The articles written by Astuti, Basso and Osterhoudt all relay different perspectives on the issue of nature being a cultivator of identities. Astuti explained how the Vezo people of Madagascar have come to define themselves as people “undetermined by the past.” Basso emphasized that for the Apache, silence is used in situations where ambiguity ensues. Osterhoudt elaborated the environmental landscapes in the Mananara region of Madagascar – tany (sensibility) and tontolo’ianiana (sense).
The Vezo, according to Astuti (464-482), are a people who refuse to be determined by their past. Running contrary to traditional ethnotheory, which defines identity and difference as one that is predetermined by ancestors, the Vezo do not identify themselves with their ancestors, since they see their identity as one that “unfolds through time.” History, for the Vezo, is “constantly shed as one moves from one context to another,” hence treating it as one that does not determine their identity. Whereas the Vezo understand that they have their own history, they do not regard it as one that shapes how they are and what they do at present. Therefore, one must see the identity of the Vezo not through their history, but through the things they do and their condition at present. Given the foregoing, Astuti (464-482) cites the Vezo as proof that individuals do not need to let their history realize their identity.
Ambiguity on the part of the participant triggers silence among the Apace, according to Basso.
For the Apache, it is only rightful to be silent when encountered with the following conditions: when parties do not know one another (confronting strangers and performing courtships), parents reunite with their children, actions are filled with uncertainty (anger and sadness) and staying with a person “for whom they sing” (Basso). For the Apache, meeting strangers and courting indicates a lack of concrete expectations, given that parties are unaware of the social identities of one another. Prolonged absence also alienates parents who reunite with their children, despite their familiarity with one another brought forth by kinship, since either party have unclear ideas on expectations held towards one another. The high degree of uncertainty over actions characterize the use of silence when parties are angry and/or sad. Individuals filled with anger and/or sadness are perceived to be incapable of coming up with rational judgments, thus justifying the use of silence as a way of avoiding the emergence of untoward incidents that are highly likely to come up. Finally, silence for the Apache is used towards a participant who is perceived as one imbued with divinity, hence making his behavior unpredictable. Communication, given the case of the Apache, is not just limited to the use of speech, as silence and other verbally mitigating communicative forms are also culturally defined (Basso).
Environmental landscapes in the Mananara region are characterized into two frameworks: tany and tontolo’ianiana. The sense-framework of tontolo’ianiana emphasizes on maximizing certainty in knowledge production, while the sensibility-framework of tany focuses on minimizing uncertainty. Knowledge, for tontolo’ianiana, is centered on intervention and for tany, interpretation. In terms of moral scales, tontolo’ianiana is future-oriented, while tany is past-oriented. Individuals are accountable under tontolo’ianiana, while communities are deemed responsible for tany. The idea of landscape under tontolo’ianiana spans throughout its universal concept, while tany focuses on a particular place and its contingent actions. For spaces and activities of privileged type, tontolo’ianiana is exceptional, while tany is mundane. Meaningful places consists of protected areas for tontolo’ianiana and cultivated spaces for tany (Osterhoudt 283-301). The shift of frameworks of environmental landscapes from tany to tontolo’ianiana, therefore, stands as a shift from the particular-individual to the universal-community, where the sensible-driven consciousness of agrarian spaces that is culturally-attached transitions towards a sense-driven consciousness of parks that is culturally detached. Osterhoudt (201-301), in turn, finds that the people in the Mananara region would continue to hold their sense-driven experience of agrarian spaced even as the characterization of their environmental landscapes shifts from that of the emotiveness brought forth in the belief in tsiny spirits to rationalization brought forth by development.
Astuti, Basso and Osterhoudt all emphasize that nature cultivates identities of people – a concept that includes changes brought forth by development. Astuti emphasized the Vezo as an example of a people who refuse to identify themselves based on their history, as they constantly mold themselves based on how the day-to-day activities they engage in at present affect them. Basso noted that silence, for the Apache, is shaped primarily by uncertainty based on given situations and points it as a possible reference for future studies on the meanings of verbally mitigating forms of communication. Osterhoudt, for her part, tackles the concept of development and the way it affects the people in the Mananara region, leading its transition from sensible-driven tany of agrarian spaces to sense-drive tontolo’ianiana of parks developed for preservation. Overall, one could not deny that nature, indeed, helps in terms of shaping identities of people, given that they thrive within their specific environments and develop affirmative responses.
Astuti, Rita. "’The Vezo Are Not a Kind People’: Identity, Difference, and ‘Ethnicity’ Among a Fishing People of Western Madagascar." American Ethnologist (1995): 464-482. Print.
Basso, Keith. "To Give Up Words: Silence in Western Apache Culture." Ethnology. Eds. Aaron Podolefsky & Peter Brown. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill College, 2003. EBook.
Osterhoudt, Sarah. "Sense and Sensibilities: Negotiating Meanings within Agriculture in Northeastern Madagascar." Ethnology (2010): 283-301. Print.