My Malagasy Diaspora Tantara: Diaspora Stories Told Around the World
Today, an estimated 300,000 Malagasy people live outside of Madagascar and live all around the globe. No diaspora story is alike but what we share is that love and connection to Madagascar that we carry in our hearts, new hometowns, and life. Here are our stories.
Today: Faneva gives an honest account of how she came to self-realize how to decolonize her mind.
Decolonizing my mind: My Diaspora Tantara
My name is Faneva and I was raised in Madagascar. A few years ago, I moved to France, then to the UK. However, unlike what you’d think, my “diaspora experience” had started way before I left the Red Island.
Diasporized at home:
From a very early age, I attended a French school where I internalized the idea that foreign languages (and cultures in general) are somehow “superior” to anything Madagascar-related. As a result, I neglected Malagasy and took pride in mastering French. To an extent, this experience ‘diasporized’ me, in the historical meaning of the term that refers to “a forced dispersion” — but in my case, it was cultural rather than geographical. Put differently, it culturally uprooted me while I was still residing on our ancestor’s land. This made me feel like an outsider amongst my Malagasy-speaking peers, especially my cousins. I remember for instance that none of them struggled with the words “mofo dipaina”, which is the Malagasy for “baguette”. I was the only alien who called it “mofo du pain”. If on the surface, this anecdote seems trivial, my French education may have had more detrimental implications than expected.
My French education prevented me from being “fully Malagasy” and ‘culturally exiled’ me from home. But upon my arrival in France, where I became a diaspora member from a geographical perspective, I realized it didn’t make me “fully French” either. I couldn’t entirely blend in. Similarly to Dilili’s experience in Michel Ocelot’s animation movie Dilili à Paris, despite my Français impeccable (read: with no accent), most people still systematically pointed out my Non-French origins. And adding fuel to the fire, they made unsolicited comments revolving around the following stereotypes:
They were not inaccurate per se, but the problem lies in the fact that such stereotypes fail to provide a wide picture, one that embraces diverse realities. In other words, they lack nuances and perspectives on positive things such as our rich history, cultural diversity, resilient population and so on...
By obscuring these elements, such stereotypes basically "other-ed" AND inferiorized anything having to do with Madagascar. I subsequently felt deeply offended. But how was all of this different from when I preferred practicing French more than Malagasy? This was the awakening, I slowing came to realize that something had to change.
Decolonizing My Mind
My experience in the Uk was not fundamentally different. Wherever I went, from the library, the gym, random coffee shops to uni halls, people frequently asked “where are you from?”. Although it seemed to come from a good place, it was still an indirect form of ‘othering’. This being said, I didn’t have to deal with prejudiced comments. Unlike in France, I could share what it’s like to be Malagasy, without having to refute stereotypes first. It convinced me of the importance of alternative discourses: when WE get to choose the narrative from the outset, it’s actually empowering. And by the way, this is the reason why I follow MadaLiving, an interesting space to question & reconstruct Madagascar related stories. In addition, Uni familiarized me with the concept of cultural colonization which broadens the scope of imperialism beyond politics and military occupation. I learnt that conquest is also primarily about asserting power through the hierarchization of civilizations and cultures, leading to the total or subtile erasure of those deemed ‘inferior’. To facilitate the process, all individuals belonging to the oppressed cultures are pushed to accept their subordinate status.
In Césaire’s words: “I am talking about millions of men [...] who have been taught to have an inferiority complex, to tremble, kneel, despair, and behave like flunkeys”. Then, the sad truth hit me! To a certain extent, I became one of them when I put the French language up on a pedestal. What a tragedy. Luckily, my undergrad studies have raised my awareness. Now, more than ever I acknowledge the importance of reclaiming my Malagasy culture and identity to avoid remaining complicit in all colonial machinations.
As challenging as it sounds, I finally decided to “decolonize my mind” and unlearn my internalized ‘Black skin, White mask syndrome’. It has taken several forms: from a willingness to improve my Malagasy language skills to learning more about our history, as well as creating a bunch of filters (i.e “What Malagasy snack are you?”) to connect with Malagasy communities on Instagram…. This journey will probably take a lifetime and won’t be linear but I think it will be worth it. Now I’m curious, can anyone relate to my experience?