Malagasy Culture

When I first got to Centre Valbio, I was lucky enough to see a bit of musical Malagasy culture. Whenever a big group of visitors arrived or left, CVB liked to throw a party. They invited dancers and musicians from nearby villages who showed us a bit of the traditional Malagasy music that they work to preserve.

After I had finished my summer data collection and made the 9-hour trip back north to the capital, I started to notice the differences in culture between the village and the city. The capital is very globalized and you see people wearing the same clothes as you would in the United States. However, in the village, most women are seen sporting a lamba over their shirt and pants. A lamba is a 2.5-meter piece of fabric that comes in a variety of patterns and colors. It can be worn as a dress, used as a shawl to keep you warm, and frequently seen tied around a woman’s back as a make-shift way to carry their infant. The uses of a lamba are never-ending. They often act as a table cover, blanket, towel, wash cloth, pillow, curtains and more. Traditionally, lambas used to be worn by both men and women and were the only form of clothing. Now with a huge influx of western clothing sold by the kilo, lambas are rarely seen in large cities.

(In the video above, women are seen wearing matching lambas as skirts and dresses)

In the village nearby the research station, there was an organization where women wove incredibly designed scarves. However, you never saw local Malagasy women wearing them. They were typically made and marketed for tourists. They ranged in price from 25,000 to 55,000 ariary (or ~$8 to $18). A scarf would take about three days for them to make. As one of the ten poorest nations in the world, an average Malagasy person makes less than a dollar a day (~3,000 ariary). Therefore, given that their scarves sold (and believe me, they definitely sold), they made a higher than average salary in comparison to the rest of the country. Interestingly enough, we came across the same scarves for sale in the airport – for 45 euros. That’s an influx in price of $35 to $45 that the airport profits. I’m glad I had the opportunity to meet the women who made the scarves, watch how they were designed and ensure that they were the ones who profited from the sale.

A scarf in progress
Malagasy scarves for sale in Ranomafana

Finally, I found that most of the Malagasy people I met are incredibly friendly. They’re often shy and curious, but always kind. If I was lost, they patiently listened to me trying to explain in French where I was trying to go. If we were walking around taking pictures, they were happy to be in them. I found that learning a few Malagasy words went a long way. Simply knowing how to say hello, goodbye, excuse me, sorry and good, helped me connect to many people. They were always amazed and delighted that an American was trying to learn their language. I never met a person who made fun of my accent or mispronunciation – they were simply happy to see that I was trying.

After a long day of field work, I would sit by the entrance and take a break where many people gathered. I made friends with the sweetest little baby girl.
As I walked around in Ranomafana this little boy curiously watched us, laughed and smiled. Finally I asked if he wanted to be in a photo with me and he agreed.