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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:Who Killed 'Malagasy Cactus'? Science, Environment and Colonialism in Southern Madagascar (1924-1930)
Author:Middleton, Karen
Periodical:Journal of Southern African Studies
Geographic terms:Madagascar
Subjects:colonial conquest
edible plants
History and Exploration
Agriculture, Natural Resources and the Environment
External link:https://www.jstor.org/stable/2637601
Abstract:In the first decade of the 20th century, southern Madagascar remained outside French control. Dense stands of prickly pear cactus made access singularly difficult. The plant seized the colonial imagination as the symbol 'par excellence' for the 'anarchy' and 'impenetrability' of the Deep South. For the peoples of this arid region, the Malagasy cactus was a basic subsistence resource. Its eradication by a cochineal insect during the late 1920s, consequently, had a profound impact on the political economies in the region, causing extensive hardship to local peoples and their cattle. Yet the circumstances surrounding this event have never been explored in any depth. This paper initiates its study by examining the evidence for the allegations that have been made of complicity on the part of the French colonial regime. It explores conflicting discourses on Malagasy cactus that divided the colonial administration, demonstrating close links between the campaign to eradicate the plant and the 'social policy' that became dominant under Governor General Marcel Olivier (1924-1930). It reconstructs the history of the introduction and propagation of the insect, highlighting the role of ideologically motivated scientific advisors, like Perrier de la Bāthie and Georges Petit. The conclusion is that, on the one hand, the demise of the cactus appears highly motivated when viewed against colonial policy, on the other hand, a review of the scientific litterature suggests a strong element of contingency in the affair. Notes, ref., sum.