Potential Relevancy of Craft in Establishing Ecological Sustainability: The Betseleo of Madagascar as a Case Study

By Teena Jennings-Rentenaar.

Published by The Sustainability Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Research has shown that retention of the integral qualities of a community is important to the individual’s feelings of belonging and self-worth within the community. These sentiments establish interest and commitment to the community. Art and/or craft often comprise a large component of the feelings of interconnectedness either through the doing or making of something in common or the unified aesthetic expression conveyed in the art and/or craft. Maintaining this activity can often result in decisions made for the good of the community and beyond. The Betseleo of the central highlands of Madagascar demonstrate these principles well. The women spin and weave funerary cloth made of indigenous silk. This cloth has high ritual significance and because of this, its methods of manufacture have remained largely unchanged over the course of many generations. The larvae of the Borocera moth require tapia leaves as their sole source of food. When villagers began to notice a decline in the understory plants that they used for food and medicinal purposes, it became clear that replacing the original trees with white pine and eucalyptus trees was detrimental to other plants that they relied on. The community made important and unified decisions, beginning with encouraging the women to make the silk into fabrics other than the traditional cloths and selling them to a wider audience. By creating a monetary value for the silk, villagers were more inclined to nurture the tapia trees rather than chop them down for fuel. This action has resulted in the return of the understory plants. Although the efforts are still in the beginning stages, with improvements readily evident, it is not difficult to maintain momentum. This study demonstrates sustainability through art/craft within a community at the cultural, societal and environmental level. Research for this study began in 2007 and took place in the village of Soutanana, Madagascar.

Keywords: Madagascar Silk, Indigenous Silk, Sustainability, Wild Silk Production, Village Craft

The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp.51-58. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 619.682KB).

Dr. Teena Jennings-Rentenaar

Associate Professor, School of Family and Consumer Sciences, College of Health Sciences and Human Services, The University of Akron, Akron, Ohio, USA

I have worked at The University of Akron for the past eight years, teaching courses in textile science, textile manufacture, textile structure, textile coloration and design and quality assurance. I have also worked with several women’s co-operatives around the world, ensuring that they have a market for their textile arts/crafts. This is an interest that comes automatically as I am a textile artist myself. My research focuses on the integral maintenance of a community’s design aesthetic despite economic pressures to alter it. This is particularly important with the expansion of the global market.


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