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Sacred hills of Imerina and the voyage of Ficus lutea Vahl (Amontana) in Madagascar

Aumeeruddy-Thomas, Yildiz, Rafidison, Verohanitra Miarivelomalala, Kjellberg, Finn, Hossaert-McKey, Martine
Acta oecologica 2018 v.90 pp. 18-27
Ficus, case studies, coasts, habitats, hills, human settlements, humans, landscapes, motivation, ownership, planting, politics, rural communities, trees, urban areas, women, Madagascar
Humans have favored the presence of Ficus species within anthropogenic landscapes and near human settlements throughout the planet due to a number of beliefs and for practical purposes. An intimate or mutualistic relationship between Ficus spp and human societies has been suggested but explanations about the motivations of these proximities between humans and Ficus remain very fragmentary. The case study presented in this paper, which was conducted in the sacred hills located in the surroundings of an urban area, Antananarivo, capital city of Madagascar, inhabited by the Merina, aims at finding some answers to the following two questions. To what extent are Ficus species integrated into the ecologies of human groups, understood here as interactions between humans (social, political and economic dimensions)? 2) Do humans introduce Ficus species into new habitats, potentially offering new ecological opportunities? This study builds on initial work conducted in Madagascar in the region of Fianarantsoa in Betsileo rural communities. Results shown in this paper suggest that: 1) the kings of Imerina, the region located in the north-eastern part of the High Plateau of Madagascar, have planted Ficus species abundantly, especially Ficus lutea Vahl and Ficus. polita Vahl, to claim ownership upon new territories of the Imerina and symbolically establish their political hegemony. Marriages with women from non-Merina cultural groups, such as the Sakalava inhabiting the Western Coast, and the use of Ficus species as symbols of power has contributed, with other activities, to the unification process of Madagascar; 2) The ecological distribution of F. lutea has been substantially manipulated by people from Imerina by planting this species quite abundantly in the sacred hills surrounding Antananarivo, an area where this species is at its ecological limit of distribution and also in faraway places such as the Western coast where the tree is not naturally distributed.