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Mount Allison University

"Hot money" and daring consumption in a

northern Malagasy sapphire-mining town

he inspiration for this article came one afternoon in September

In Ambondromifehy, a sapphire-mining town in
1999 while I was visiting myfictivesister Soa in the northern Mala-
northern Madagascar, young men earn and spend a
gasy sapphire-mining town of Ambondromifehy. Drinking beer in
great deal of what some call "hot money." Rather
the tiny, ramshackle hut that she had newly come to share with her
than invest their earnings with long-term intentions
"spouse" (vady) Jao and his newfound fictive brother Koko, I asked
considered responsible and proper by some around
her and her housemates about the living that could be made from the local
them, they consume "daringly" by spending money
sapphire trade. Jao, seated on the edge of a sagging bed, bottle hinged to
to fulfill immediate desires. I argue that such "daring
knee, answered first. His minimum daily take from the sale of the sapphires
consumption" might be understood as the active
he mined, he drunkenly boasted, was 250,000francsmalgaches (fmg), about
response of young men who refuse the passive roles
$40, or what a cane cutter earns for a month's work at a nearby sugar planta-
allotted them by both the sapphire trade and tradi-
tion. Soa confirmed this. When pressed for more examples of fortunes made,
tional systems of social organization. [Madagascar,
Jao chinned toward Koko, hunched by the doorway rolling a joint. Jao indi-
consumption, money, risk, sapphire mining, mascu-
cated that Koko had recently sold a day's take of stones for a staggering 2.5
million fmg ($400)enough money to hire someone to build ten simple
thatch huts of the sort that the four of us were crowded into. I could not resist
asking Koko why he had not invested some of this windfall in a place of his
own. "This is hot money [vola mafana]," Jao answered for him, "you can't
hold on to it." Koko, yet to speak a word my way, was in no state to disagree.
In fact, in seeming support of Jao's point, he shortly pulled what many Mala-
gasy people consider a day's wage from his pocket (25,000 fmg) and sent a
neighborhood child out for more cold beer.
Like 30-year-old Jao and 21-year-old Koko, many young men in Ambon-
dromifehy earn and spend a great deal of money, "living the life," as Jao often
assured me with great enthusiasm in barely discernible English. The setting
in which they do so, however, is anything but luxurious. Ambondromifehy is
a place plagued by crime, disease, frequent fires, and a high cost of living.
Miners live in cramped and unhygienic conditions, their livelihoods precari-
ously attained through the procurement and sale of a commodity to which
they have only limited access. And yet, Ambondromifehy is a place in which
young men like Jao and Koko claim to thrive, some likening themselves to
outlaws, renegades, or frontiersmen and their town to locales in an imagi-
nary, anarchic, B-movie "America." "We live in Los [Angeles]," Jao once told
me, invoking the chaotic setting of innumerable policefilmsthat have shown
in Ambondromifehy's video parlors. "This place is Texas," noted another young
man on another day, calling to mind the westerns of an earlier generation.

American Ethnologist 30(2):290-305. Copyright 2003, American Anthropological Association.

"Hot money" and daring consumption American Ethnologist

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the conspicuous consump- et al. 1999:2). They are people inclined to do without, albeit
tion concomitant with Jao's understanding of "hot money" sometimes only temporarily, whatever arrangements "en-
was seen by many, Jao included, as essential to the mainte- mesh [them] in a politically coercive world where they can
nance of Ambondromifehy's unique character. In this arti- find a place only as dependents" (Day et al. 1999:3). They re-
cle I discuss how this is, in fact, the case. Given that not all in fuse the passive roles allotted them by forces beyond their
the town agreed with Jao's take on "hot money," however, it control (i.e., markets, states, "transcendental values," etc.),
would be misleading for me to stop there. In recognition of choosing instead to "live in the present," as active respon-
the coexisting understanding that "hot money" is, in fact, dents "to conditions of marginalization" (Day et al. 1999:7).
nothing more than the product of individual miners' imagi- Employing the terms that miners themselves use, I describe
nations, I further show how the conspicuous consumption how many of them "dare" (mahasaky) to act boldly and
justified by talk of "hot money" might also be understood as without foresight in the context of an industry (and global
central to the maintenance of the unique characters who in- economy) in which, however prospective they might be,
habit the place. It is only by considering both the functional they necessarily "risk" (mirisky) in the face of great uncer-
and the phenomenological significance of conspicuous tainty. As what I term "daring consumers," especially, they
consumption in Ambondromifehy that one might come to a indicate an orientation toward the present that is strikingly
reasonable understanding of its role in the lives of young at odds with the concerns and strategies of many around
men like Jao. them.
It is well appreciated in the social sciences that states In making this argument, I do not mean to suggest,
and markets are not alone in determining the value of pace Aristotle, Simmel, or Marx (see Parry and Bloch 1989:
money. Money's value is also determined by the situated in- 2-6), that the consumption patterns of these young men in-
dividuals through whose hands it passes (or does not pass) dicate the insidious capacity of money and monetary ex-
on a daily basis. This in mind, it is not surprising that some change to disintegrate traditional forms of social organiza-
of the most illuminating studies of money to emerge in re- tion. Money is, of course, nothing new to Madagascar, and
cent years are those that have provided readers with the his- certain kinds of monetary exchange are among the most im-
torical and ethnographic background necessary to imagine portant means by which some Malagasy people have propa-
relevant subjectivities (Hutchinson 1996; Masquelier 1999; gated traditional systems of social and political organization
Shipton 1989; Weiss 1996; Zelizer 1994). The assumption be- through changing times (see, e.g, Lambek 2001). Nor am I
hind such studies, here generalized by Parry and Bloch, is inclined to see acts of extravagance as indicating "a failure
that "in order to understand the way in which money is or an incapacity" on the part of certain miners "to accultur-
viewed [in any particular context] it is vitally important to ate to the capitalist ideology and practice of accumulation
understand the cultural matrix into which it is incorpo- and profit making" (De Boeck 1999a:179). Instead, like De
rated" (1989:1). It is not the case that the use of money uni- Boeck, whose fascinating work among diamond miners in
versally "[gives] rise to a particular world view" but rather Angola I cite frequently here, I approach the consumption of
that "existing world view[s] [give] rise to particular ways of these young men as something "underpinned and shaped by
representing money" (Parry and Bloch 1989:19). local rural modes, conceptions and categories of wealth, ac-
This article begins with the same assumption, illustrat- cumulation, expenditure, physical and social reproduction
ing as it proceeds that the "heat" of money in Ambon- and well-being which originate in . . . (pre)colonial moral
dromifehy can only be understood with reference to the matrixes, attitudes, practices and beliefs" (1999a: 179). Min-
lives and "world views" of the town's young, male, migrant ers, as Bauman (1988) might suggest, exhibit "freedom" in
miners. It is, therefore, less a study of "hot money" than a their consumption (and other) choices in Ambon-
study of the situated, subjective perspective from which dromifehy. Rather than take responsibility for their choices
money might be perceived as "hot."1 by considering them with foresight in light of the conse-
For reasons that will become apparent as I proceed, I quences they might have, they live them out ("for the mo-
have chosen to approach Jao and others among Ambon- ment") in the irresponsible way that many Malagasy people
dromifehy's conspicuous consumers as "people who live for expect of young men. One of the points I mean to stress in
the moment," akin to the individuals and populations repre- this article is that however shocking the "daring consump-
sented in Day et al. 's edited collection Lilies of the Field (1999). tion" of Ambondromifehy's miners might appear, it is not
Like London's prostitutes (Day 1999), Greece's coffeehouse entirely unprecedented or unexpected to those who may
gamblers (Papataxiarchis 1999), and Japan's day laborers criticize them for it.
(Gill 1999), among others, Ambondromifehy's miners are Obviously, the plight and strategies of the people I de-
people whose apparent "freedom and autonomy stand in scribe here are not unique to this setting. As the diverse case
opposition to transcendental values associated with a variety studies collected in Lilies of the Field indicate, the uncer-
of institutions that organize long-term social reproduction tainties and tensions that characterize the lives of Ambon-
and, simultaneously, produce hierarchical relationships" (Day dromifehy's miners are common to many marginal people

American Ethnologist Volume 30 Number 2 May 2003

in the world today. Although many of us have been living this number has subsequently fallen somewhat because of
through the development of what Beck (1992) refers to as the departure of many miners for more recent sapphire,
the "risk society" (cf. Rustin 1994)that is, the current post- ruby, and emerald finds in Madagascar's southeast, when I
industrial era in which modernization has become reflexive, conducted research in the place in 1999 and 2000, signifi-
turning its tools on itself in the face of the social and ecological cant numbers of newcomers continued to arrive on a daily
risks engendered by its purported progressAmbondrom- basis. For many of the young men and women who have
ifehy's miners and others on this imagined realm's periph- come to dominate the place, involvement in the sapphire
eries have been living despite it. The risks that characterize trade and its attendant pursuits is only the latest in a series
their societies are imposed, originating with forces that of short-term migratory labor experiences that have led
most (in Ambondromifehy, at least) recognize as well be- them through settings as diverse as gold-mining towns, fish-
yond their control. Understanding how they view and deal ing villages, plantations, and urban centers throughout
with these risks in practical and imaginative ways is key to Madagascar.2 The sapphire trade has offered many the
understanding their predicaments. By focusing as much as I promise, and some the means, of earning previously unat-
do on the uncertainties that Ambondromifehy's miners face tainable sums of money.3
on a daily basis, I mean to point out not only the difficulties For reasons to be clarified shortly, Ambondromifehy is
in their lives but also the powerful imaginations of those unlike many mining towns described in social scientific lit-
among them who appear to overcome these difficulties, al- erature (for example, Moodie 1994; Nash 1979), in that its
beit momentarily, through the pursuit of what is commonly inhabitants tend to work for themselves rather than for
termed la vie. companies or claim-holders. This place does, however, bear
Some might view the approach taken in this article as a remarkable resemblance to the chaotic diamond-mining
contradicting the perspectives of the very people whose communities of the Zaire-Angola border region described
lives it intends to explorethat is, as suggesting that no recently by De Boeck (1999a, 1999b). In De Boeck's words,
matter how they might view themselves, the lives of young Ambondromifehy might be well described as a "frontier"
men like Jao and Koko are in fact, determined entirely by town where the "frontier" in question is a "socio-cultural
forces beyond their control. In one sense, their consump- and economical" one characterized by a mixing of "'rural'
tion patterns indicate how they are the passive purveyors of and 'urban', local and global [and] 'traditional' and 'mod-
well-established cultural stereotypes, mirroring one an- ern' categories, practices, mentalities, relationships and be-
other in replicating Malagasy images of youthful masculin- lief systems" (1999a: 201). It is not, however, a "frontier" that
ity. Alternatively, any emphasis on the effects of marginality migrants plan on settling permanently, a fact that has pro-
on their consumption patterns might lead to a portrayal of found implications for migrant-host relations in the place.
miners as the common, unwitting, and passive victims of an Although some of the four hundred or so longtime residents
overbearing global economy. Although there are certainly of the place continued to espouse what they felt were par-
arguments that can be made on both fronts, to stress only ticularly Malagasy (Gasy) ideals of hospitality as late as 2000,
the passivity of miners is to deny them the individuality and their enthusiasm for assisting incoming "visitors" (vahiny)
agency that they so evidently prize. To overcome this di- to achieve their goals had diminished considerably from
lemma I approach their consumption as an active response what it reportedly had been. Referring to the willingness of
to the circumstances of their lives. In line with Gell (1986: prospectors to transgress local land taboos (fady ny tany) in
110), I consider consumption both a "form of symbolic ac- the pursuit of sapphires, longtime residents tended to por-
tion" and a "creative process," a means by which miners ex- tray these newcomers as short-sighted interlopers.4 Com-
ert individuality and control, establishing for themselves menting on how the disrespectful acts of these visitors had
and, in some cases, for others around them, their mastery of incurred the "land's anger" (helontany), they blamed them
those things that might master them. Ultimately, I illustrate for the droughts, fires, and disease that had purportedly af-
how daring consumption, like witchcraft in "modern" Africa fected the region at an unprecedented rate since 1996.
(Comaroff and Comaroff 1993; Englund 1996; Geschiere The arrival of so many miners in Ambondromifehy has
1997; Sanders 1999) and "occult economies" (Comaroff and also been of great concern to national and international
Comaroff 1999:279; Scheper-Hughes 1996) throughout the conservation organizations charged with overseeing the re-
world, might be interpreted as indicating the active and gion's environmentally sensitive "protected areas." The
powerful imaginations of people at risk. Ankarana Special Reserve, an area centered on an immense
limestone massif (called Ankarana) located several kilome-
ters to the west of Ambondromifehy, is deemed to be par-
Ambondromifehy's sapphire trade ticularly threatened. Digging in the forestsflankingthe massif
In the two years following the discovery of sapphires in its or scouring the caves that underlie it, miners are seen to be
environs in 1996, Anibondromifehy grew from a village of 400 causing irreparable damage to the reserve's unique ecosys-
into a town of approximately fourteen thousand. Although tems and endangering the region's burgeoning ecotourism

"Hot money" and daring consumption American Ethnologist

trade. Following the failure of education programs to con- one another, as Jao and Koko did by calling one another
vince miners to stop their activities, the government de- "younger sibling" (zandry) and "elder sibling" (zoky), respec-
cided in 1998 to turn responsibility for guarding the re- tively, they do not do so as people committed to the preser-
serve's boundaries over to the Malagasy national policea vation of the enduring sites at which their rclatedness is
change that has, as shall soon be apparent, only added new manifested.6 More appropriate, perhaps, given the transi-
players to an already complex competition of interests. tory nature of their relationships with one another, they
As noted above, Ambondromifehy is not and was never tend to establish and propagate relatedness through more
a company town and, as such, has developed without the di- ephemeral means, for example, drinking, smoking pot, eat-
recting vision of an overarching organization set on the effi- ing, and gambling togetheracts of common consumption
cient exploitation of paid labor.5 Miners in Ambondrom- rather than common investment, often requiring great out-
ifehy, about three-quarters of the population, work for lays of money.
themselves or as members of small groups, using simple "In Ambondromifehy," Jao once told me, "people ask
technology (shovels, mining bars, and flashlights) to dig pits for 5,000 Malagasy francs the way that people ask for 500
and scour cave walls in search of sapphire veins. Because of anywhere else." Gifts, or cadeaux (not loans, or trosa) of this
alack of water in many of the areas in which they work, most amountabout $1, or the price of a pack of cigarettesare
miners return to water sources in or near Ambondromifehy frequently given with little thought. The obligation to share
with sacks of dirt to be sieved. When they find stones, they is deeply felt by many, some speaking of feeling awkward
generally sell them locally to Malagasy traders who, in turn, (megnamegnatra) or downright ashamed (megnatra) if they
sell to West African and Thai buyers based in the provincial do not provide what another has asked of them. This means,
capital of Antsiranana. What happens to sapphires after of course, that earning a great deal of money on a particular
they leave Madagascar (first for Bangkok and other centers day can lead to problems for miners. If they are to sustain
of the international gem trade, most Malagasy traders be- the social relationships that have served them in the past
lieved) is largely unknown to miners. The notion that the and are necessary for future success, they may be compelled
small, dark stones (in their uncut and unpolished state) are to spend a good portion of their money on others. Those
used in jewelry proved laughable to many. Sapphires "have who try to save money or invest locally in a shop, bar, or res-
no meaning" (tsisy dikany) to Malagasy people, one inform- taurant often only delay the inevitable dispersal of their
ant pointed out, backing up his contention with reference to earnings. In the few cases I followed, such people were
the frequently reported fact that prior to 1996 sapphires shortly overwhelmed with friendly but imposing demands
were used only "by local children in slingshots. for loans or credit. And there is, of course, no sense in trying
Although many miners stress their individuality in ways to avoid obligations by downplaying successes. Little goes
that I explore shortly, they tend also to depend heavily on unreported or unexamined in the informal interactions
one another in their pursuit of fortune. Newcomers like through which these social networks are maintained.
Koko (who had arrived in Ambondromifehy only a few Although I focus considerable attention on conspicu-
weeks before I met him) rely on others to teach them the ba- ous consumption in this article, it should be noted that not
sics of the industry how and where to dig, what features all young male miners partake in la vie to the extent that Jao,
distinguish valuable sapphires from duds, how to avoid the Koko, and others I met did. Indeed, in 1999, several young
police, how to go about negotiating sale prices, and so on. men in Jao's network of connections disengaged from their
Newcomers are able to find mentors with remarkable ease. local obligations by simply leaving Ambondromifehy when
More experienced miners, like Jao, often take newcomers in, they came upon windfalls, one justifying his departure with
adding them to the networks on which they, too, rely heavily the sympathetically received claim that he was returning to
for the supply of everything from digging partners to infor- his home region to fulfill an oath he had made to elders and
mation on new finds and police movements in the region. ancestors there. Miners need not always leave, however, to
There are several points worth noting about the social invest in enduring kin and locality-based social networks.
networks entered into and propagated by young miners in Through their interaction and combined efforts, kin who
Ambondromifehy. They are extremely porous and tend to share connections to particular ancestral places often coop-
overlap, meaning that individual miners move into, out of, erate in Ambondromifehy, fostering networks that provide
and among them with little difficulty. Another important much of what non-kin-based networks do for other miners,
point, and one that distinguishes these networks from those but that are modeled on and contribute to the reproduction
that tie many miners to the "ancestral places" (tanin- of more enduring ones based in distant locales. It is impor-
drazana) from which they originally came and to which tant to note, however, that such strategies seem only to work
many intend eventually to return, is that miners' relation- for and are pursued by miners with strong connections to
ships with one another are not primarily manifested in ways home regions, and that by no means do all miners fall into
that tie them to the places in which they live and work to- this category. Although Jao and Koko talked about the
gether. Although they might employ kin terms in referring to places they came from, neither planned on returning to

American Ethnologist Volume 30 Number 2 May 2003

these places in the future for anything more than visits. The Risking and daring in the sapphire trade
same was true of Soa.
When asked why they had come to Ambondromifehy or
Much as the town has attracted many young men, it has
why they were leaving for sapphire finds elsewhere in
attracted young women like Soa as well, some with the in-
Madagascar, miners commonly relied on a single word to
tention of trying their own hands at mining or trading, oth- describe their intentions: mirisky (to risk). As they used the
ers planning to benefit secondarily from the trade, offering term, "risking" is a matter of investing effort in a project with
miners their services as prostitutes, cooks, laundresses, and hopes for, but no assurance of, a favorable return. This defi-
so forth. As one might expect, given all that I have noted nition in mind, mirisky is a term that nicely encapsulates
above regarding the relationships that male miners have nearly everything that miners do in Ambondromifehy. For
with one another, marriages in Ambondromifehy are mark- many, risking begins when, lacking any technology or train-
edly ephemeral and are the focus of little prospective invest- ing that might assist them in determining where to dig, they
ment.7 Not that long-term unions are what men or women "drop pits" (mandatsaka fatagna) with no certainty of what
who come to Ambondromifehy are seeking. In interviews I they will find in them. Those who mine in caves confront
conducted in 1999 and 2000, many of the town's women in- similar uncertainty, never entirely sure of what the path
dicated a desire for self-sufficiency. Commenting on why they have chosen or the particular cavern they find them-
she thought women were better traders than men, Roby, selves in will yield. As some miners see it, still more uncer-
one 28-year-old trader, repeated a common refrain, noting tainty comes from the fact that sapphires themselves are
that "women calculate/reflect [calcule] more [than men do] understood to have hiagna a quality that might be trans-
. .. because men have made them suffer." Women, she sug- lated as "will" or "agency" and that makes them attracted to
some things and people and not others.9 As might be ex-
gested, are more motivated than men to be prospective in
pected, diviners in Ambondromifehy are an extremely busy
the sapphire trade and see that saving and investing their
lot, advising clients where, when, and how deep they should
earnings carefully might eventually free them of the neces-
be looking for sapphires or providing them with prescrip-
sity of relying on others for their livelihoods. The future that tions for formulae (generically referred to as "haody") that,
Roby imagined for herselfin a "European-style house" when embodied through ingestion or bathing, will make
(trano vazaha) complete with a pool, in the nearby town of them attractive to willful sapphires. Miners frequently assert
Ambilobedid not include a husband.8 the need to avoid any "strong medicines" (haody mahery)
Female informants in Ambondromifehy commonly that might cause them to repel sapphires. Indeed, these lat-
stressed that the only path to success in the sapphire trade ter formulae, one sort of which young men sometimes self-
was to "put money to work" (mampiasa vola) as a trader. administer before traditional fighting matches (morengy)to
They were certainly not alone in suggesting this. Many repel the blows of their opponents, are the chosen means by
menminers and especially tradersargued the same which jealous malefactors sabotage others' efforts at earn-
point. Whenever I brought up the notion of "hot money" ing their fortunes.10
with these people, they suggested a very different view to It is not only traditional medicines that some feel make
that of Jao. Later in the interview cited above, Roby re- miners attractive or repellent to sapphires, however. Certain
marked that "it depends on the calculations/reflections types of behavior may be significant as well. Whether ac-
counting for their own generosity or warning others of the
[calcule] of people .. . if you love la vie, you will be quick to
potential repercussions of stinginess, miners frequently re-
eat [mihinana] your money.. . .Money is not hot but people
marked that those who distribute their wealth among others
[who say it is] just don't know how to put it to work." Miners
are sure to continue finding sapphires, whereas those who
like Jao who spend their windfalls extravagantly are deemed do not are liable to encounter misfortune. Such contentions
foolish by "calculating" people like Roby and the men and might be linked to the common Malagasy understanding
women alongside whom she trades, not just because they that generosity and hospitality are fundamental elements of
"eat money" (mihinana vola) in pursuit of la vie but because "Malagasy custom" (fomba Gasy), essential to the promo-
they "kill money" (ma mo no vola), destroying its potential. tion of sociality and relatedness among people as well as to
Significantly, Jao and others who reveled in the "hot money" the continuing prosperity of individuals.11
lifestyle did not dispute the terms used to phrase such cri- Another way in which some miners attempt to ensure
tiques of their behavior. They, too, spoke of their propensity success in the sapphire trade is through respectful dealings
for "eating" and "killing" money. To better understand how with their forebears (elders and ancestors) and the various
and why they embraced such understandings, one must land spirits they believe to inhabit the areas in which they
delve deeper into the sapphire trade and consider the vari- mine. As many see it, respecting elder kin and ancestors
ous positions that they take as participants in it. through remittances or acts of remembrance ensures the

"Hot money" and daring consumption American Ethnologist

flow of blessing from these powerful figures, increasing a re- Along with traders, foreign buyers, and the interna-
spectful descendant's attractiveness to sapphires. tional gem market, the Malagasy state is another uncon-
Diviners frequently diagnose unsuccessful miners as trollable variable that contributes to the uncertainty of min-
having ancestors who are angry at having been forgotten. In ers' lives. Illegal mining parties are regularly raided by the
such cases, they prescribe trips to "ancestral places" (tanin- national police, always when the miners are at their most
drazana) and assure unfortunate clients that by atoning for vulnerable, exhausted from their work and weighed down
their neglectful behavior and thereby returning the flow of by sacks of dirt on their way out of the Ankarana reserve.
ancestral blessing to the support of their efforts, they will be When caught, miners are commonly arrested, have their
able to thrive. Miners sometimes also make small sacrifices equipment and sapphires confiscated, and are required to
at the mouths of caves or before starting to dig pits in the pay fines. Often, the last of these burdens leads many to re-
hope of appeasing local land spirits (hiagnantany), who turn to their illegal activities with even greater vigor almost
may appear to them in dreams or visions and direct them to as soon as they are released from police custody. Many min-
valuable finds. When disrespect is shown the land, as when ers 1 spoke with saw themselves as the least powerful par-
miners knowingly transgress taboos associated with it, the ticipants in a cycle that benefits their state-sanctioned ad-
opposite can happen. Thus, as longtime residents of Am- versaries more than it does them. Some took a similarly
bondromifehy commonly explain it, the fact that sapphires cynical view of the conservation organizations endeavoring
are so much harder to come by today than they were in 1996 to keep them out of the Ankarana reserve, arguing that
is not a function of overexploitation but, rather, a reflection groups such as the Worldwide Fund for Nature (formerly the
of how miners have been victimized by a spiteful environ- World Wildlife Fund) and its Malagasy equivalents were no
more than fronts for foreign concerns seeking exclusive ac-
cess to the resources (including sapphires) of the areas they
Miners encounter further uncertainties when it comes
claimed to protect. The few foreign companies that at-
time to sell sapphires, despite the fact that there are numer-
tempted to undertake large-scale mining in the region were
ous Malagasy traders with whom they can choose to deal. described with similar disdain. Employing geologists, armed
Demand for particular sorts of stones can increase or de- personnel, and advanced technology and claiming govern-
crease rapidly depending on the needs of the West African ment-sanctioned rights over local land (outside of the
and Thai exporters based in Antsiranana and, beyond them, Ankarana reserve), these companies were seen as having
the turbulent global gem market they supply. These facts in risk-reducing advantages completely out of the reach of
mind, miners commonly describe themselves as being at miners.
the mercy of buyers and markets, perpetually taken advan-
Some miners in Ambondromifehy have risen to the
tage of by forces beyond their reach. The fact that sapphires,
challenges presented by the state, conservation organiza-
unlike other locally procured or produced commodities tions, and companies by organizing a worker's association
such as rice or shrimp, have no use value to them only rein- to assert their own local claims. After years of protesting ef-
forces this sense of marginality. That sapphires were used as forts to clear them out of the region, by 1999 members of
slingshot pellets until 1996 was evidently tragicomic to this Association of Simple Miners (Fikambagnana Mpiton-
many I spoke with, indicating to them just how marginal drakaTsotra) had assured themselves a tenuous place in the
both they and Madagascar are in the global economy. And local sapphire trade. By 2000, however, following the depar-
with this sense of marginality seems to come the fear of be- ture of many to mining centers elsewhere in Madagascar,
ing victimized. Cautionary tales of how the trade's earliest attempts at further securing the rights of independent min-
buyers had cheated miners by insisting on buying sapphires ers in the region had stalled. The state's continuing support
in bulk, using the standard rice measure of a condensed of the interests of conservation organizations and compa-
milk can (kapohaka), circulated as late as 2000, warning of nies operating around Ambondromifehy were met with dis-
the ever-present possibility of exploitation. Some miners may by those who had organized the earliest protests.
have, as mentioned previously, sought a modicum of relief Drawing inspiration from nationalist rhetoric learned
from the uncertainty of the market by learning its intricacies through years of public education, one of these young men
and "putting money to work," aiming for the modest but asked rhetorically how it has come to be that Malagasy peo-
steady profits promised by successful trading rather than ple are denied access to their own tanindrazana the "land
the windfalls of mining. But this transition is not for every- of [their Malagasy] ancestors"when it is precisely such
one. It requires a willingness to forfeit control of money by land that stands to offer them the means of achieving the
investing it in stones that may or may not be sold for a prosperity so often promised by politicians.
higher price, a willingness to watch money that one might Readers may well remark a significant gap between the
have "killed" (mamono) oneself made "dead" {vola maty cynical perspectives of miners confronting forces perceived
"dead money," the standard way that traders describe their to be beyond their control and the rather more assured,
losses) through dealings with others. boastful ones attributed to Jao and others introduced in this

American Ethnologist Volume 30 Number 2 May 2003

article's opening paragraphs. How is it that some miners . . . there have already been three who have fallen in the
can be so taken with la vie in a context of such oppressive, chasm and been killed here . . . then we descended 30
prevailing uncertainty? To answer this question one must meters and arrived at the entrance to the cave [where we
first acknowledge that although miners certainly "risk" in were intending to dig]. We called in to the person we
the pursuit of uncertain prosperity in Ambondromifehy, knew there, and he let us in . . . they don't want many
people in there because it gets very hot. You can't
this is not all that they do. As indicated by the acts of trans-
breathe in there. We worked . . . from 9[a.m.] until 3
gression, propitiation, and protest listed above, miners take [p.m.] and decided to keep working until 9 at night. We
active roles in the sapphire trade as well. For many, the need crawled out through shit and piss . . . the people who
to risk in the pursuit of sapphires is offset by the inclination didn't get into the cave [and upset that they didn't] shit
to "dare" (mahasaky). and pissed in the passage we returned through.
Miners are commonly said to "dare to do things" (ma-
hasaky raha), such as dig in unstable pits, jump chasms in Obviously, Jao and Koko undertook this trip in the con-
caves, defy police, and transgress local or inherited taboos. text of "risking"when leaving on such expeditions, they
In combat, they "dare" one another, making or accepting often described themselves as going off "to risk" (mirisky)
challenges in traditional fighting matches (morengy) in rather than "to work" (miasa). In the process of risking, how-
town or, more often, perpetrating or resisting robberies and ever, they dared as well. They dared to enter the reserve, to
intimidation at mining pits or in caves. As consumers they crawl through cramped passages, to squeeze out rivals on
"dare prices" (mahasaky prix), indicating a willingness to their way to desired destinations, and to work long hours
pay "no matter how much" (na hoatrino) for what they want under dangerous conditions. And their rivals dared, too,
when negotiating purchases or payments for the services of showing their displeasure at being excluded in what most
prostitutes, bartenders, and taxi drivers. In all contexts, Malagasy would consider an entirely inappropriate way, de-
"daring" is a matter of acting boldly and with little regard for filing others with their own shit and piss.
potential consequences. But it is not just this fact that distin- It is a striking and important point that miners often
guishes daring from risking. Acts of "daring" also commonly "dare" to behave in ways that many Malagasy people think
suggest the willingness of those who undertake them to defy will make them repellent to the wealth they seekthat is, in
various authorities. Thus, transgressing a known taboo is ways contrary to the Malagasy customs (fomba Gasy) that
"daring" in being an act of defiance, indicating one's lack of many Malagasy people see as essential to the preservation
concern for the traditional authorities that institute and of sociality and prosperity. In his descriptions of work in the
regulate standards of moral practice. Entering the Ankarana caves, Jao never failed to mention how badly people, himself
reserve under the nose of the national police force is simi- included, behaved there. Food, water, alcohol, and pot go
larly both daring and defiant. unshared. Violence is commonplace. As one miner put it,
In contrasting "daring" and "risking," I do not mean to the "lifestyle" (fienana) in the caves is that of barbares; those
imply that these terms are antonyms or that miners are con- who are "big" (mavinty) are "rulers" (ampanjaka). The
sistently faced with situations in which they must choose to counterproductive potential of this sort of behavior was
either "risk" or "dare." These are, rather, alternate ways of most apparent to longtime residents of Ambondromifehy,
rendering miner positionality vis-a-vis the conditions under who frequently remarked on how miners brought uncer-
which they live"risking" suggesting how they are passive tainty on themselves through their lack of respect for local
and prospective, "daring" how they are active and inclined customs (fomba) and land taboos (fady ny tany). This is not
to live "for the moment." To better understand the distinc- to suggest, however, that these longtime residents were
tion, consider the description Jao gave me of a trip that he completely unfamiliar with the concept of daring and its sig-
and Koko had made into the depths of the Ankarana massif: nificance in the lives of young men.
The "daring" behavior of miners is exemplary of a way
We were supposed to leave in the night, but we left early of being commonly attributed to young men throughout
in the morning. We had heard that the gendarmes [na- Madagascar. One might remark similarities, for example,
tional police] were arresting people . . . but we went between miners like Jao and the young Malagasy (Zafi-
anyway. .. when we got inside the entrance to the cave, maniry) men discussed by Bloch who, like the boar they
there was lots of talking. We "dosed up" [midozy] ... hunt on forays into the bush, are considered and encouraged
those who smoke pot, smoked. Those who drink, drank to be "wild, dangerous and strong" (1999:183) individuals.
. . . then we said let's go . . . we crawled for 300 or 400
In the settings in which I have worked previously as well,
meters.. .that's where I got all of these cuts on my arms
and knees. . .and kept going and came to a chasm called young men who "dare to do things" are conferred consider-
plonge de la mort [fall to the death] . . . this is what we able status by both peers and elders. During traditional
Malagasy call "goodbye father" fveloma baba] because fighting matches (morengy) especially, boys and young men
there is only a small rope to help you across it and if you (ranging in age from ten to 25 years) participating as members
don't know how to do it you'll fall and be killed directly of village teams take one another on in contests that establish

"Hot money" and daring consumption American Ethnologist

hierarchies of daring. Although much that goes on in such excesses" (Bloch 1999) that make up the morengy aesthetic
matches is no more than posturingas in the behavior of and suggest the essence of youthful masculinity are con-
young Zafimaniry men, "an emphatic theatrical element is ... stantly center stage.
always highly evident" (Bloch 1999:183) in the swaggering Considered alongside one another, miners' responses
and taunting of morengy fightersdaring is essential to to the uncertainties of the sapphire trade and the "daring"
their performances. Young men who decline challenges to acts they undertake on a daily basis may appear inconsis-
fight are said to "not dare" (tsy mahasaky) their challengers, tent to some. Whereas the former, like "risking" itself, are
whereas a fighting champion (fanorolahy, a "living male") is motivated by concerns for future prosperity, the latter are
someone who "nobody dares to take on" (tsisy mahasaky carried out daringly, without concern for their potential
izy). Significantly, however, the daring evident in these consequences. In fact, the juxtaposition of mirisky, "risk-
matches is restricted beyond the ring; young men, champi- ing," and mahasaky, "daring," suggests a paradox that is es-
ons or not, are not meant to "dare" their elders by confront- sential to the lives of miners in Ambondromifehy. Intent on
ing or contradicting them outside of the morengy environ- remaining attractive to sapphires and retaining positive re-
ment. In reality, of course, young men dare to defy existing lations with fellow miners, many stress the need to behave
orders by transgressing taboos, behaving violently or antiso- in accordance with "customs" (fomba) that serve to rein-
cially, and so on, but when they do so, they are likely to be force social relations with others. Intent on profiting from
called to answer for their disrespect and, to the degree that ancestral blessing and on local land, they may carry out acts
they acknowledge the authority of elders, must atone for it of respectful propitiation to traditional authorities. Intent
through various sorts of sacrifice. As Bloch suggests is the on their rights, they join with others to protest the imposed
case among Zafimaniry as well, the careful deliberation of uncertainties of the state, conservation organizations, and
elders in cases of inappropriate youthful daring provides companies. Yet, as Jao's comments about work in the caves
young men with an example of what they are meant to be- indicate, the sociality and solidarity implied by some of their
come as they mature. The conclusion of such deliberations pursuits are inverted in others. Another recipe for success in
and the sacrifices that follow mark the channeling of this po- the sapphire trade suggests that miners must at times be-
tentially disruptive youthful vitality into the communities it have arcf/socially, as "daring" individuals in pursuit of per-
threatens, transforming the antisocial force characteristic of sonal gain.13 They should trust no one, least of all the people
young men into its opposite. working alongside them. They should be prepared to mine
Although there are certainly parallels between the anti- always and everywhere, even if this means defying tradi-
social behavior attributed to young men in other Malagasy tional or state-sanctioned authorities. Some might even be
contexts and the "daring" of miners in Ambondromifehy, inclined to employ strong, repellent medicine, either on
there are significant differences as well. To get a sense of themselves (as protection from police or fellow miners) or
these differences, one might look no further than to the par- on others (to make them repellent to sapphires). Put an-
ticular nature of the morengy matches that occur regularly other way, the sapphire trade seems to encourage the simul-
in the mining town. Attended by thousands on a weekly taneous realization of two stereotypesthat of the antiso-
basis, Ambondromifehy's morengy matches pit miners cial, individualistic, daring, and irresponsible young man
against one another not as representatives of particular vil- and that of the social, deliberative, collective-oriented, and
lages but as individuals. Many miners fight with the hope of responsible elder. It is not only in the pursuit and procure-
establishing reputations they can carry with them on their ment of sapphires that these stereotypes are realized. They
mining expeditions. In the past, fighting champions led the are realized through the various ways in which miners han-
gangs that once plagued miners in the bush and controlled dle the money that they earn from sapphires as well.
much of the sapphire trade. More recently, since a police
crackdown on organized crime, successful fighters have "Daring" consumption
come to act as highly paid guards for the town's wealthiest
traders. In sum, morengy matches in Ambondromifehy Conspicuous consumption, Veblen has famously argued,
have been transformed from relatively bounded and con- might be understood as a "means to reputability" (1993:43).
trolled contexts in which young men establish a socially Incorporating "friends and competitors" into personal proj-
sanctioned willingness to dare to contexts in which daring ects, individuals may spend lavishly on "valuable presents
in the ring is the means to ensure the effectiveness of daring and expensive feasts and entertainments" (Veblen 1993:43)
outside of it. The social regulation evident in how village- as a way of establishing and increasing their reputations in
based fighters (or any young men, for that matter) are kept the eyes of others. Although reputations are important
in check outside of the morengy environment is not appar- among Ambondromifehy's miners, and "friends and com-
ent in Ambondromifehy. Indeed, there are times when liv- petitors" are certainly drawn into individual efforts to establish
ing in the town feels like attending an extended morengy them, Veblen's classic perspective can only take us so far. If one
match. It is a place where elaborated forms of the "artistic focuses entirely on what consumption entails for consumers

American Ethnologist Volume 30 Number 2 May 2003

(i.e., the reputability it leads to, the networks it fosters, the money apparently was also not an option for many. Unwill-
hierarchies it supports, etc.), one may well lose sight of the ing to take cash with them on mining forays for fear of hav-
significance of all that is not consumed in this context. In ing it stolen by other miners or confiscated by the police, the
Ambondromifehy, investing in personal reputability re- miners' only choice was to leave the cash behind in Ambon-
quires that alternatives be ignored, and it is as much how dromifehy or to travel 50 kilometers to the nearest bank or
people do not spend money as how they do that is most con- post office to put it into an account. Neither of the options
spicuous to some observers. was attractive to the miners I spoke with, the former be-
As in all sorts of "daring," "daring a price" (mahasaky cause of concerns over the trustworthiness of housemates
prix)paying any amount for what one desiresis a matter or spouses and the ever-present possibility of a town fire
of acting boldly, without thought to the consequences of ac- and the latter because of the inconvenience of giving up a
tions or to the directions of the authorities who might have day's work to put away money that might well be needed
you refrain.14 It is consuming, in other words, without the over the short term.15
foresight or deliberation characteristic of responsible elders. These points noted, it is, of course, far too simplistic to
The question I asked Koko about the house he had not built argue that Ambondromifehy's conspicuous consumers
was inspired by discussions with other young Malagasy men spend money in the way that they do only because of a lack
for whom house-building was a matter of utmost impor- of other options. To deepen understanding of their con-
tance. Elsewhere in northern Madagascar, as in other parts sumption habits, one might usefully return to the distinc-
of the island (Bloch 1995; Thomas 1998), houses are signifi- tion between daring and risking introduced previously.
cant sites both for the production of individual adult identi- Jao, Koko, and others in Ambondromifehy might be
ties and the establishment of relatedness to others in com- termed "daring" rather than "conspicuous" consumers. By
munities. Building a house is one of the most important spending money on the immediate fulfillment of personal
investments one can make, an investment not just or always desires and, as Veblen might have it, investing in their own
of money (for some invest no more than their own labor) but personal reputability, they suggest indifference toward the
of one's intentions for a future in a particular place and deliberative, collectivist strategies and long-term concerns
among a particular group of people. Ideally, along with of those who would have them do differently. Simply put,
clearing fields, buying cattle and marriage goods, getting spending money on la vie means not investing it in ways
married, supporting children, making sacrifices when nec- that might mark their passage to a responsible status. "Dar-
essary, and so on, house building is a way for young men to ing prices" and other sorts of extravagant spending are the
invest in the reproduction of the enduring social and moral investment strategies of those intent on denying the power
orders under which they might prosper. Investing in this of figures who might have them do differently. Rather than
way roots them in particular places and among particular channel the value of their efforts into the support and repro-
people, leading them to become tompontanana and duction of enduring kin- and place-based social networks-
reyamandreny ("fathers and mothers" of their communi- networks in which young men, it should be noted, are likely
ties) in the process. to occupy subordinate positionsAmbondromifehy's con-
Obviously, Ambondromifehy is not a place conducive spicuous consumers spend on themselves, "for the mo-
to this sort of investment. None of the miners I spoke with ment." Put another way, "daring consumption" suggests the
had any intention of staying over the long term. Some active (perhaps defiant) force of young men unwilling to be
planned to return to home regions if the sapphire trade ever rooted in place and made pivotal in time, people inclined to
died. Most were open to the possibility of moving on to confront the need "to risk" (a need suggestive of subordina-
other boomtowns as opportunities presented themselves. tion, passivity, and dependence) with the willingness "to
Very few saw the point of building substantial houses in Am- dare" (indicating control, agency, and independence).16
bondromifehy or requesting land in the region on which Given how closely what I have described here parallels
they might grow rice. When they did invest in property, it many of the cases discussed in Lilies of the Field, it is tempt-
was in easily transportable thingsmattresses, bicycles, ing to suggest that daring consumption is a corollary of any
gold jewelry, clothes, radio-cassette players, and so on; risky business.17 It is a means by which people allotted the
things that they could take with them when (not if) they de- essentially passive role of living with uncertainty exert con-
cided to leave. Even these investments were uncertain, li- trol and demonstrate agency, albeit only "for the moment."
able to be lost to robbery or a town fire. Some did, as men- Thus, although statements from Ambondromifehy's miners
tioned earlier, channel money to home regions through regarding the heat of money might seem to suggest the view
remittances destined for the purchase of land or cattle or for that money is somehow more powerful than the people who
the building of houses. But for those without access to trust- deal with itthat is, that it is too "hot" to handlethe lives
worthy paths of remittancemany offered accounts of how of these same people indicate the possibility that the oppo-
remittances had been "eaten" on the road by their carri- site is true. It is they who momentarily master it through
erssuch a strategy was untenable. Accumulating or saving daring consumption. Here it is worth recalling that miners

"Hot money" and daring consumption American Ethnologist

do not only consume the various goods and services for It was one of Jao's ancestors, Soa informed me, who was re-
which they exchange money. In spending money the way sponsible for introducing cattle to Madagascar by calling
that they do, they consume money itself. They "eat" (mihi- them out of the ocean and onto dry land centuries ago. In
nana) it rather than see it eaten by someone else; they "kill" private, Jao confirmed these details and went further, de-
(mamono) it themselves rather than see it "dead" (maty) scribing himself as mahery rintagna, that is, as having a
through dealings that send it out of their control. "strong" or "hard destiny"an expression that people in
Writing on "the consumption of an African modernity" northern Madagascar sometimes use to describe unique,
in Cameroon, Rowlands has suggested that "consumption is charismatic, seemingly invulnerable figures. More signifi-
... akin to fantasy; a means of resolving a sense of lack or ab- cantly, perhaps, Jao saw himself as an inherently attractive
sence, of convincing all concerned, in particular oneself,... man. In various conversations over our time together, he in-
of one's special form of achievement" (1996:203). Especially formed me that his pet lemur, Soa, Koko, and I were all led to
among men "who live for the moment," it seems that certain him by God (Zagnahary); we were all, like sapphires, at-
types of consumption take on particular importance in self- tracted to him for reasons beyond our control.
construction. "In singing, drinking, and gambling," Sophie Jao imagined himself just the sort of innately powerful
Day, Evthymios Papataxiarchis, and Michael Stewart write, figure that Weber (1968) had in mind when discussing the
"men 'become' themselves" (1999:13). And so it is, I would nature of "charismatic authority." Possessing "exceptional...
argue, for many young miners in Ambondromifehy. They
qualities" (Weber 1968:48), he saw himself as an individual
consume daringly in the process of being and becoming ac-
who draws people to him by virtue of who he is, not by what
tive, powerful, attractive, and even "charismatic" (Weber
he does for them. This in mind, understanding of his situ-
1968) men. This in mind, their consumption is not so much
ation is limited by viewing his spending and generosity as
"akin" to fantasy as it is the means to the momentary reali-
nothing more than strategies for achieving reputability (as
zation of fantasy. Here it is worth remarking that Jao and Soa
Veblen might suggest). From a Weberian perspective, Jao's
and others in their network used the term mireiy, from the
consumption habits might be seen as indicating his rejec-
French rever (to dream), to refer to the hours they spent
tion of the "rational every-day economizing" (Weber
drinking, smoking pot, and discussing matters with friends.
1968:53) that charismatic heroes are meant to avoid. Writing
Whether in bars, discos, or houses, the "dream" of a life
of the prototype that seems to share most in common with
where money is no object was more than just imagined; it
men like Jao in Ambondromifehy, Weber describes how
was actually lived out, albeit only momentarily. The prob-
lem was, of course, that in the context of Ambondromifehy's charismatic "warrior heroes . . . seek booty and, above all,
turbulent sapphire trade, the selves that miners momentar- gold... . But charisma," Weber continues, "rejects all ra-
ily realized through such consumption habits were unsus- tional economic conduct" (Weber 1968:21). To "prove" (We-
tainable over time. Obviously, "living for the moment" was ber 1968:22) their exceptional nature continually, warrior
and is essentially ephemeral. And the miners I met dealt heroes cannot invest the booty they discover according to
with this fact in varying ways. To illustrate some possibili- any "rational" strategy. It must, rather, be spent or distrib-
ties, let me return to Jao, the man whose words inspired me uted to reveal just how insignificant existing economic or-
to write this article. ders are. For Weber's warrior heroes, booty is not so much
the end as the "material means of the mission" (Weber
Jao's story 1968:21); the goal is not to accumulate booty but to retain
Jao first came to Ambondromifehy in December 1998, only charisma. The same might be said of Jao and others like him
eight months before I first met him. Stocky and muscular, in Ambondromifehy. Consuming as they do, they reject ex-
always dressed in a leather jacket, jeans, and expensive im- isting norms of "rational" economic behavior in support of a
ported running shoes when he wasn't mining, he looked self-image that must be proven again and again if it is to re-
every inch the ex-morengy champion that he claimed to be. main intact.
It was as a master of the morengy ring that had he earned Jao both introduced me to the notion of "hot money"
the nickname by which most people knew him: Ampanjaka, and gave me plenty of food for thought on the topic. On that
or "ruler." first night we spent together and in the weeks that followed,
In describing his consistent success in the sapphire he described how hot money might as well be spent on la vie
tradethe fact that whenever he went out to look for sap- because nothing good can come of it. If you buy a car with
phires, he was sure to return with somethingJao often such money, it is likely that the car will crash. If you try to
made reference to his ancestry, implying that there was "put money to work," it is likely to end up "dead" (maty), lost
something special about himself that others did not share. It through dealings with unscrupulous traders. "Why not
was well known in his network that Jao was descended from spend it quickly and in fulfillment of short-term desires-.'" lie
a line of ritual specialists renowned for performing incred- often asked me. For someone as attractive as he, he implied,
ible feats in Bobaomby, Madagascar's northernmost region. good fortune is assured.

American Ethnologist Volume 30 Number 2 May 2003

Once again, Jao's view parallels that of many others It would be misleading to suggest that Jao's attitudes
who "live for the moment" while asserting that what is and experiences represent those of all of Ambondromifehy's
needed to do so indefinitely will be provided by an abun- young male miners. Consider the contrasting case of Abdou,
dant environment (Day et al. 1999:12). As indicated above, a 21-year-old man I interviewed immediately after he had
however, Jao's particular perspective was uniquely shaped sold a single sapphire for 800,000 fmg (about $120). "What
by his personal history. It was also, I think, significantly in- am I going to do with this money?" he asked, repeating my
formed by certain cultural ideals that likely inform the imag- question,
inings of many Malagasy people. As he presented himself to
me and others who gathered in his household to share in the I'm going to buy sapphires and turn them around.. .I'll
celebration of his earnings, Jao did not see himself as a sell them, put my money to work, and make even more
predator, an expert at capturing wealth in the mode of re- than I have now. ["What about la vie?" I asked]... I am
cently described equatorial Africans establishing personal notgoingtodo la vie, I won'tdrink alcohol, I'mnotgoing
value (De Boeck 1999a; Guyer 1993), but as an inherently to sleep with any women... . If I spend all my money on
women, when it's done, they won't concern themselves
powerful being to whom wealth was drawn (along with le-
with me! . . . In the past I didn't know. I didn't think
murs, women, and anthropologists). As he described them, much. I bought clothes and shoes . . . and the women!
his successes in the sapphire trade came not because of the All of the women, all of the prostitutes did well from me.
things he did, but because of what he was (cf. Graeber 1996). Now I think. I remember. I am no longer a child but an
In this, he might be seen as akin to the traditional Malagasy adult. I've got a beard.. .I've got children. I've got a wife
rulers from whom he gets his nicknamethe Ampanjaka here. I'm going to buy and sell.
who have enjoyed varying degrees of influence in many
Malagasy regions through historywhose power is indi- According to Abdou, the move from daring consump-
cated in their ability to draw people, service, and tribute to tion to deliberative investment is evidently linked to matu-
themselves and the centers, they constitute (Bare 1980; ration. He is certainly not alone among Malagasy people in
Feeley-Harnik 1991; Lambek and Walsh 1997). Although the expressing the notion that as a man ages he should give up
power of these rulers, for whom charisma has become routi- the daring practices and strategies of youth in favor of the
nized (Weber 1968), is manifested in the respectful acts of deliberative ones expected of men with "beard[sl" and "chil-
people willingly drawn to royal centers, for Jao, an analo- dren." What of "hot money?" Repeating a common refrain,
gous power could only be displayed through his own ac- Abdou assured me that there is nothing inherently "hot"
tions. It was he alone, and not constituents of a polity ar- about the money one earns from sapphires. It is, rather, "the
rayed around him, who authored the displays indicating the minds of people that make money hot." "Hot money," as
status he claimed. It was he alone who, through daring con- Abdou and other deliberative investors understood it, is
sumption, established for himself and others just who he nothing more or less than the product of the imaginations of
was}8 people like Jao. Provided that one ignores the sometimes
As daring as it might have been in the moment, how- disparaging nature of such characterizations and acknow-
ever, it is important to note that Jao's conspicuous con- ledges, in contrast, how imaginations are in fact powerful
sumption inevitably precipitated the sobering need to go resources for people facing risk and uncertainty, there is
out and "risk" again. And despite his skill at wresting sap- perhaps no better way of understanding "hot money" in
phires from the land and, reportedly, his fellow miners, such Ambondromifehy than this.
risking, however much daring it required, was not appar-
ently something that brought him the pleasure that con- Conclusion
sumption did. Indeed, Jao's attitude toward his life and
prospects was markedly different from one day to the next, By way of closing this article on Ambondromifehy's young,
from occasions when money was plentiful to those when it male conspicuous consumers I turn to a very different seg-
was needed. On mornings after nights of extravagant spend- ment of the town's population: the tompontanana or "peo-
ing Jao bemoaned his situation, sometimes accusing Soa ple responsible to/for the community" who inhabited the
and Koko of stealing from him. Showing me the scars that place prior to the 1996 sapphire rush.
crawling through pits and passages had left on his back and According to Antilahy Lehibe, the eldest living malede-
belly, he once told me that he "kills himself (mamontegna) scendent of a set of five brothers credited with having
in the process of mining. Yet he continued with his risking, founded Ambondromifehy in the 1920s, the first prospec-
daring, and daring consumption. When 1 ran into him on a tors who came to his (then) village in 1996 did precisely what
return visit to Ambondromifehy a year after our first meet- newcomers should do. They introduced themselves to him
ing, he assured me that all was as I had remembered it. Al- and to other longtime residents, informed these tompon-
though he no longer shared a house with Koko or a bed with tanana of the reason for their visit, asked what local customs
Soa, he continued to "live the life." and taboos they should be aware of, and promised that they
"Hot money" and daring consumption American Ethnologist

would behave respectfully while in the region. As days left Ambondromifehy were also castigated in absentia for
turned to weeks and more and more prospectors arrived, putting the entire town at risk. In a setting in which fire and
some of these "visitors" (vahiny) even requested small plots robbery were two of the greatest threats to public safety and
of land on which to construct simple shelters or huts. Anti- private property, abandoned houses were seen as little more
lahy Lehibe and other "fathers and mothers" (reyaman- than potential fuel or hiding places. More disturbing than
dreny) of the community reportedly reciprocated appropri- that, though, was the fact that houses were of so little signifi-
ately. They received visits, answered questions, and cance to the miners who built them that they could be aban-
accepted prospecting migrants into their community with doned with seemingly little concern. Following a particularly
the expectation that these newcomers would uphold the lo- destructive townfirein September 1999, many tompontanana
cal moral order by behaving responsibly while in the region. remarked that their visitor neighbors seemed far more con-
Antilahy Lehibe argued that it was (or would have been) in cerned with protecting the portable contents of their houses
the best interest of visitors to respect local taboos, customs, than they were with preserving the actual houses and those
and, above all, the directions of tompontanana, in that such of their neighbors.
respect stood to guarantee them the prosperity that they In the face of newcomers' irresponsible attitudes and
were seeking in the region. If they had become responsible behaviors, and despite their own inclinations toward hospi-
members of the community, Antilahy Lehibe insinuated, tality, by 1999 tompontanana had taken drastic steps to pre-
and were able to channel local sources of blessing into their serve what they could of the community that had once ex
efforts, they might have done much better. isted in this place. They had placed lids and locks on wells
That the initial expectations of tompontanana would go and fenced in what sacred sites they could, restricting the
unmet was reportedly obvious within a few months after the access of visitors to powerful sources of blessing that might,
first arrivals. As rumors of the sapphire rush spread and tens
under normal circumstances, have assisted them in their
of incoming prospectors turned to hundreds and then thou-
pursuit of sapphires. After the fire, tompontanana decided,
sands, tompontanana authority over the community dwin-
after considerable deliberation, that abandoned houses
dled. Indeed, most miners I met in 1999, including Jao, Soa,
could be torn down, even without the permission of those
and Koko, had minimal relations with the tompontanana in
who had built them.
their midst. They could identify them by their well-built, ce-
It is striking how tompontanana responses to the irre-
ment-floored, tin-roofed houses but saw little importance in
sponsibility of miners in Ambondromifehy contradict cer-
visiting them or informing them of their arrivals and depar-
tain fundamental ideals that many hold essential to the de-
tures, as would be expected under normal circumstances.
velopment of moral communities in the region. Before the
When tompontanana commented critically on the lives
sapphire rush inhabitants of the community likely would
of the miners who vastly outnumbered them in Ambon-
not have been refused access to water or sacred sites, and
dromifehy, they tended not to single out the miners' ex-
travagant consumption habits the way that traders often they would not have expected that their neighbors might
did. In fact, tompontanana interpretations of the behavior ever tear down their houses. Indeed, in other northern
of young men like Jao and of the traders or miners who "put Malagasy settings in which I have worked, newcomers may
money to work" emerged with particularly local concerns in strive to establish themselves as responsible members of ex-
mind. What was most significant to tompontanana was not isting communities by contributing funds to the digging or
the fact that miners wasted money, but that they, like many keeping up of wells, carrying out costly invocations at sacred
traders, transgressed local taboos, disregarded the well be- sites under the guidance of community elders, and building
ing of their neighbors, and, perhaps most significantly, re- houses. That such expensive undertakings are possible and
fused to invest in the community in which they were seeking effective indicates quite clearly that, in tompontanana eyes,
their living. Particularly galling was the fact that many visi- there is nothing inherently disruptive about money. It is the
tors disregarded tompontanana warnings against building way in which people invest or consume that determines the
houses, doing laundry, bathing, washing pots, or sieving moral implications of money. When invested in wells, in
sapphires near certain sites locally considered sacred cattle for sacrifice, or in houses, money can certainly be a
(Walsh 2002a). They further ignored tompontanana re- means by which enduring, locality-based moral orders of
quests that they atone for their defiling acts by ritually the sort that tompontanana argue once existed at Ambon-
"washing" (manasa) these sites with costly cattle sacrifices. dromifehy are reproduced. When "eaten" or "killed" outright,
Most revealing of all, however, were tompontanana com- or "put to work" and sent to distant locales as remittances,
plaints about and reactions to visitors' thoughtlessness with however, money's potential capacity for the reproduction of
regard to their houses. Not only were newcomers criticized a local moral order is compromised.
for building houses without tompontanana blessing (some- Ironically, perhaps, it is the fact that the consumption
times in the environs of aforementioned sacred sites), but of newcomers is relatively inconspicuousthat is, it leaves
those many miners who abandoned their houses when they no enduring traces locallythat is most problematic to

American Ethnologist Volume 30 Number 2 May 2003

those intending to live in Ambondromifehy for more than 1971,-Deschamps 1959; Sharp 1993), it is important not to downplay
just the moment. the dire economic circumstances that motivate and confront miners
who move to Ambondromifehy. Most inhabitants of the town are
Tompontanana perspectives on consumption and in-
well described, to borrow Martinez's (1995) phrase, as "peripheral
vestment patterns in Ambondromifehy suggest the possibil- migrants" who, like the Haitian plantation workers in the Dominican
ity that "hot money" must have an antithesis. If, as Jao con- Republic that Martinez describes, are forced from one "rural periph-
tended, hot money is money that leaves no enduring traces, ery" of the global economy to another (and another) in the pursuit
then "cool" or "cold money" might be that with lasting con- of insecure livings.
sequencesmoney invested in wells, cattle, or houses, for 3. Single stones can and do sell for what these migrants might
earn from a month's labor elsewhere. This is not to imply, of course,
example. Where hot money is essential to the reproduction that all who have come to this place have made their fortunes.
of the ephemeral social networks on which so many of Am- Indeed, many seem worse off when they leave. Still, stories of the
bondromifehy's transitory miners rely, cold money might fortunes to be made in the sapphire trade have remained compelling
be thought of as that invested in the reproduction of endur- enough to draw a steady stream of newcomers, even as their dejected
predecessors make room for them. Like many of those who arrive,
ing social networks based in particular locales. Cold money,
many of those who leave do not so much leave as move along a
like ancestors, reproductive rituals, or other things consid- circuit of chronic migration, motivated by the possibility of fortunes
ered "cold" (manintsy) in Madagascar, might be associated that are, in reality, rarely realized.
with continuity in the way that hot money, like youth, death 4. Tompontanana ("people responsible for [their] communities")
rites, and other "hot" (mafana) things are with disruption. do not only have bad things to say about the sapphire trade. Most
What will remain uncertain in Ambondromifehy, however, have benefited from an expanded local market for the rice and other
staple crops they produce, and some have parlayed their knowledge
is whether, over the long term, responsible and enduring in- of the region and traditional medicines into lucrative consultancies.
vestment necessarily follows conspicuous consumption in A few have even set out in search of sapphires themselves, doing
the way that ancestors do youth and communal reproduc- precisely those things that they would have prospectors refrain from
tion does the death of individuals. Although individuals like doing. When asked how he could dig in what was well recognized as
Abdou may see and describe their own transformations a taboo area, one longtime resident tellingly replied that "nobody
has a taboo against money" (tsisy olofady vola).
from daring consumers to deliberative investors, so long as
5. Although several companies have attempted to establish large-
they do so as inhabitants of a place in which they have no in- scale industrial mining operations in the region, lack of water (a
tention of rooting themselves, such shifts in status will re- necessary resource for industrial mining) and access to the areas in
main invisible locally. which the best sapphires are to be had has prevented any lasting
projects from taking root. Obviously, companies have been denied
access to the Ankarana reserve.
Notes 6. The multiple ways in which Malagasy people simultaneously
establish their relatedness to one another and to the land on which
Acknowledgments. Research for this article was generously sup- they live is a topic that cannot be fully explored here. Interested
ported by a postdoctoral fellowship and standard research grant readers should consider Astuti 1995; Bloch 1971; Dina 2001; Feeley-
from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Can- Harnik 1991; Middleton 1999; and Walsh 2001 for a sampling of
ada. Thanks are due to the people of Ambondromifehy who hosted perspectives on this topic.
me during my stays there in 1999 and 2000. Paul Antze, Sandra 7. Although households are shared by couples, houses them-
Bamford, Janice Boddy, Jennifer Cole, Berkeley Fleming, Michael selves are not built as markers of unions, as they often are in other
Lambek, Anne Meneley, and Karin Schwerdtner all read or offered communities in the region, nor do husbands regularly supply their
valuable comments on an earlier draft of this article. The comments wives with the furnishings to outfit them. Women are more likely to
and suggestions of Carol Greenhouse and readers enlisted by Ameri- receive easily transportable goods from their spouses, gold jewelry,
can Ethnologist were essential to the production of a final draft. for example, or imported clothing. It is also significant that, as mi-
1. Although I first heard it in Ambondromifehy, the expression grants, husbands and wives are also denied the possibility of invest-
"hot money" is not restricted to this place or to an association with ing in affinal relationships by working in thefieldsor households of
the sapphire trade. In other contexts, it is used to refer to money that one another's families.
has been stolen, attained through deception, or, under certain con- 8. I will further explore the diverse roles that women play in
ditions, found. It is an expression that some informants used, for Ambondromifehy in a future article. Suffice it to note here that, like
example, to denote the profits of unscrupulous vanilla buyers, who many of their male counterparts, many of Ambondromifehy's
cheat innumerate rural growers by misreading the weight of the women seem habitually to choose active over passive roles, often
produce they buy or miscalculating the total amounts they pay out. opting for relationships (with African and Thai buyers, for example)
Others attributed "heat" to money that has been stolen or earned that will assist them in moving toward independence. In diamond-
through the sale of stolen goods. One informant I met in Ambon- trade communities in Angola, De Boeck comments that "mine mar-
dromifehy even suggested that if a person sees another drop money riages" tend to "[serve] an economic, purely utilitarian purpose in
on the street and then picks it up with no intention of returning it to the short term, with for the woman involved an oftentimes advanta-
its owner, then this money is "hot." As this last example illustrates, geous financial outcome" (1999b: 109). Again, the similarity to the
there is nothing intrinsic to money itself that makes it "hot"it is, situation in Ambondromifehy is striking.
rather, the immoral actions and intentions of the people who steal, 9. De Boeck writes that on the Zaire-Angola border, diamonds are
find, earn, and spend it that give it its heat. seen to be "like wild animals and indeed behave in unpredictable
2. Although perhaps partially indicative of the well-documented and irrational ways" (1999a: 186). They are understood, in other
Malagasy "penchant for perambulation" (Wilson 1971:194; for a words, to have a class of agency with which bana Lunda miners are
sampling of perspectives on migration in Madagascar, see Bloch quite familiar, one that they counter with a complementary, predatory

"Hot money" and daring consumption American Ethnologist

agency of their own. Although miners in Ambondromifehy do not 17. See especially Gills (1999) and Days (1999) contributions to
liken sapphires to wild animals, I have heard many draw compari- Lilies of the Field, in which they describe the unc ertainties faced by
sons between their mining and the work of shrimp fishers on the Japanese day-laborers and London prostitutes, respectively. For an
nearby coast. Sapphires and shrimp both remain invisible to those alternate take on risk management in India's diamond trade, see
searching them out until they are in the searchers' possession; both
Westwood 2000.
are commonly understood to be given or withheld, attainable or not,
by virtue of a variety of invisible forces. 18. By focusing on what he is rather than what he does in describ-
ing his successes in the sapphire trade, Jao might be seen as attrib-
10. Often, it is said, miners covertly administer such medicines to
those with whom they are closest; for example, those with whom uting to himself the sort of power that has elsewhere been attributed
they share a pit but not an agreement for sharing what they find in both to elite bourgeois women prone to personal adornment (Berger
it. By doing so, a certain logic suggests that they seek to improve their 1971i, cited in Graeber 1996) and feudal aristocrats intent on being in
own chances by making their digging partners repellent to sap- the present rather than doing prospectively (Weber 1978, cited in
phires. Graeber 1996). As indicated in the lives of the former, this is "a power
11. Nowhere is the link between present consumption and future born of subordination" or "a mere residual of power, all that is left
prosperity better indicated than at events marking life cycle rites or to those who have no access to the more direct variety" (Graeber
the fulfillment of promises made to ancestors at which sponsors 1996:9). It is also, as indicated in the lives of the latter, a sort of power
sacrifice wealth (often cattle) for the sake of the guests they invite. As that encourages the people whose lifestyles indicate their claim to it
I have witnessed them in northern Madagascar, such occasions to imagine themselves immune to risk.
clearly indicate the perceived link between present, socially sanc-
tioned consumption and future prosperity. "Dead today, succeeded
tomorrow" (matyniany, solonyamaray), the final exclamation made References cited
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