Madagascar is a desperately poor country. This is evident in a lot of places. One result of this is the extensive deforestation. Only 10% - 15% of the forests are left. Horrible erosion scars are everywhere, and all the rivers are red/brown with the eroded top soil. One reason is the need for local people for firewood, the other is clear-cutting for agriculture. I am afraid that the only way out of this situation is increased tourism which could bring much-needed money to the country and would give more incentives to preserve what is left of the forests.
Antananarivo (Tana for short) is the capital of Madagascar. It is crowded and poor. From what we were told, there are over 1000 people living off garbage dumps in Tana. And it is getting worse because many people move to the city to get away from the poor conditions in the countryside, only to find that it is just as bad, if not worse in the city.
But the people outside of the largest cities were very friendly. They always laughed and waved at us as we drove by. Whenever we stopped, children started to come running to see us. Even in the most remote areas, they somehow came seemingly out of nowhere.
One aspect of the culture in Madagascar that was unusual for me are the tombs. Everywhere that we went we saw tombs of one kind or another, some of them very elaborate. The styles of the tombs and other burial arrangements are very different in different parts of the country. There are 18 tribes in Madagascar, and it seems as if every tribe has a different burial culture.
Here are some of the pictures from my trip about the people in Madagascar.
School children. (977k) Village people in traditional clothes. (965k) In some areas the men wrap themselves in colorful blankets. (1117k) Women carry goods to market on their heads. (924k) Many women have intricately braided hairdos. (915k) Children are everywhere. The average number of children per family is about 6!! Whenever we stopped, the children in the area started running to the bus to look at us. The children care for their younger siblings. You frequently see 6-7 year old children holding 1-2 year old babies. (1071k) Here they come running to meet us when we stop. (990k) As always, the look at us and wave at us. (1180k) When we visited this village, the teacher lined up the children and had them sing something for us. (1036k) Children watching us. (1268k) Children. (983k) This one was deep in thought when she was watching us. (914k) They catch large grasshoppers (15 cm (6") long), tie a string around them and use them as toys. (1150k) Madagascar is desperately poor. We collected our empty water bottles and gave them to kids. They could make a few pennies from the old bottles and were always happy to get them. (883k) Funeral procession. (984k) Funeral celebration. (1207k)
Visit to a local school. (753k) Vendors are everywhere, and they sell everything right on the street. (1066k) The vendors almost always make neat little piles of their fruits and vegetables. This goes so far that the peanut vendors make little piles of 10-15 peanuts to sell them. (865k) Flower market. (868k) Vegetable market. (934k) Toy trucks for sale. (1083k) Charcoal vendor. They make charcoal in the forests and sell them in bags on the roadside. Charcoal making is one of the major causes for the deforestation in Madagascar. There are only about 10-15% of the forests left in Madagascar. The deforestation is really bad. (1126k) A blacksmith. The helper alternately pumps the two bellows. The forced air at the bottom heats the iron piece that is being worked on. (1050k) He was polishing gems. To the left of his hand is a wooden block with several indentations. He puts the stick, to which the gemstone is fastened, in one of the indentations to get a certain angle of the facet to be polished. (917k) Blacksmith at work. (1092k) They use the horns of cows to make souveniers for tourists. He is separating the horn from the bone core on a fire. (859k) A little roadside restaurant. (735k) Butcher. (913k) Laundry is done all the time and everywhere. The clothes are laid out to dry wherever the laundry is done (in the river, a lake, or any other piece of open water). (1149k) Brick maker. (1416k) Brick are cut out of the mud, the raw bricks are put in a big pile. Then a fire at the bottom of the pile fires the whole pile. The fired bricks are then taken out of the big pile. These brick piles where everywhere in the central parts of Madagascar around Tana. (1230k)
A taxi in Tana. There are lots of old French cars in Madagascar, a remnant from the French colonial days. (1006k) Traffic in Tana is bad. (876k) Unfortunately you see trucks belching black smoke entirely too often. (825k) Buses are often small and almost always overloaded. (924k) Not all transportation is motorized. Cattle are frequently used as draft animals. (997k) Watusi cattle drawn cart. (1035k) Cows as draft animals. (1115k) Watusi Cattle (Bos taurus africanus, german: Hausrind, french: Vache). (1163k) Watusi Cattle (Bos taurus africanus, german: Hausrind, french: Vache). (852k) He rents himself and his hand-pushed cart out for transporting goods. (911k) Two on a bicycle. (841k) Canoes are frequently used for fishing. (1185k) They are also used for transportation. (890k) Canoes are made from Eucalyptus trees. (1305k) A lot of getting around is done on foot. These two were in the middle of nowhere, far from any settlement. (942k) He too was far from any settlement. (1089k) A foot bridge. (1327k) An even more precarious foot bridge. (1371k) Many roads are quite bad. In this area the road is where the cars can find a way through. When one path has potholes that are too big, you just drive around it and make a new road. (931k) Sometimes the holes inn the road were so big that we had to get off the bus to lighten the load. (1052k) When the holes were too deep to drive through, our assistant driver got the boulders out from the trunk and build a temporary bridge over the hole. The small truck got stuck some time ago. The owners are probably on their way to find somebody to pull them out, there was nobody around. (829k) Our stash of boulders to bridge potholes. (846k) The rickshaws are called Pousse Pousse. They are used for transporting anything and everything. (750k) Many of them are nicely painted. (824k) Train tracks. Apparently trains don't run here frequently, if at all. (854k)
Sisal cultivation takes up huge amounts of land. In one area, the sisal plantation stretched for some 50 km (31 miles). This is the plant from which sisal is harvested. It is a kind of agave. The leaves are squashed and then the fiber removed from the pulp. Sisal is one of the export commodities of Madagascar. (930k) Sisal manufacturing. Here the leaves are crushed and the sisal fibers extracted. (814k) Extracted sisal fibers. (1050k) The fibers are then dried. Sisal is used to weave sacks and ropes. (916k) Sisal drying. (842k) Bananas. (894k) Tea plantation. We watched tea being fermented. It takes only a few minutes in a fermentation oven. Tea is another important export commodity. (1327k) Fishing is an important source of food it seems. (899k) Fish trap. (1364k) The chickens look strange. They have much longer legs and smaller bodies than what we are used to. (1285k) Rice is the staple food that everybody eats. Here it is planted in terraces. (1288k) Rice fields are plowed with Watusi cattle power. (1494k) Rice ready to be harvested. (1.6M) Rice is harvested by hand and often carried home by hand. (970k) Rice threshing is a family affair, even the youngest ones help. (1207k) Winnowing rice. (1079k) Drying corn. (1220k) Large Papaya tree (Carica papaya, german: Papaya, french: Papayer). (1105k) Fish is important. Here they are drying fish on the roof of their house. (1147k) Again the young kids help preparing food, here one is pounding manioc. (953k) Pigs were there as well. (998k) Herding cattle. (1102k) The deforestation in Madagascar is frightening. Because of the deforestation, the top soil is eroding at an alarming rate. These deep erosion scars are everywhere. (913k)
Villages and Towns
Antananarivo (Tana for short), the capital of Madagascar. Notice the rice paddies right next to the city. (1171k) Mixture of modern buildings and wooden shacks in Tana. (944k) A lake in Tana with an island. (1095k) Tana's main street. (1013k) Queens Palace on a hill over Tana. (979k) Sapphire mining town in central Madagascar. (768k) Wooden house with tall, steep roof. (1006k) In the central part of Madagascar houses are built out of mud brick. They are mostly two-story houses. (1.5M) Closer view of the mud brick houses. (1093k) Further south, in the Spiny Forest, houses are made out of the wood of trees from the Spiny Forest. (1177k) In the dry areas of the central and southern parts, houses are made of Adobe. (1122k) In some areas, the houses are mainly reed and branches with thatched roofs. (1101k) Some of the wooden houses are in poor conditions. (993k) Other villages look very idyllic, even though closeup they are just as poor as most of Madagascar. (1093k) Village scene. (982k) Village house. (997k) This is how you get to the upper floors. (1029k) Inside a local house. (1186k) Inside a local house. (1025k) A big tomb, nicely painted. (1006k) The paintings are sometimes real scenes from the life of the deceased, sometimes they are fantasy figures. (1271k) Tomb with paintings. (1128k) Tomb with paintings. (1220k) In other areas the tombs are just build of piles of stones without decoration. (817k) In this area the dead are buried in unmarked graves. The tombstones are erected near the village, not where the bodies are buried. (940k) In this area of Madagascar the dead are buried at the bottom of a cliff. They stay there for 2-4 years. They are then exhumed with a big ceremony and feast, the bones are cleaned and reburied. (1103k) The re-burial is done high up on a cliff. (1432k)