As the sun rises in the Madagascar sky, this episode is being brought to you from the town of Antiserabe.
It is located a five hour drive from the country’s capital, Antanananarivo. One must pass through the hamlet of Ambatolampy. If you want to sharpen your skills at ‘Geography’ when, inevitably, you run out of ‘A’ places, a move to Madagascar will render you world champeen. Or, if you prefer something a bit more cerebral and Scrabble is your game, I suggest that when playing you amend the rules to allow proper nouns. How often have you been stuck with four A’s and a bunch of random consonants? Here’s your path to glory.
I’m not certain as to where this blog entry will take us but I hope that there will be a thread at some point that ties it all together. Hop on board.
Let’s start with the Zebu, one of a bunch of animals endemic to Madagascar. One would think from the name that it is a cross between a Zebra and an Emu. One would be wrong. It is akin to a cross between a Brahma Bull and Quasimodo.
The zebu is at the root of multiple aspects of Malagasy life. It pulls plows and tumbrels in the domain of agriculture. It is a symbol of wealth; a farmer is judged by the number of zebu he has in his fold. In part of the south of the country, where a certain tribe practices polygamy, the number of wives allowed is tied into the number of zebu he owns. Another tribe requires a young man to steal a zebu and present it to a candidate for marriage. No zebu, no bride. Stealing a zebu is some mean feat. The can weigh up to 600 lbs., hard to sneak under your coat. Also, if the hapless bachelor gets caught, chances are that frontier justice will catch up with him and a similar fate that befell cattle rustlers in the Old West would accrue to the hapless would be zebu thief. Stung up from the nearest baobab, likely. And speaking of vigilantism, if one chooses to be a pickpocket around here, really deft fingers are a must. They catch you, they kill you. It seems that lawyers cost a fortune and take forever (some things are universal). The legal costs associated with recovering a stolen zebu is roughly the same cost as buying a new one. And, in the event the perp is found guilty, there is no recourse to recover costs. Our society might consider taking a lesson. Zebu is also the animal of choice for animist sacrifices, carried on to this very day. Mostly, zebu is delicious. I’ve eaten it in medallion form, zebu tongue in brown sauce, and served up in a Martini glass, smoked.
Schwartz’s should consider expanding their menu. It would be a natural draw for the Montreal Malagasy crowd.
In addition to zebu, some of the other local dishes served up here include foie gras and frogs legs. The French, while cowards on the battlefield, remain field martials of the kitchen.
Now kids, a bit of history. Like many other nations, Madagascar started out as a group of regional states. One particular king (don’t ask me to spell his name) unified the nation under one crown. A number of generations of princes became kings until palatial intrigue caught up with orderly transfer. Missionaries dropped in with their zealous aptitude to upset the apple cart and created factions of Christian vs Animist. A Christian queen poisoned her Animist king and took over the reigns. Aside for having a Catherine the Great type attitude for all things sex (unfortunately for the lucky suitor, usually a rank and file soldier, decapitation a la Preying Mantis, was how the tryst ended. Attaching a new meaning to giving head. But I digress. Yet again. Queen Victoria, amongst many other royals of the time bestowed much finery upon the local monarchs, who built a massive palace atop the highest of twelve hills. Baccarat crystal chandeliers, finely crafted silverware, sculpted mirrors, etc. all adorn the palace to this day. Due to a lack of local cement, a French architect, who was also the Queen’s lover (but he had other designs) found a way around the resource challenge. He mixed powdered limestone with 16,000,000 chicken eggs and added guano (bird dung) thus creating an extremely strong building material. So we visited palace #1
Sacrifice Tree Madagascar flag, zebu skulls
in the morning and dropped in on palace #2 in the afternoon, built on the city’s penultimate hill. The second visit took much less time since a politically motivated arsonist had set the building ablaze November 6, 1995. A day that will live forever in Malagasy infamy. Not much to see other than an adjacent Anglican Church and some nice views of Tana.
Frankly, there is not much for the average tourist to see in this country. And getting around the capital is murder because of the human and vehicular traffic.
And, God help you if you happen to have a stolen zebu sequestered in the back seat. What makes the traffic worse is the continuous belching of black smoke emanating from the tailpipes of the vehicles in front of you. When I remarked to our guide that back home the authorities place a strict control on emissions, the guide explained that the problems were not necessarily a result of badly tuned engines. Rather a corrupt government. Importing of diesel fuel is run by a government agency. The fuel is subject to a bunch of additives that allow the cars to run and reduce the cost per litre of the diesel. Of course these costs are passed on to the consumer. Not. Fortunately, outside of the capital there is no congestion. But following a truck or car on the highway makes one long to be a Welsh coal miner.
Foundry Melting Aluminum and Making Cooking Pots
Madagascar is well placed as a destination for eco-tourism. Given its unique diversity of plants and animals, coupled with moderate climate, there is a future for economic development. One of our guides lives in a small village in the north. He has built a small B&B and is looking for visitors. He explained his system of energy recuperation to an amazed Lori and me. Aside from the ubiquitous solar panel on the roof, he has utilized a very new form of bio-diversity to heat and cook with. Science lesson coming up, folks. Water hyacinths are a horribly invasive species. You let one in and the rest follow in droves. Donald has apparently outlawed them in the US and is building another wall. They are extremely quick to reproduce and clog up any of body of water that they find themselves in. New technology has allowed the water hyacinths to be harvested and mixed with a bit of cow dung in an air tight container. A hose leads from the container to a spigot. As the plant degenerates it produces large quantities of methane which is used for beneficial purposes. Once the gas from a particular batch of hyacinths is depleted, the biomass that remains is used for fertilizer. Talk about a great story!
As China and India continue to rape the resources of Madagascar and many other nations like it, making the politicians rich on the backs of its citizenry, creative ideas such as the energy transformation cited above may represent the only way that the citizenry can improve their lot. 80% of the population are agricultural. The same percentage live at or below the UN definition of poverty, or below $2.00 per day. Education, medical, and legal protection are way beyond the financial capacities of the nation. Continued deforestation required to continually up the yield of rice (so, so, so much rice) and cassava will eventually kill off the indigenous animal species. Couple that with today’s news that 45,000 migrant miners have descended upon a small area as a result of recent sapphire discovery. Deforestation, pollution, rape, and murder have come along for the ride. The sooner that Madagascar realizes that its future is not based on devastation but, rather on display of all that makes the country wonderful, the better the odds are that the local people, whose names are longer than most freight trains, will be able to prosper from the land’s abundant and natural wealth.
Lori and our Guide Walkig the Backstreets
So, I didn’t find a stream of commonality in this blog, but it was fun writing it. Until the next instalment of How The World Turns, I bid you adieu.