Regional fields

Comoros, Madagascar, Western Indian Ocean

Thematic fields

kinship, policy, religion, ritual, language, experience and intersubjectivity


Comoros, matriliny, age system, social hierarchy, law, life cycle, gender, oral literature
Madagascar, invisible entities, rituals, transmission, interaction, experience

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Sophie Blanchy has been working on the Comoros Islands since 1980 and in Madagascar since 1990. After an ethnological PhD thesis on day-to-day life in Mayotte (a French island of the Comoros archipelago), she studied the marriage ritual and age groups in Ngazidja (Grande Comore). By exploring the diverse age system variants that exist in each city, she was able to analyse the complexity of a social and political organisation that connects matriliny, age, Islam and now migration. These apparently very formal frameworks of belonging are reproduced and renewed through the personal development of each individual, according to their circumstances and choices.

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Mayotte, Comoros, 2010 (photo S. Blanchy)

Following a publication in 2010, she has been undertaking a comparison, on the four Comoros Islands, between forms of kinship resulting from the matrilineal principle or inclination, from the uxori-matrilocal residence rule strictly obeyed throughout the archipelago, and from their connection to politics. This is considered on the one hand in its local form (the age system, citizenship acquired through the “Great Marriage” custom, the male assembly, the exchange cycle) and on the other hand in state actions (nationality and civil law). In Mayotte, massive immigration, dual nationality and French legislation have inclusive and exclusive effects that have an impact on kinship and alliance networks and on the feeling of belonging to a community. The question of gender and women’s autonomy is addressed specifically in this context.

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Ankaratra, Madagascar, 2008
(photo S. Blanchy)

In Madagascar, having described the variety of religious practices and representations that exist in the Central Highlands (2006), Sophie Blanchy is studying the material and ritual use of the tropical high forests of Ankaratra, where ancestral places of worship are located. She analyses how local leaders conceptualise their relationship to this environment’s visible and invisible entities (which include their ancestors), and examines the local village’s response to the forest policies of the state and its partners, and to the intervention of foreign or international organisations that have mandates to manage this forest. Here, the “forest” represents one of the ideal and material contexts in which the situated actions of encountered individuals, local residents, pilgrims and other participants take place. They are observed as they interact with humans and other invisible existing entities whose ontology and agency call for of further clarification. This gives rise to local history and heritage that are subordinate to the central themes promoted by state cultural policy.

Recent publications

  • 2016 ed. (with M.-P. Ballarin), Revalorisation patrimoniale des sites naturels sacrés (Kenya, Ouganda, Madagascar): enjeux locaux, nationaux et internationaux [special issue], Journal des Africanistes, 86 (1).
  • 2015, Anjouan (Comores), un nœud dans les réseaux de l’océan Indien. Émergence et rôle d’une société urbaine lettrée et marchande (XVIIe-XXe siècle), Afriques, 06 http://afriques.revues.org/1817/.
  • 2014, Intégrations et exclusions. La production différenciée des hiérarchies sociales aux Comores, Études rurales, 194: 47-62 [special issue: La fabrique des mondes insulaires: altérités, inégalités, et mobilités dans l’océan Indien occidental].
  • 2013, L’esclavage à Ngazidja, Comores. Approche ethno-historique, in M-L. Derat, T. Vernet, M-P. Ballarin et H. Médard (eds), Traite et esclavage en Afrique Orientale et dans l’Océan Indien (Paris, Karthala): 329-360.
  • 2013, Beyond “Great Marriage”: Collective involvement, personal achievement and social change in Ngazidja (Comoros), Journal of East African Studies, vol. 7/4: 569-587.
  • 2012 (with Y. Moatty), Le droit local à Mayotte: une imposture?, Droit et Société, 80: 117–139.
  • 2012, Comoros, in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Third Edition, Part 2012-2 (Leiden, Brill): 90–100.
  • 2010, Maisons des femmes, cités des hommes : filiation, âge et pouvoir à Ngazidja (Comores) (Nanterre, Société d’ethnologie).
  • 2010, Vierge, mère ou reine? Apparitions mariales à Madagascar, Archives de sciences sociales des religions, 150: 135–154.
  • 2006 eds (with J.-A. Rakotoarisoa, P. Beaujard and C. Radimilahy), Les dieux au service du peuple : itinéraires religieux, médiations, syncrétisme à Madagascar (Paris, Karthala).


Publications available at the Éric-de-Dampierre library


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Mis à jour le 25 October 2016

Directeur de recherche émérite, CNRS
[Emeritus Research Professor CNRS]