‘Scoping’ Maritime Cultural Heritage: A visit to SEED Madagascar and Sainte Luce to prepare for June’s Festival of the Sea

Jonathan Skinner

(Featured image – Sainte Luce fishermen in handmade pigoues (canoes) rowing out to check their lobster pots – J. Skinner, April 2019)

There were no bins where I was staying. This was one of the things I noticed first and stayed with me during my first visit to Sainte Luce reserve, Madagascar. Jerry’s Huts sits right by the sea with very limited running water and electricity. It has a continual breeze in from the sea that keeps the air fresh and the mosquitos away. The Indian Ocean crashes in day and night. I was opening my food packs from the UK but there was nowhere to put the plastic wrappers. In fact there were scant plastics around at all. I was in what SEED Madagascar staff colloquially call ‘the bush’.

Yet, Sainte Luce is more coastal than bush environment. It is in the Anosy part of southeast Madagascar, 50km northeast of regional centre Taolagnaro (Fort Dauphin), a coastal region where French settlers first landed, and one of the last few places of intact coastal forest. The Sainte Luce Reserve is a hamlet of three villages (Ambandrika, Ampanastromboky, and Manafiafy – the last is by the sea and is also the name of a nearby exclusive luxury beach and rainforest lodge for ‘primitive’ tourists, that is tourists of the primitive, I suppose). The approximately 2400 inhabitants of Sainte Luce depend on natural maritime resources, local forestry, subsistence agriculture and mahampy reed weaving products (mats, hats, baskets) for their livelihood. It is also the epicentre of the lobster export industry in Madagascar: according to NGO Azafady (2014: 4), 50% of Madagascar’s annual national spiny lobster catch comes from along a 150km stretch of coastline focused around the Sainte Luce hamlet (approximately 18 tons/yr). 80% of Sainte Luce’s population depend upon this fishing (Sabatini et al. 2007) making it the core means of income generation for the community.

In Madagascar, there are many taboos (‘fady’ such as not pointing, avoiding certain animals, or talking about food). Likewise, ‘fomba’ is the term given to local cultural traditions that show respect to other, including the ancestors. One central decision-making tradition is the practice of ‘kabary’, group discussion-making. SEED Madagascar – a UK registered NGO with offices in Taolagnaro – had recently facilitated in Sainte Luce the re-establishment of a local Riaky (sea) committee to represent the community in the management of coastal maritime resources, assist with the implementation of local ‘dina’ (rules), and to help them to develop a new voluntary no-take zone (VNTZ) with closed and open seasons (currently open April to May and August to September inclusive). They did this through close, intense kabary discussion with the community, effectively co-producing a successful ‘community-managed small-scale lobster fishery’ (Long 2017a).

University of Roehampton and SEED Madagascar Reharbouring Heritage grant partners - Hannah Shepherd, April 2019

University of Roehampton and SEED Madagascar Reharbouring Heritage grant partners – Hannah Shepherd, April 2019

I was the only person staying there at Jerry’s in Sainte Luce, visiting the SEED Madagascar’s base camp nearby where they conduct their public health, social development, and conservation projects that range from supplying village wells for safe, clean water to drink to reduce levels of severe and life-threatening diarrhoea; to recording the daily lobster catch, sales and effort endured by the fishermen to ultimately facilitate community-based, sustainable lobster fisheries management; to night patrolling ‘bush’ transects counting lemur eyes shining back at them in the dark to assess annual animal levels and to facilitate their safe movement; and promoting and supporting a local women’s embroidery group, Project Stitch, with social enterprise, business advice and marketing platforms.

Project Stitch, Sainte Luce – J. Skinner, April 2019

Project Stitch, Sainte Luce – J. Skinner, April 2019

I was to spend three nights in the bush, spending the days learning about the Voluntary No Take Zone (VNTZ) where local fishermen have agreed to operate a community lobster fishing regulation system of open and closed seasons – in addition to national regulations to leave female lobsters with eggs and lobsters less than 20cm in size, and to not use nets, spears, harpoons or snorkels while fishing. I was to liaise with the Chef Fokontany (Head of the Village) of local villages in preparation for a return visit in June when I was to bring a textile artist and a filmmaker from the UK, and co-organise with SEED a range of local and regional bands and dancers to hold a Festival of the Sea to celebrate local marine cultural heritage: the traditional practices that best-suited conservation and sustainability, maritime cultural heritage as resilience in the people, and to swap skills and co-produce knowledge, artefacts and choreography. This was also an opportunity to test a community-engagement-through-festival approach developed in the Caribbean (Skinner and Bryan 2015), and the conservation-through-carnival suggestion that we had developed on Anguilla when examining a contentious sea turtle moratorium established until 2020 (EU BEST 2016).

EU BEST sea turtle conservation grant

EU BEST sea turtle conservation grant

There, on this current British colony, the University of Roehampton partnered with the Government of Anguilla’s Department of Fisheries and Marine Resources, and the Anguilla National Trust. From 2016 to 2019 we have been working to mitigate the overexploitation of the sea turtle – ‘combining community action with scientific evidence to drive legislative change’ (EU BEST 2016). The project brings stakeholders together to engage in open dialogue about the island’s limited natural resources and their best management. We combined scientific evidence of sea turtle foraging and breeding with information about the cultural heritage of local people to engage and increase national awareness and support for the sea reptile. One initiative was to join in the annual ‘Festival Del Mar’ (Festival of the Sea) with sea turtle floats to raise public awareness as to their plight (EU BEST 2016). To translate concepts: Anguilla used Malagasy techniques of kabary group discussion to transform and develop support structures for the animal, its husbandry, and its fishermen; the Sainte Luce Festival of the Sea was to use Caribbean carnival to celebrate best lobster conservation and fishing management practice in the community in one of the first VNTZ’s of its kind in the Indian Ocean. We wanted to test the plasticity of the Caribbean model as an appropriate mode of maritime cultural heritage expression in Madagascar.

Musician awaits auditions at the entrance to Sainte Luce Reserve – J. Skinner, April 2019Musician awaits auditions at the entrance to Sainte Luce Reserve – J. Skinner, April 2019

In the mornings – very early in the mornings – the lobster fishermen return with their catch caught in vahipiky vine pots skilfully woven by the family or bought from mountain villages nearby. The lobsters are measured and weighed by SEED before being sold on to collecteurs (middle people) who send on the lobsters to Taolagnaro for international distribution. Many of the fishermen use boats owned by the opérateurs and so have to sell the lobsters at uncompetitive prices to collecteurs working with the opérateurs. Stephen Long (2017b) notes that the development of a No Take Zone concentrated the efforts of the fishermen when they could fish, and brought them ‘bumper catches’ from the replenished supply, but that an unexpected consequence of the surplus was to break the buyers’ monopoly, giving a 33% rise in price for the lobster that added significant value to the lives of the fishermen and their families.

Measuring, weighing and selling the day’s lobster catch - J. Skinner, April 2019

Measuring, weighing and selling the day’s lobster catch – J. Skinner, April 2019

There are exceptional musicians and dancers in the local community, and part of the visit was to audition them for the Festival of the Sea as well as troupes in Taolagnaro so that was to be a local as well as regional event.

Village life stopped when the drums and strings played and Group Dodomy entertained. Both the local music and dancing can be described as traditional with a Southern African influence of polyrhythms and contrabody movements: stillness in the torso, fast leg movements up and down or side to side, hands flicking stylishly upwards and downwards characterise some of this dancing.

Group Dodomy Festival of the Sea auditions ( – J. Skinner, April 2019

Group Dodomy Festival of the Sea auditions ( – J. Skinner, April 2019

The dance auditions showed the local skills in body isolations, and contra-body juxtapositions – opposing patterns, or contrasts between movement and non-movement. Forward-side-back sets of kicks; or side-to-sides with loose arms and hands towards the waist remind me of some salsa, rumba, cumbia complexes that have their origins in Africa and travelled at different times most notably to the Caribbean islands and eventually to the Americas. At the end of the Sainte Luce audition, we took turns dancing, swapping moves. Unfortunately – or fortunately (see the following June blog) – only I had a camera so there were no recordings!?

Tsimihantaravye Tandroy dance audition ( – J. Skinner, April 2019

Tsimihantaravye Tandroy dance audition ( – J. Skinner, April 2019

Back in Taolagnaro, we held meetings to consider the possibilities of the Festival: what would work; what the community wanted and needed; how the logistics of food, water, electricity might be resolved; what was best ethical practice between the University of Roehampton and SEED Madagascar. We held further open auditions to urban hiphop singers, a reggae band, and traditional Tandroy and Tanosy music and dance groups. Here is a Tandroy clip: the ‘people from the thorns’, as the name translates for this ethnic group, are known for their short and pointy straw hats (satsok bory), and the dance has the similar fast-feet still-torso but there is also a characteristic hand-shaking. It reminded me of the Maori Haka in places and has similar rhythmic shouting – you can hear ‘Eka!’ in the YouTube clip which is ‘Yes!’ in Malagasy. Mirohondroho are a semi-professional troupe that perform regularly for locals, tourists, festivals. Here they are giving an audition that is loved by SEED staff, bar staff and a visiting anthropologist, all of whom are a dancing audience.

The next blog will showcase the Festival of the Sea that we held in Sainte Luce, 7-8 June 2019.

Stunning land and waterscapes and the obligatory lemur shot – J. Skinner and R. Rossizelà, April 2019Stunning land and waterscapes and the obligatory lemur shot – J. Skinner and R. Rossizelà, April 2019

Stunning land and waterscapes and the obligatory lemur shot – J. Skinner and R. Rossizelà, April 2019



Azafady (2014) A final report on Project Oratsimba – Prepared for SmartFish/FAO: Activities from June 2013 – March 2014. Tolagnaro.

EU BEST (2016) Saving the Sea Turtles of Anguilla: Combining community action with scientific evidence to drive legislative change. Project grant details website,

Long, S. (2017a) ‘Short-term impacts and value of a periodic no take zone (NTZ) in a community-managed small-scale lobster fishery, Madagascar’. PLoS ONE 12(5): e0177858.

Long, S. (2017b) ‘The world is your lobster: sustainable fishing in Madagascar?’ UCL research blog post, accessed 16 July 2019.

Sabatini, G., Salley, S. Ramanamanjato, J.-B. (2007) ‘A review of the spiny lobster fishery in the Tolagnaro (Fort-Dauphin) Region’. In J. U. Ganzhorn, S. M. Goodman and M. Vincelette (eds.) Biodiversity, Ecology and Conservation of Littoral Ecosystems in Southeastern Madagascar, Tolagnaro (Fort Dauphin). Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., pp. 299–308.

Skinner, J. and D. Bryan (2015) ‘Introduction’. In J. Skinner and D. Bryan (eds.) Consuming St. Patrick’s Day. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp.1-8.

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