A Study of the Supernatural and Natural Causal Models of the Success and Failure of the Malagasy People

Tucker et. al. tried to evaluate whether Madagascar people lean more heavily toward target-dependent thinking (using natural and supernatural both as causes for different circumstances or in different contexts), synthetic thinking (natural and supernatural causes co exist and both can be used to explain circumstances), or integrative thinking (supernatural causes influence natural causes). Each study asked questions about subsistence differently and recorded answers, then compared them to the researcher’s original predictions, and then came to a conclusion based on their findings that explains how Madagascar people understand the world around them.

In order to properly understand the way the Malagasy, specifically in the Southwest, see their world in relation to this study, a bit of background is important. Identity is fluid for these people, because while people who identify as Masikoro are farmers, herders, and savanna dwellers, Mikea is the term usually given to forest hunter-gatherers, and Vezo are generally identified as coastal gatherers, fishermen, and sailors, there is a lot of overlap within the three classifications.

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The landscape that these people live varies immensely, with savanna, forest, and coast being very close together throughout the island. As far as their religious beliefs go, there are a lot of interactions with ancestors and spirits, not directly with their God. “Niceness” is considered worthy of reward and “meanness” is frowned upon.

Clan ceremonies and animal sacrifice are used to communicate with their spiritual world, with clan heads and diviners being important for these rites. More important to understanding this study is the concept of subsistence being a variable profession where flexibility is practical.

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According to an analysis of weather in the western Indian Ocean, seasonally reversing monsoons, the variability of an El Niño, the Madden-Julian Oscillation, tropical cyclones, and more make weather in the Indian Ocean especially variable and unpredictable, and have done so for quite some time according to records (Spencer, Variability, Interaction and Change in the Atmosphere-Ocean-Ecology System of the Western Indian Ocean).

However, Christopher Golden and Jean Comaroff did a study on food taboos (just as one example) in Madagascar, pointing out that many species are specifically meant to be avoided, because they “might connote toxicity, might be a sacrosanct symbol, might be an embodiment of human ancestry, or might have an inauspicious behavior or physical appearance” (Golden, The human health and conservation relevance of food taboos in northeastern Madagascar).

As Tucker also pointed out in his publication of his research results, in order to avoid bad spiritual fortune, a Malagasy individual “should observe dietary taboos, follow the astrological calendar of good and bad days for subsistence labor, respect elders and traditional magico-religious specialists, and not travel too far from the houses of the protective spiritual agents, in tombs, enchanted trees and rocks, and in the miniature houses that spirit mediums construct behind their homes” (Tucker et. al., “Ecological and Cosmological coexistence Thinking in a Hypervariable Environment, 3). Obviously, these two things contradict each other. What if one of the prohibited animals is all that is available at a time when food is direly needed? What if there is nothing to gather in the immediate area and traveling far would be the only to gather food?

The purpose of Tucker’s research was to see how the Malagasy deal with these two conflicting ideals and which they accredit their success and failures to if things in their subsistence go terribly wrong. The first sample was simply a question and answer type of sample. After getting the individuals to define “risk”, the researchers asked the people to rate their subsistence activities as not risky, low risk, risky, or very risky, and then to provide reasons as to why these activities are or are not risky. Four definitions of risk were recorded as follows: “risk is something you must face in order to gain something (N = 19), risk means you might win or you might not (N = 12), risk is something that requires courage to face (N = 12), and risk is what happens when many factors predict an outcome (N = 4)” (Tucker et. al., “Ecological and Cosmological coexistence Thinking in a Hypervariable Environment, 6).

Surprisingly, nearly no supernatural causes were given. The second sample was meant to focus more on when people fail as opposed to subsistence failing. The people, more privately instead of in groups as with sample 1, were given a story of two men, with one man doing better with his crops than the other, and they were asked to provide a list of reasons. Then, a list was shown to the person and they were to point out which reasons they would endorse. In this case, supernatural factors were listed and backed more heavily than ecological ones, though more ecological factors were endorsed when showed in the list of reasons.

Therefore, the first two samples contradict each other, which is where the third sample comes into play. (Tucker et. al., “Ecological and Cosmological coexistence Thinking in a Hypervariable Environment, 7-10). The third sample gave participants, privately, four cards to represent God, ancestors, weather, and harvest, and were asked to rank these things by power and to describe how these things were interrelated before a fifth card (spirits possessing people) was added. God was placed at the top by all participants, and most agreed that harvest was the least powerful, with ancestors and weather falling in the middle. When asked about causality, the average response seemed to support integrative thinking—supernatural causes effect ecological causes, like, for example, ancestors asking God to change the weather. (Tucker et. al., “Ecological and Cosmological coexistence Thinking in a Hypervariable Environment, 11-12).

Overall, Tucker’s study found that while supernatural and natural causes are separate categories for the Malagasy, they do coexist within the realm of subsistence success and/or failure. While using an ancestor as a middle man and things such as that may seem unusual to some cultures, it is simply another way that the Malagasy people have developed culturally to deal with their surroundings and understand their world. Whether or not their way of thinking is how the world actually works, however, is not up to you and me to decide.

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A Study of the Supernatural and Natural Causal Models of the Success and Failure of the Malagasy People. (2022, Nov 15). Retrieved from http://studymoose.com/a-study-of-the-supernatural-and-natural-causal-models-of-the-success-and-failure-of-the-malagasy-people-essay

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