With the spread of globalisation, there aren’t too many countries where you might feel that local life is completely different. However, even while we were chatting and sipping a beer in the genteel bar of our hotel, Les Chambres du Voyageur in Antsirabe, we discovered life in Madagascar can seem wildly different to many parts of the world.
As I live in the North of England, I’m very used to telling people that I live near Manchester. In Antsirabe as with the rest of Madagascar, I was surprised that mentioning the city didn’t register any recognition. For much of the world (outside the US), Manchester is connected with Manchester United soccer club, and many in the third world follow the fortune of the World’s most popular club via satellite television. I actually usually get incredulous looks in places like Thailand when I say I have never troubled to see the side play; it seems to be the ambition of almost every kid on the street.
Unfortunately, Madagascar is too poor for even the media to trouble them. While at the bar our travelling companions (who are keen on following the Grand Prix motor racing) asked where they could watch the next race. They were hit by a wall of blank looks; it seems that satellite Grand Prix and Soccer has passed Madagascar by.
As we were to discover, the lack of mass market selling wasn’t all bad news; it seems Madagascar is one of the few countries in the world not populated by a single McDonalds. Imagine!
So, what activities fill the media gap? Well, of course without the onslaught of Western culture, the Malagasies manage to hold onto their own traditions. The hotel bar helpfully provided a booklet containing some clues.
One Madagascan tribe in particular, the Bara bury their dead in temporary homes for two years before digging up the bones, and holding an extravagant party for the dead before interning the bones into family crypts amongst the rocks in the wilds. Later in our trip, we were able to see some of the tombs. Unfortunately the habit seems to exacerbate the damaging slash and burn agriculture affecting the country; families pay for the celebration by trading Zebu (fed by giving them new shoots from recently burnt earth). Of course, the damage created is nothing compared to our extravagant Western lifestyle, but it seems strange for the dead to put such a burden on the living.
If the thought of bringing a pile of bones to the family party wasn’t disturbing enough, the custom that scared me hugely as an elder Uncle is the tradition over the circumcism ceremony.
While I knew that many Africans boys had their foreskins removed, I didn’t quite appreciate the honour it was for the oldest maternal Uncle to eat the detached foreskin with a piece of banana! To be honest, I couldn’t quite look a banana in the eye again during our trip.
Perhaps the thought of McDonalds colonising Madagascar doesn’t seem quite so unappealing after all!