Madagascar News, Madagascar Weather and Links ( Malagasy News and Malagasy Weather )

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The New York Times, June 14, 1883, p.3:

THROUGH MADAGASCAR.

    A correspondent of the London Standard in a recent letter describes a journey of 190 miles, made by himself, from Tamatava, on the eastern coast, to Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar. He traveled at first in a philanzan--the palanquin of Madagascar--which is a chair placed on two long poles, and carried by eight men. The 60 miles' run along the coast, he says, was through an extremely pretty country.

    On our right stretched a fine undulating country, the sward under foot seeming as carefully tended and as soft as a gentleman's lawn. Clumps of spreading trees, grassy slopes, and peeps of quiet lagoon waters gleaming amid the foliage, gave the landscape the appearance of a huge park, across which our porters raced merrily.
    At night the flitting fireflies came out in their thousands and sparkled amid the leaves, while the crickets and the beetles kept up the ceaseless and almost deafening hum peculiar to the tropical night everywhere.

    Our halting-place was the small village of Panarani, a long line of huts, with bamboo walls, bamboo floors, and palm-leaf roofs, inhabited chiefly by fowls, fleas, and mosquitoes. Every hut had its rum-cask on tap, and was filled with packs of salted hides, which Malagasy porters were carrying from the capital to Tamatava.
    The trade is rapidly increasing. It already amounts to 100,000 hides annually, and throughout our journey we constantly met long lines of heavily laden bearers. The villagers on the road made a good thing of the traffic, and hence the numerous rum-casks...

    We completed the 60 miles along the coast in two days, finding ourselves at Andevorante, next to Tamatava the most populous town in this section of Madagascar, and more than rivaling that commercial centre in the number of its rum-casks and in the drunkenness of its inhabitants. It was Sunday evening, when we arrived, and the singing from the two or three chapels mingled with the drunken brawling in the mere huts.
    Among the traders there I found an Afgan from Cabul [Kabul], a Mussulman from Hyderabad, in the Deccan, and a Parsee from Bombay [Mumbai], who were each of them glad to receive some account of their native cities. Indian traders are becoming as ubiquitous over East Africa as are Jews in Europe.

    The second section of the journey was a trip in canoes of about 15 miles up lagoons and rivers. The philanzan med paddled the canoes. Of the singing of the men he says:

    There were bass singers and seconds, while the melodies were often sweet and strangely plaintive. Indeed, we fancied we could trace in this Malagasy music indications of a higher civilization of which the people are capable.
    Our Indian fellow-subjects have learned from us to make speeches as long and as dreary as those of any member of Parliament. They are merchants, they are lawyers, they are baronets, and they take degrees at college. But not the most learned graduate among them has mastered a good Western ditty or melody. They cannot appreciate or understand Western music. There the line between Eastern and Western civilization is drawn.
    But whistle to any Malagasy bearer an air from Patience, or any other favorite opera, and he will speedily render himself a nuisance, like any London street-boy, to all within hearing.

    As we paddled onward the country on either bank seemed a veritable planter's paradise. But tall grasses, palms, reeds, and luxuriant jungle cover the sugar and tobacco fields of the future. Everything grows here. A vine twig stuck in the sand near Tamatave bore fruit in a month or two, and now yields two crops per annum.

    The journey was then made over a mountainous region, and the correspondent speaks as follows of the Malagasy roads:

    A Malagasy path goes very straight. It despises easy inclines and revels in precipices. Ant-like, the Malagasy goes over everything in front of him. He prefers, if anything, the highest point in any range of hills that may have to be crossed, and deviating neither to the right nor to the left, goes straight over it, no matter how steep the slope may be. Our daily toil for nearly a week was the continual ascent and descent of rocky ridges covered with forests on the tops, which, running in seeming endless succession due north and south, and at right angles to the path. No sooner was one ridge surmounted than another would present itself, and so close were they that a stone might easily be thrown from the top of one to the other; yet a gorge about 1,000 feet deep always lay between, and down into that gorge would be the bearer's plunge, only that the same toilsome labor of ascent might be commenced again.

    Sitting in a philanzan during such a journey is no very pleasant experience. A solemn and oppressive silence prevailed everywhere. There is no live in the woods of Madagascar, and throughout our journey a single black parrot and a melancholy crow or two were the only birds we saw.

    He goes on to say that at one village at which a halt was made a convoy of Government gunpowder was being passed, for better security, from the coast to the capital, and the kegs were changed from one set of men to the other, amid much palaver, and two bullocks were slaughtered and eaten to celebrate the event--after which the entire village got drunk.

    Of the plateau of Imerina, the home of the Hovas, the ruling race of Madagascar, the correspondent says:

    Around us were numerous villages clustering on the hill slopes. There were no trees, only rolling veldt, like that peculiar to South Africa. But the villages were not mere collections of bamboo-built huts, such as those to which we had hitherto been accustomed in Madagascar. Strong and substantially built houses of brick they were, not lacking in pretensions to architectural design, and superior in comfort and appearance to those which many a village here in Britain and Ireland can boast of.
    And here, too, the townships had each its detached building, trim and neat, whose style of architecture at once indicated the other chapel. There were, moreover, indications of missionary work in the land. As we passed through the streets we could hear the hum of children busy at their lessons, and singing sometimes the morning hymn so well known in many an English school.

    There could be no question that, so far as outward appearance went, the people of Imerina had reached a high level of civilization, and seemed in little need of protection from any European state.

    The party arrived at the capital on a Sunday:

    The people were clustering along the foot paths on their way to church, or sitting in the grass outside waiting for the service to begin, as they do in villages at home. The women, who appeared to be in the majority, wore white cotton gloves, often neatly embroidered, and white, or black and white, striped lambas thrown gracefully over their shoulders. The men were clad also in cotton--white cotton pantaloons, cotton lambas, and straw hats, with broad black silk band. In the morning the play of color over the landscape was particularly lovely...
    It is difficult to imagine that this peaceful country, with its pretty cottages, its innumerable chapels, whose bells were then calling the people to worship, and its troops of white-robed men and women answering the summons, was the barbarous Madagascar of 20 years ago.

    These reflections were somewhat rudely disturbed as our bearers entered the city. We had considered we had done with bad roads, with boulders, and with yawning fissures. But all these we encountered as we made our way up the main thoroughfare of Antananarivo. But the appearance of a substantial stone church, with its bell clanging and a clock in the steeple indicating the hour, with handbills on the opposite walls announcing sales by auction, reassured us that we had, indeed, reached the centre of Malagasy civilization.

The New York Times, May 24, 1885, p.12:

THE CAPITAL OF MADAGASCAR.

    Antananarivo--the City of a Thousand Hills--is the capital of this the third largest island on the known surface of the globe. It has an estimated population of 120,000 souls.
    In recent years the town has been almost entirely rebuilt on a European model, so that from a not far distance it presents an appearance of an ordinary modern city, lacking, however, the tall chimneys and incessant smoke and bustle of the modern metropolis.

    The streets are generally narrow and badly paved, though this latter defect is rapidly being improved of late. No public means of conveyance of any kind is used in the city, except the filanzana, borne on the backs of slaves generally employed by foreign residents or the Andrians and persons of high rank and caste.

    Antananarivo is generally quiet, peaceful, and almost a noiseless city. At 10 o'clock a gun from the palace yard is fired, and all is hushed in repose; the deathly silence of a tropical night only broken by the sing-song hail of the native sentries about the town.

    On two separate little eminences, and about half a mile apart, are built the palaces of the Queen and the Prime Minister. They are by far (except perhaps the Jesuit Cathedral) the most striking of all the buildings in the city.
    The former is surrounded by a high stone fence, having a gate, over the door of which is fixed a huge bronze eagle. In the interior of either the furniture is meagre and well worn, and the grounds are not well kept. But they are remarkable buildings to find in the heart of a country naturally supposed to be only semi-barbarous and uncivilized.

    Several publications emanate from the capital: The Madagascar Times, the Ny Gazette, (official organ,) and many others in both English and the native languages from the constantly active press of the London Missionary Society.
see also: Tanzania News - Comoros - Mayotte
    Mozambique - South Africa - Mauritius

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    The Republic of Madagascar occupies a large island separated from the southeastern coast of Africa by the Mozambique Channel, plus several other much smaller islands. The capital is Antananarivo. The area of Madagascar is 226,658 square miles (587,041 square km), making it the fourth largest island in the world (after Greenland, New Guinea, and Borneo). The estimated population of Madagascar for July, 2007 is 19,448,815. The bulk of the population is not of African descent, but is descended primarily from people who emigrated from Indonesia, 3,000 miles to the east, before 900 AD. The official languages are Malagasy and French.

    Madagascar was annexed by the French in 1896, became semi-independent in 1958 as the Malagasy Republic, and gained full independence in 1960.

    During 1992-93, free presidential and National Assembly elections were held, ending 17 years of single-party rule. In 1997, in the second presidential race, Didier RATSIRAKA, the leader during the 1970s and 1980s, was returned to the presidency.

    The 2001 presidential election was contested between the followers of Didier RATSIRAKA and Marc RAVALOMANANA, nearly causing secession of half of the country. In April 2002, the High Constitutional Court announced RAVALOMANANA the winner.

    RAVALOMANANA is now in his second term following a landslide victory in the generally free and fair presidential elections of 2006.
    CIA World Factbook: Madagascar

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    The houses are built mostly of semi-dried brick and roofed in with native tiles. Both of the latter are manufactured in the vicinity of the city. Little carving or decoration is noticable; the Hovas know little of modern architecture or the decorative arts. Ready imitation of European manner of housekeeping, of furniture, and upholstering, is noticeable everywhere.

    The principal occupation of the mass of the population seems to be always walking the streets or sitting wrapped closely in their white lambas on their haunches against every convenient wall and dreaming the dull hours away. Sometimes a great kabary, or public meeting, excites them to a faster walk or to more congregation or gesticulation, and on Fridays, the capital market day, great crowds of them press into the plain to the south of the city devoted to that purpose. At all other times they seem to have but little to do or interest them.
    Many churches, some of very striking appearance and representing every variety of creed, are scattered all over the city; the largest I have mentioned as the Jesuit Cathedral.

    To the north of the town and at the foot of the hill upon which stands the palace of the Queen is the great drill plain of the army.
    The country for many miles around is dotted with flourishing farms and thickly populated villages; from the roof of the Prime Minister's palace a grand view of interior Madagascar can be had.
--Lieut. Shufeldt, in the United Service.

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