The Madagascan town of Antsirabe is famous for the sheer number of artisan craft shops around. We spent a happy morning touring a number and found locals beevering hard for the tourist $.
Their skill made me wonder (and not for the last time) at just how I could wrinkle out a living in Madagascar. They don’t have too much demand for mere pen pushers here.
As we were on an organised tour, I think our guide decided to get the artisan tours completed on one fell swoop. Antsirabe is a fairly large (at around quarter of a million population, it is Madagascar’s third largest town) and an attractive place to wander. It seems to have craft workers covering many of the Madagascar standards.
First up, we were ushered into the ground floor room of a squat concrete home, to meet a man building toy cars from tin cans and other waste material. He had a very bad chest inflection, and had we not been so early on in our trip, would have donated our stash of antibiotics to him.
In between coughing fits, he explained how he used spare bits of break cable, defunct plastic medical tubing and tin cans to produce his cars. Each car took around 3 hours to produce and a small one cost perhaps $4.50 to buy. I particularly liked the chunky looking trucks and the cute Citroen 2CV’s, although their fairly rough edges would have made them an adult toy, rather than for a child. I was particularly taken with ones made from the local beer cans; Three Horses Beer. These took on a uniquely Madagascar slant.
Next door, we met a family of five teenaged sisters all sitting in a line on a long bench while hand embroidering a tablecloth. A man sat at the only table in the room hand sketching the designs onto a piece of calico. Each tablecloth set with matching cloth napkins takes around five days to produce, and cost around $35 to buy. Of course, we couldn’t leave without buying a set. Perhaps most impressive was that the hand embroidery was completed such that the design was visible and perfectly good on both sides of the cloth. Now that’s what I call attention to detail.
Further along the town, we went to visit some men working on Zebu horn. The Zebu is the cattle commonly seen in Madagascar; a type of cow that can graze the poor lands. Here. I needed something of a stronger stomach, as I spotted some blood dripping from the end of a freshly hacked off horn. The small of the flesh as it was burnt so as to malleable was equally unpleasant.
Our man was making a statue of a bird; very clever but not really my thing. Other items on offer included delicate horn serving spoons and such like.
We also visited a gem and stone store. This was a shop selling stone eggs fashioned from some of the many types of beautiful stone to be found in the country, and then some pricy rings and jewellery. If this shop was any indicator, there were few bargains to be had here. The main gem area is to the south of Madagascar, so it would probably be better to save your pennies ‘til you reached here. Of course, gems are coveted the world over, so there are few real bargains anywhere in Madagascar.
Finally, a few miles out of town, we visited a stall selling raffia made items, from statues and pendants to bags. The latter in particularly, looked bright and colourful and at just a few dollars each were excellent value for presents for the cat sitters back home. I particularly liked the bright animal shapes woven into the bag design, and alongside the stalls, you could watch the women quickly weaving the items. It’s worth checking out the bag handles just to make sure they are sturdy and long lasting enough.
Antsirabe certainly seemed to be the handicraft capital of Madagascar, so take a little time out for shopping while you are in town.