MIKEA

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The Mikea are a group of Malagasy-speaking horticulturalists and foragers who are often described as the lowland hunter-gatherers of Madagascar. They inhabit the Mikea Forest, a patch of mixed spiny forest and dry deciduous forest along the coast of southwestern Madagascar. The Mikea are predominantly of Sakalava origin, although the term describes a lifestyle rather than an ethnic group per se, and individuals from a variety of Malagasy ethnic groups are found among the Mikea. The family encampments of the Mikea shift from prime corn planting territory at the edge of the forest in the rainy season to the interior forest rich with tenrecs and other game in the dry season, when the community becomes highly dependent on spongy tubers to meet their daily demand for water. Their lifestyle is interdependent with that of their neighboring Vezo fishermen and the Masikoro farmers and herders, with whom they trade products caught, foraged or cultivated in the forest. Many Mikea also occasionally engage in paid work such as guarding the zebu herds or tending the cornfields of others.

The present-day Mikea are not a remnant of an ancient Malagasy hunter-gatherer society, but are instead descendants of individuals who took refuge in the forest beginning in the 1800s to escape military conflict, heavy taxation and other oppressive factors. Their way of life is perceived by villagers and city dwellers alike as ancestral, contributing to a mystique about them that has inspired various myths and legends. They are commonly believed to be the mythical Vazimba, the original inhabitants of the island, although there is no evidence to support this view. They are distinct from the Beosi hunter-gatherers of the highlands. While some 1,500 individuals are known to identify as Mikea, many Malagasy disbelieve that the community continues to exist in the present day.