Of Silver, of Scars

The Silence of Historical Trauma among
the Antankarana of Northern Madagascar


In Madagascar, silence surrounding colonial trauma has justified “positive” relations between the Antankarana people and the French by displacing blame onto the hegemonic Merina ethnic group, preventing the establishment of a cohesive nation-state.  Based on ethnographic research conducted in the city of Ambilobe in 2015, this study explores how collective Antankarana memory is passed down through normalized sensory experience, or silenced by lack thereof.  While memory of the Merina conquest is embodied, the trauma of French colonization has been abstracted from the body by its absence in Malagasy ancestral systems.  In addition, the encroachment of visual technologies introduced with European presence on the island has impacted how traumatic memories from different eras are embodied and remembered differently.  As this study shows how the embodiment of historical trauma may shape post-colonial ethnic relations, it calls for attention to the body’s daily interaction with memory and systems of power in the movement toward decolonization.

[Opening Excerpt]

I opened the gate to the apartment compound to find Angelique crouched just inside the shadow of her doorstep, her pink cheetah-print dress hiked around her knees as she perched on a low wooden bench.  Her arms stretched taut in front of her as she ground a halved coconut shell against the metal coil extending from the bench, freeing the crisp meat in wrinkled confetti.  Her eyeliner was smeared with sweat and her hair pulled into a thick bun, waiting to be rewoven by Anzela.  Angelique’s hands never stopped their work, but she offered a smiling Mbola tsara! inviting me to sit.  As she balanced in a familiar squat, a pale, pocked scar unfurled across the length of her folded leg, crossing from her ankle to thigh.  Though its moment of origin is likely forgotten each time she crouches to grind coconut meat, to sweep beneath the bed, to chat with friends on doorsteps, that moment has nonetheless left a permanent scar she carries with her.  When Angelique stood, it scattered into clusters of pale pink blotches that disappeared beneath the bright folds of her cheetah-print dress.

In some ways, it is easier to see bits of history littered around as an outsider—images of the taxi-brousse windshield lying shattered in the ditch or the steel guardrail folded neatly over the bridge’s edge immediately conjure up their tragedies.  But day by day, these past traumas are habituated into daily life by people who live in their presence—women hang laundry over the twisted guardrail; children collect the blue shards of glass to attach to their hand-made trucks.  These events slip gradually into the cracks of everyday awareness, gently molding a new landscape on which the the world will operate. […]

Full text available at Davidson College Archives & Special Collections Digital Repository


2017 Annual Student Paper Award, Southern Anthropological Society Conference
Paper: “Scars that Shimmy and Sing: How Antankarana Historical Trauma is Communicated through the Salegy”

2017 High Honors Thesis, Davidson College
Thesis: “Of Silver, of Scars: The Silence of Historical Trauma among the Antankarana of Northern Madagascar”

2017 Franz Boas Award, Davidson College Anthropology Department
Awarded to anthropology graduate who best exemplifies leadership, intellectual curiosity, and ethical concerns for all humanity