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Restoring Dignity in Rural and Urban Madagascar

On How Religion Creates New Life-stories


Marianne Skjortnes

Christian churches across the world such as the Lutheran church in Madagascar have long been engaged in what we would today term «development». The church has been deeply involved in humanitarian assistance and development work, especially in the areas of education and health. Restoring Dignity in Rural and Urban Madagascar analyzes this phenomenon and presents stories of human dignity in the lives of the people in this society, a society that survives in a context of vulnerability, both social and economic. The stories show how everyday life is lived despite unfulfilled needs and when decent living conditions are but a dream. The book is primarily concerned with a commitment to Christianity in a changing society and focuses on church members’ experiences of the development work of the Lutheran church in their everyday lives. Christian faith and Christian values such as human dignity, ethics, and belonging represent added values to these people and express value systems that are tied to ethical reflection and moral action. For those who choose to participate in the church’s development work and spiritual activity, therefore, new ethical standards and norms are created. This approach challenges the traditional emphasis on cultural continuity thinking to explain the sudden change in values that people say that they have experienced.
The book will be essential assigned reading in university courses in development studies, anthropology, and missiology.
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Chapter 4. Bara Becoming Malagasy: A Story of Change in Southwestern Madagascar


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It was the day that a messenger from the village Androkombato stormed into my family’s residence in order to tell me that the village head had died that I understood that I was reckoned as a member of the village and family fellowship, as one of them. During the two years previous to this event, I had spent a lot of time together with the inhabitants of the village, and had gained more and more respect for the Bara as people and for their lifestyle. This laid the foundation for my relationship to this group, a relationship that has continued to be part of my life since then. In the spring of 2012 I again did fieldwork among the Bara.

The Bara group lives in the Ihorombe region, in the central, southern part of Madagascar, one of the 22 administrative regions of the country. The area lies between the central agricultural areas in the northern highlands and the dry savanna areas in the southwestern parts of the island. It comprises the three districts Ihosy, Ivohibe and Iakora.

The Bara area has the lowest population density on the island, with around 6.5 inhabitants per square kilometer (Plan Regional de Developpement Ihorombe 2005, 27). According to population statistics from 2001,← 61 | 62 → there were at that time around 206,000 inhabitants in the region.25 About 85% of the Bara population live...

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