Spiritual Roots of the Land

Hierarchy and Relationships of the Religious Cosmologies of Humans and Their Environment in the Maroantsetra Region of Madagascar

in Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology
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The spiritual cosmology for the local Betsimisaraka and Tsimihety in the Maroantsetra region, northeastern Madagascar, is a complex network of actors struggling between good and evil. The spiritual pantheon of this cosmology intervenes in the daily lives of all Malagasy and mediates their relationship with their environment. The purpose of this report is to describe the relationships and hierarchies in the spiritual cosmology and explain how this cosmology and moral framework of good versus evil affect human-environment interactions. Local people and the spiritual cosmology are mutually constitutive, where local people’s belief and sacrifice for the spiritual realm perpetuates its existence, while the spiritual cosmology shapes local identities and creates a unique sense of place and interaction with the environment. It is critical for conservation managers to understand local people’s cosmology because it speaks directly to the ways in which they value the land. Local people find the land to be both productive in its utility and also a space of spiritual communion and moral structure. Without this recognition, conservation managers cannot hope to engage local people in protecting forested areas when the value system incentivizing protection is highly divergent. This is not a call to use local people’s spiritual beliefs to further the goals of conservation. Rather, it is my hope that conflicts may be avoided by conservation managers understanding sources of potential tension, synergy and solidarity based on divergent conceptions of ecological, productive and spiritual functions of the land.

Spiritual Roots of the Land

Hierarchy and Relationships of the Religious Cosmologies of Humans and Their Environment in the Maroantsetra Region of Madagascar

in Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology

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    Figure 1

    Map of the Maroantsetra region including the Makira Natural Park and Masoala National Park. Maroantsetra is centrally located between the Makira Natural Park and Masoala National Park. This region is characterized by littoral, lowland and mid-altitude rainforests and an agriculture-forest matrix surrounding multitudes of community settlements.

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    Figure 2

    Conceptual diagram of the spiritual cosmology in Madagascar. There are human and spiritual entities that have unique roles within the traditional religion of Maroantsetra region in Madagascar. In general, sprits are more powerful than all humans. In the spiritual pantheon, good may evolve into evil but not vice versa.

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