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Beyond the Lens of Conservation: Malagasy and Swiss Imaginations of One Another

Eva Keller
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 258
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  • Book Info
    Beyond the Lens of Conservation
    Book Description:

    The global agenda of Nature conservation has led to the creation of the Masoala National Park in Madagascar and to an exhibit in its support at a Swiss zoo, the centerpiece of which is a mini-rainforest replica. Does such a cooperation also trigger a connection between ordinary people in these two far-flung places? The study investigates how the Malagasy farmers living at the edge of the park perceive the conservation enterprise and what people in Switzerland see when looking towards Madagascar through the lens of the zoo exhibit. It crystallizes that the stories told in either place have almost nothing in common: one focuses on power and history, the other on morality and progress. Thus, instead of building a bridge, Nature conservation widens the gap between people in the North and the South.

    eISBN: 978-1-78238-553-0
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements/Fisaorana
    (pp. ix-xi)
  5. Notes on Text
    (pp. xii-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    All over Madagascar, small stores sell condensed milk produced by the Swiss company Nestlé. Once the content has been consumed, often to sweeten coffee, the tin itself embarks on a long life as a measuring cup. Nestlé’s condensed milk tins have been used for decades in Madagascar for measuring rice and almost any other non-liquid product fitting into a can — a little bit of Switzerland in Madagascar. Travelling from south to north, on the other hand, litchis from Madagascar’s east coast have been selling in Swiss supermarkets for many years, now being regularly offered to consumers from December to February...

  7. Part I

    • Chapter 1 A Virtual Tour through Little Masoala
      (pp. 23-57)

      The Masoala exhibit at the zoo in Zurich opened in 2003 and was welcomed by the Swiss press with enthusiasm and praise. On the day of its inauguration, the renownedNeue Zürcher Zeitungdedicated a special section of eight pages of text and photographs to it.¹ Sometimes, the greenhouse harbouring a mini quasi-replication of the Masoala rainforest is affectionately referred to by zoo staff and in the press as ‘Little Masoala’ as opposed to ‘Big Masoala’, the real rainforest in Madagascar. The term ‘Little Masoala’ was apparently coined by members of the Malagasy delegation who took part in the opening...

    • Chapter 2 Intention and Perception
      (pp. 58-68)

      One cannot assume that the messages the zoo intends to transmit to visitors are what they actually ‘take home’. This chapter therefore draws attention to questions regarding the relationship between the intention of messages and their perception.

      The first section reviews the messages that the zoo intends to get across to the general public and to visitors of the Masoala exhibit. Keeping in mind the contents of the tunnel, the greenhouse and the information centre, I investigate this issue by looking at various print and online publications by the zoo in which it explicates its mission and goals. Other possible...

    • Chapter 3 Zooming In on Morality
      (pp. 69-78)

      Before examining, in this and the following two chapters, visitors’ perceptions of the Masoala exhibit at Zurich zoo, it is useful to briefly give some information about their background.

      I am not aware of any available systematic information as to which socio-economic groups tend to visit the Zurich zoo, or Swiss zoos in general. The European Association of Zoos and Aquariums, EAZA, has launched a ‘Visitors Studies Working Group’, but there are no results available as of yet (EAZA 2010: 11– 13; 2011). International studies suggest that ‘by and large, museum visitors are of higher than average socio-economic level. These...

    • Chapter 4 A Kind of People
      (pp. 79-92)

      Approaching visitors at various points in and directly outside of the Masoala exhibit, I engaged them in conversations about their understanding of the purpose of Little Masoala, as well as asking their thoughts about Madagascar and the Malagasy people. My questions brought to the surface slumbering ideas and images and, at the same time, revealed what visitors donotseem to reflect about in connection with the exhibit. When I asked visitors, without any further specification, what came to mind when they thought of Madagascar, references to lush rainforests and rare, endangered animals came bubbling out and were quite obviously...

    • Chapter 5 The Coconut Schema
      (pp. 93-112)

      In the previous chapter I discussed how human beings are rarely part of the mental images that easily spring to mind when people think of Madagascar and that when pushed to reflect about the human population of Madagascar, adults and children tend to view the Malagasy people in generic terms as representing a ‘kind’. In this chapter I want to investigate how, exactly, this kind is imagined. I will do so by looking at the evidence from discussions with pupils. Between June 2006 and December 2009, and again in 2012, I worked with a total of twenty-seven school classes in...

    • Extract from ‘Marrakech’, written by George Orwell in 1939
      (pp. 113-114)

      All people who work with their hands are partly invisible, and the more important the work they do, the less visible they are. Still, a white skin is always fairly conspicuous. In northern Europe, when you see a labourer ploughing a field, you probably give him a second glance. In a hot country, anywhere south of Gibraltar and east of Suez, the chances are that you don’t even see him. I have noticed this again and again. In a tropical landscape one’s eye takes in everything except the human beings. It takes in the dried-up soil, the prickly pear, the...

  8. Part II

    • Chapter 6 Living with the Masoala National Park
      (pp. 117-152)

      This book tells two stories about how the Masoala partnership project between the park management in Madagascar and the zoo in Zurich is perceived by ‘ordinary’ people at both its ends, and what it entails in terms of these people’s mutual imaginations of one another. The first part has examined what visitors to the zoo’s Masoala exhibit reflect about when they look at the project as it is presented to them at the zoo. In this second part of the book we move to Masoala itself, investigating what it is that the people on the peninsula perceive when they look...

    • Chapter 7 The Banana Plant and the Moon
      (pp. 153-172)

      In an article about the nature of Malagasy kinship (and kinship theory, more generally), Rita Astuti introduces readers to Dadilahy, an old man coming to the end of a long life. In Dadilahy’s view of kinship, he has contributed to the generation of a great many descendants. This makes him happy and gives him a sense of having led a successful life. In his vision of who his children are, Dadilahy includes not only his own sons and daughters, their children and grandchildren, and so on, but also the descendants of his brothers and sisters as well as of other...

    • Chapter 8 The Island of the Wanderer
      (pp. 173-184)

      The Island of the Wanderer, Nosin-dRendra, is a tiny islet offshore a small village that lies between Ambanizana and Marofototra, a few hours’ walk from each. If there were a path, one could walk around it in ten minutes. The trees and thicket covering it hide from the gaze of those who have no business coming here a small clearing on which there is a burial site containing the post-mortem homes of several dozen ancestors belonging to different kin groups. As Nosin-dRendra is all rock, nobody has ever lived there – except for ‘the wanderer’.

      A long time ago, local people...

    • Chapter 9 Who Are ‘They’?
      (pp. 185-196)

      There is an overwhelming sense among the population in both Ambanizana and Marofototra that those who represent the park (ny parc) have come to Masoala in order to appropriate the peninsula’s vast tracts of forested land, thereby taking away from the local people the basis of their livelihood. Some people phrase it even more harshly, stating that the sole purpose of the park was to render local people poor. The intentions, in other words, of those behindny parcare fairly clear in the eyes of the farmers who live in its vicinity.

      At the same time, it is far...

    • Chapter 10 Historical Reflections
      (pp. 197-215)

      The perception of the Masoala National Park as a threat to local people’s present and future livelihoods is quasi-universally shared in the villages of Ambanizana and Marofototra. Some people, however, express an even more drastic fear of what the park might entail.

      Papan’ i Lucien was a very old and frail man. His ID-card states that he was born ‘vers1922’. When he was young, he had to carry out forced labour duties under the supervision of Senegalese soldiers of the French colonial army.¹ They were constructing a road connecting two administrative centres. Large stones had to be extracted from...

  9. Conclusions
    (pp. 216-224)

    The Masoala rainforest conservation project is conceptualised by park managers in Madagascar and zoo managers in Switzerland as a partnership between ‘Big Masoala’ – the park in Madagascar – and ‘Little Masoala’ in Zurich. The project is represented as creating a connection not only between two geographically very distant places but also between the people living in these places. In this book, I have examined the nature of this connection as it is perceived by ‘ordinary folk’ at both ends of the partnership. I have examined what and who visitors to the Zurich zoo’s Masoala exhibit reflect about when they look at...

  10. References
    (pp. 225-238)
  11. Index
    (pp. 239-244)