La question des raketa: Colonial struggles with prickly pear cactus in southern Madagascar, 1900-1923

Jeffrey C. Kaufmann, University of Southern Mississippi


Diverse attitudes toward Malagasy prickly pear cactus demonstrate that French colonialism was not a single cohesive strategy but was marked by contradictions and struggles. Struggles among groups of colonizers included not only the control of cactus but also its appropriateness and desirability. One side of the debate attributed an aggressive and threatening agency to thorny cactus. Another side emphasized that prickly pear was a vital socioeconomic plant for pastoralists. While some French colonists implemented drastic measures against the perceived cactus threat-based more on blind hopes than scientific knowledge-others criticized interfering with the delicate symbiotic relationship between herder and cactus. Although pastoralist resistance to foreign interference took different forms during this period, avoidance was the main form.