Guests of a Zafimaniry settlement are to pay a courtesy visit to the local chief. Beyond protocol, the experience proves to be interesting, instructing and charming. The inner room of the chief’s house is quite dark, fuelling an ethereal atmosphere. A few furniture items are spread onto the rectangular space.
The main facade of the family house is oriented to the east, which represents the sacred cardinal point. The inner room is divided into four rectangular areas: (i) parents’ sleeping space, (ii) sleeping space for children, (iii) kitchen and (iv) guests area. The eastern corner of the building, attributed to the parents, constitutes also the sacred place of the house, where rituals are performed daily. Beliefs are essentially animist, tainted with christianity.
As mark of appreciation, the elder performs prayers for his guests. The ritual includes the drinking for the hosts and visitors of some very strong local rum. Meanwhile, a young female cooks the dinner. Zafimaniry’s diet is based on rice, corn, manioc, sweet potato and beans. It is occasionally complemented with some meat, eggs and fruits.
The elder wonders why his village did not receive more visitors recently, as Madagascar reopened its international borders to tourism early 2022. We explain him the heavy administrative hassle and the increased financial cost of international travel in the context of the corona pandemic.
The village chief enquires why I did not travel to his village with my spouse. I explain that she is currently elsewhere in Madagascar and that I will join her soon. Only half convinced, he instructs me categorically: “Next time, come with your wife and your ten children.” I take note diplomatically.
Zafimaniry’s hospitality made our overnights very comfortable and sweet. The next day, we head back to our starting point through another itinerary. Several of the pathways that we used during our trek were formerly dirt roads suitable for motor vehicles. This is over now. Nowadays, local people rely solely on their feet for their mobility. A happy few of them ride motocross bikes for faster transportation.
Rural landscape is stunningly beautiful to me, despite the deforestation. Terraced rice fields shape nicely many natural slopes, adding warm tones to the scene.
Part of the crops and the forests in Zafimaniry land visibly suffered from Batsirai cyclone that hit southern Madagascar early February 2022. Since my visit, another cyclone affected the same geographical area.
In many places along our way, sets of funeral stones remind us about the fragility of human life. Unlike some Malagasy tribes, the Zafimaniry don’t practice the upturning of mortal remains: corpses are buried once for all. Groups of tomb stones represent family tombs. The height of stones reflects the age and the social importance of the deceased. Cow horns often adorn the funeral site to symbolise prosperity and to facilitate after-life.
Closer to destination, rice fields blossom in the landscape, announcing a sizeable human settlement. Reaching our vehicle constitutes indeed a relief for our legs and our back, but also a strain to leave such a beautiful landscape and culture already.
Along a river, some local residents harvest gold dust from the bank sand. To me, the trek within the Zafimaniry homeland represents the gold that I harnessed visually and emotionally to share here with you. I don’t need other treasure.
What else but to wish the Zafimaniry to find sustainable ways to perpetuate their lifestyle and their culture. Some of their farming and wood-cutting practices need to become more eco-friendly indeed. But the main challenges lay elsewhere. Those count amongst the people who contribute the least to climate change while suffering directly and harshly from its consequences.