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One of the first actions taken by the French, at the beginning of colonization, was to suppress slavery. On the other hand, chores, one of the methods used by the monarchy to enrich the dominant groups, are maintained, if not accentuated. In fact, the chore, which is not less hard than servitude itself, constrains up to four days a week all subject to works of all kinds, generally productive.
Under colonization – “pursuing economic objectives in the interest of the metropolis” – chores are widely used. The colonial government used it, among other things, for major works, long before the First World War. Especially for the communication routes connecting the capital with the eastern and western coasts. These work sites are extremely painful and the conditions very severe. On the Highlands, the relief is strongly folded, the streams have very steep slopes and a torrential regime.
The East Coast is characterized by lush vegetation covering steep cliffs, a narrow lagoon coast, a rainier climate, inconsistent soil, rivers flowing with irresistible floods, and frequent cyclones with very violent winds. In the West the climate is drier, but in their lower course the rivers are immensely wide and their beds are made of deeply penetrating sand. They are thus subject to wanderings of several kilometers.
At the beginning of the colonization, as the government encountered labor difficulties, it appealed to foreign workers, notably to build the eastern way, Antananarivo-Toamasina. Arrived in 1897, the Chinese attack this road which is then only a mud road. Very few escape the hard work and virulent malaria. Yet they came to Madagascar in the hope of winning and saving their wages. However, the derisory amount only makes them “slightly richer” than when they left China.
The most infamous of the chores in the twentieth century is the Manpower Service for public works, Smotig. Fixed by decree of 3 June 1926, it was created by Governor General Marcel Olivier, to provide cheap labor for public works. The work was carried out in 1927 and cost the lives of many. They are particularly hard in a chaotic region. The multiplicity of works of art, especially subterranean, indicates rather the difficult profile of the line.
Starting from Fianarantsoa, ​​which culminates at an elevation of 1,093 meters, it crosses the Matsiatra plain, then descends the cliff from Hill 1 054 to Hill 385
24 kilometers. It then follows the valley of Faraony which it leaves by crossing a chain of hills. Finally, she heads to Manakara at the 4th coast, through the vast swamps of Ambila.
By the extremely arduous work imposed on young recruits and the treatment they receive, the organization gave rise to violent criticism on the part of the Malagasy and certain Frenchmen. The latter discern a disguised form of forced labor demanded of the natives. Among them, Jean Ralaimongo and the Reunionnais Paul Dussac see in the Smotig one of the administrative abuses of the colonial government. In 1928, both published in various newspapers of the island, L’Opinion, The Liberated, The Malagasy Nation … – articles often corrosive (read previous Note).
Qualified as a man of initiatives, Governor General Marcel Olivier embarked on various reforms and institutions, but not always happy. From the administrative point of view, it wants to simplify the structures and suppresses that of the principal governors (decree of 13 January 1926). At the same time, it created six regions (Decree of 15 November 1927), in which the heads of the provinces, without the intervention of the district chiefs and the principal governors, no longer had sufficient contact with the citizens. “The reform makes the canton chiefs the real masters of the Malagasy administration” (Rajemisa- Raolison, historian).
On the agrarian level, Marcel Olivier institutes the cadastre (decree of September 28, 1926) which has the merit of giving a definite base to the Malagasy property. However, he has the misfortune not to recognize the testimonial evidence, thus creating difficulties for the natives to retain what they have and leading, in some cases, to their spoliation.
Other important facts marking the administration of Marcel Olivier: the beginning of the operation of the Bank of Madagascar (Issuing Institution) in 1926, the cyclone that ravaged the city of Toamasina in 1927, the affairs of the newspapers Le Libere (1926) The Opinion (1928) …