A “malaso” (Malagasy bandit) sets out on a cattle raid in southwestern Madagascar. Decades of regional insecurity, poverty of opportunity and a growing demand for beef have birthed a new generation of professional cattle thieves – the “malaso”.
A herdsman drives his zebu (humped cows) towards the cattle market at Ihosy. An adult zebu can sell for the average annual regional salary. In the red zones (regions without effective law enforcement) that cover one third of the island, cattle are relentlessly targeted by bandits.
A grave in southern Madagascar depicts a scene from the owner’s life – in which he clashes with the bandits. The conflict between “malaso” and cattle herders is turning increasingly bloody as herds shrink in size and each fight to steal or protect the last remaining cattle in the region.
The corpse of eighteen-year-old Antoine lies in his father’s home, ready for burial. Antoine was shot by cattle rustlers two days before while attempting to protect his family’s herd in Beroroha, a town in southwestern Madagascar.
“Malaso” gather before embarking on a cattle raid in Beroroha district, southwestern Madagascar. Operating in gangs and travelling by foot, raids are carried out on the livestock of towns and villages in a territory that extends hundreds of kilometres.
A burnt-out house in the village of Marerani, western Madagascar. The owner of this large house had killed two “malaso” during an attempted raid on his cattle. The bandits returned the next night and set fire to the house with the owner and his family locked inside.
The brothers of a boy, murdered in a cattle raid, take it in turns to grieve in Berorha district, southwestern Madagascar. Lethal cattle raids are a daily occurrence in the rural district. It is a pattern repeated across much of Madagascar.
A “malaso” refits spent shotgun shells in preparation for a raid in southwestern Madagascar. Ammunition is expensive and bandits will reuse shell casings up to 5 times, forging new shot from the lead in old car batteries and mixing gunpowder from black market potassium nitrate, charcoal and dried zebu excrement.
The family of a herdsman lay money and crockery – that he will need in the afterlife – on his grave two days after he was shot defending his cattle from “malaso”. The sacred hillside in which he is buried is covered in recently dug graves.
A “malaso” chief [right] poses beside his lieutenant in southwestern Madagascar. His battle dress incorporates cow horns filled with sacred plants that it is believed will render him invulnerable to bullets. Fear of such supernatural powers is one of the bandit’s most potent weapons.
A bandit and his girlfriend share a moment out of the scorching midday sun at a “malaso” camp in southwestern Madagascar. In between raids the “malaso” live in small encampments in the wilderness with their wives and children.
A family group travel by zebu cart in southern Madagascar. The semi-arid South and West have been largely ignored by the state. This vast but isolated region has been left to cope with the consequences of years of low investment.
A man poses with an old hunting shotgun in Beroroha district, southwestern Madagascar. Madagascar’s south and western plains are home to millions of people but have few roads and law enforcement is largely ineffective. To protect their property, many herdsmen and villagers have taken security into their own hands.
In Beroroha, southwestern Madagascar, a father sits in a small room surrounded by family. The cloth behind him conceals the body of his son - shot by “malaso” two nights before. Watching the herd is often the responsibility of the eldest son. Many parents have lost children to the violence.
The son of a “malaso” plays with his spade while on a foraging excursion in southwestern Madagascar. He says he dreams of following his father into battle.