cavort as I did, that was stupid. I want them to be like others, to know how to write their names.  And if there is someone available to have them wed, that they might have someone to lean on, to become accustomed to life, to get used to suffering, to strive for a living also. That'll be later.

What advice would you give to your sister or brother for the future?
The advice I'd give my sister and brother is [do] agriculture and find a paying job, for without pay you won't arrive at all that, but if one works for pay, sells, does field work, plants, to face the future. That's what advice I'd give my brother, my sister, or my friend… I'd also advise my brother and sister that in order to face the future, they should not drink strong drinks, for when I was in that, I used to hit people, I'd ruin people's things. So I'd warn my brother and sister not to wander, or cavort, not to drink liquor for all that was to my disadvantage.

But [to] stave off famine, as soon as it rains, grab a spade, cultivate, and plant, and when you have a harvest, divide it, selling part, and putting away part. And when the sun is high go to the sea and dive for fish, for deda, for octopus, and sell those for food, while waiting for the crops. And as soon as it rains, don't loiter but plant, and [with] what you reap purchase cattle; and if you can't afford an ox immediately purchase a chicken first, until your livelihood is raised, so when you have many chickens buy a sheep, five will purchase a sheep if there's a purchaser. The sheep will continue to bear, and the farming will continue as the rains come; and with any profit, purchase sheep to add to those already there. When you have a number of sheep, clear them out for an ox, three sheep do not equal an ox. The cattle is heavier (worth more).

That's what I'd warn my sister and brother about how they could face the future, because it's like what happened to me. And indeed I'd warn them about that wandering and drinking, for when I did that I had nothing in the corral, not even a chicken; not until getting out of that drinking did I have a sheep. That's what I'd teach them. For that drinking! I hit a person and they bled, I had to take out a sheep to sacrifice against the spilled blood, then when that blood redemption was complete, I had to sell my cow to support his care in the hospital. I who wounded him had to take it out, remove it from my corral. Then come the police to investigate that incident and out comes another ox to pay them. That's what I hate about that drinking, it gets one into all kinds of trouble. On the other hand, if one is able to save in animals, he always has recourse to extract from what he's saved. If you are sick, not as a result of cavorting with drink, but from some disease, then you'll take out a sheep and sell it; that'll bring 20,000 ariary which may cover that illness, but if it's insufficient for the disease you'll take out another for treatment. That's available to you if you're smart.

Now if you were in charge of a development project here in your community, what work would you think of doing?
If I were the director, given that raketa-mena (red prickly pear) are becoming thick here, I'd suggest we clean that out first. I'd also ask for a clinic, for we are far from any clinic, those are what I'd do first. Then I'd try to set up an association of fishermen, for there'd be money in that, and I'd like a canoe, we'd ask for a net, we'd ask for masks, we'd ask for fishing line, that's what I'd request for our association. For such an association might improve us.

Let's say you were the leader of development for all of Faux Cap, then what would you propose?
If I were the leader of development for the commune of Faux Cap, I'd create that association first. Then we'd do work on the land, the fatherland, on those sand dunes, making an association out of the whole family.

Remember, you're leading the whole commune of Faux Cap.
We'd acquire land for a large field that could be done cooperatively, then any harvest from that associated field would go into a cash account, and we'd send that as seed money to get more work for the future.

What would those future projects be?
Like the planting of coconuts, of shade trees; like that project done by FED when they gave ploughs and cattle, and seed, and we worked it, and with the proceeds we purchased cattle and divided it among the participants. That's the kind of thing I'd like to do as leader of Faux Cap.

And that work on the dunes by an association, what kind of work would you do?
After that we would clean up that raketa-mena for it's a weed taking over our country. That's what we'd do, for it is squeezing this country of ours. That's what we'd request that we'd work, that we'd do cooperatively.  And on those dunes, we'd advise the people, saying, "This is what we'll plant so our country will not be buried." Then we'd plant those things, all the fokontany would have a share in killing that dune.

What would you plant?
We'd plant lalanda (dune creeper), hery (sisal, short tough variety), we'd plant amatse (a native euphorbia: stenoclada), the latter to prevent the lalanda being buried by the wind.  And if a vazaha (foreigner) saw that and wanted to assist we'd receive that, otherwise we'd continue to work anyway to protect our fatherland.2

For you, then, by what criteria would you state that a person has succeeded?
To measure success, among all of us residing here? We all cultivate. Mine doesn't produce but his does, he sells his and receives two head of cattle; mine only let's me find something to eat today. We'd plant again, once more he'd add an ox, and mine will still be just enough for the daily food. He has three head now and I have none but we both cultivated. He got wealthy, mine was what would suffice for the day. And I would say, "He's made it, having gained cattle."

Now not only in agriculture but in other ways, how might he be successful?
Like in our fishing, or in my going to market, I purchase corn at 400 [ariary] in the market and sell it back here at 600, the balance is mine, and I'd put that 200 profit of mine in the house. I'd take that 400 and go to Faux Cap to purchase sorghum, I'd buy that sorghum and bring it home. Here someone would purchase that for 800, now I'd take my 400 profit from that and put it with the 200 profit I'd made on the corn. I'd put those together, and take this 400 again to turn over, I'd use that 400 to purchase raketa, and returning here it would be sold for 1000; for in buying it there we can get six for 50 or seven for 50, and here I'd make it four for 50. I'd put that profit from the raketa with the other savings and only carry the 400. I'll continue like that, just turning over the 400. Once that savings had grown, I'd put it together towards an ox. I'd say: "That 400 bought me an ox." And I'd continue to treat that 400 the same way towards when I could purchase another ox.

Who can you point to in your community that you can say has succeeded?
Who I can point to as being successful are: Manjomana, and Bokely, and Tsotso, and Filipo.

What made Bokely successful?
Bokely's success comes from his children, he has children away at work.

How many?
Four men migrated. They send money to him, they sell, and send their profit to their father, he then purchases cattle, builds a house, buys a sarete and a lasary (a plough). And they continue to sell. Occasionally they'll come down to check on their father, and return again. He has now purchased a vehicle, that's the one they're christening over there.

Do you have hopes of becoming like them?
I do have hopes of becoming like them, of equal status. What I'll do to become like them, you see I have a wife, and I have my wife to go selling, I paddle, and won't give my produce to anyone but my wife, then she buys oil and fries those fish, to sell. So the margin doesn't go to the mpanao kinanga (middleman) but stays with us. We set apart the value of the fish, that which would be the profit, and set apart also the cost of the oil. Three accounts, that which was our part is extracted for food, but the profit is not touched but saved to add to tomorrow's profit. If that continues for some time, I may be able to be like him, say my thoughts.

Can you think of something in your lifetime that really brought you joy?
What really brought me happiness was my getting out of drinking, for during that time I was often charged falsely and taken advantage of, and after I left it, even the young children will say when meeting me, "Hello, Sir", now that I'm not on the bottle. That's when I could reflect on how happy I was in leaving that liquor behind. For liquor didn't do anything good for me but only caused the loss of cattle, through my stupidity, so we have improved a lot since then.

Now my wife knows how to sell and I know how to work, but when I was in the midst of that liquor I couldn't think to do right, and didn't want my wife selling, and if she did, I'd spend her profits on liquor; and we were constantly in affliction. But having dropped that we could purchase chickens with her profit, and from chickens to sheep, those sheep might also bring an ox, but they are just lambing. But in the drinking I accomplished nothing, but just my foolishness. And losing all my cattle for wounding people, [and having to make] the sacrifice [of that sheep], and I say: "It was great that I left that liquor behind."

Perhaps there is something we haven't discussed, that I didn't ask but that would add to our conversation?
What I'd like to reinforce in all of that conversation, to all those words, the first would be that canoe, for that's the basis of our livelihood, that's equipment that I'd really like to see arrive, a canoe and a net. For those are the tools of the trade, we get up early, at cockcrow, for we are 3 km from the sea, and arriving there, the canoes are not ours but belong to the wealthy and sometimes we have to return home, not having a place in the canoe. Occasionally we will get a seat, and go out. That's why I say the canoe is important in what I talked about, and a net.

Thank you then for giving your time for this interview which has been just about an hour, but before closing I'd like to ask you your name, what's your name again?
My name is Ranaivo Jean Noelson,

And you're how old?
I'm 23 years old.

And the name of your village here?

Any nicknames?
They call me Saboala.

Do you accept that your interview be included in the report being prepared by IFAD regarding rural poverty for this year of 2010? That it be published?
I accept.

Is there something in what we've said that you'd not like to publicize?
No, I'd like all of that to get out, to be known by people.

In whose name would you like to register this interview?
In the name of the one who interviewed me.

Do you approve that your picture be taken and accompany this report?
I approve.

Would you like a copy of what we've done, on paper or on CD?
I would like one.

Paper or CD?

That's it then and thank you for enduring with me through this interview.

1/ Average exchange rate (1996 ariary = 1US$), November 2009, Interbank rate, source: www.oanda.com

2/ For the Tandroy, fatherland is not a general term as it is for others, it means specifically the land on which the ancestors are interred; where their graves are.