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Why not marry them? History, essentialism and the condition of slave descendants among the southern Betsileo (Madagascar)

Regnier, Denis A. P. (2012) Why not marry them? History, essentialism and the condition of slave descendants among the southern Betsileo (Madagascar). PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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The thesis investigates the condition of slave descendants among the southern Betsileo of Madagascar. Unlike previous research, which has focused on the dependency of those slave descendants who stayed as share-croppers on their former masters’ land and on the discrimination against slave descent migrants, the present study focuses on a group of slave descendants, the Berosaiña, who own their land and have acquired autonomy and wealth. Based on fieldwork in a rural area south of Ambalavao, the thesis presents an ethnographic study of the ambivalent relations between the Berosaiña and their neighbours of free descent. It shows that the Berosaiña’s knowledge of local history and of their ancestor’s role in the region’s settlement is one of their key stakes in local politics, while the free descendants’ refusal to marry them is the most serious obstacle to their integration. A close study of slave descendants’ genealogies and of local marriage practices suggests that, although a few ‘unilateral’ marriages occurred, no ‘bilateral’ marriage between commoner descendants and the Berosaiña ever took place. After suggesting an explanation for the avoidance of marriage with the Berosaiña, the thesis proceeds by showing that the category ‘slaves’ is essentialized by commoner descendants. The essentialist construal of ‘slaves’, it is argued, is likely to have become entrenched only in the aftermath of the abolition of slavery, because the circumstances in which it occurred prevented a large number of freed slaves to be ritually cleansed and because a number of established cultural practices made it difficult for freed slaves to marry free people. Finally, the thesis analyses the peculiar predicament of the Berosaiña in light of the strict marriage avoidance observed by commoner descendants and of commoner descendants’ highly essentialized views about ‘slaves’.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2012 Denis A. P. Regnier
Library of Congress subject classification: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Supervisor: Astuti, Rita and Bloch, Maurice

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