By Cara Brook
“Mitovtovy James Bond,” says my colleague, Christian Ranaivoson, laughing as our taxi bumps along a dusty alleyway in the hot and dusty southwestern town of Morondava, Madagascar. We’ve left the Merin highlands for a brief spell to do reconnaissance on some bat-borne disease research we have planned in the upcoming year, and we’re in the land of the Sakalava Menabe now.
It’s Madagascar still but a whole different Madagascar from that which I’ve come to know these past few months—a land of dry heat and mosquito nets and sunsets over the Mozambique Channel. They call akondro (bananas) kida here, and trondro (fish) are fia, and these they eat in abundance, pulled straight out of the ocean and fried on the beach. Women wander about in brightly colored lambas and little else, and eery baobab trees tower overhead, and everywhere, the people whisper about dahalo.
Dahalo are the infamous Malagasy cattle thieves, and they arose originally in a sort of rite of passage in the southlands of Madagascar—a man could not take a woman’s hand in marriage until he had proven himself by stealing a neighbor’s cattle.
But what began as a boyish game has developed into a national crisis, as gangs of dahalo ransack villages, murder gendarmes, and drive stolen cattle en masse from the South east to Tamatave for forged documentation and then north to Antananarivo for sale.
And while the southern lands of the Bara people are still the hottest region for dahalo activity, reports of cattle thieving and growing gang-related violence have spread across the Malagasy countryside in recent years, and the western lands of Morondava are one of the new red zones for insecurité.
Even up north in Ambohitantely we received reports of dahalo activity. More....