Wednesday, March 23, 2016


The culture of Madagascar is closely related to the culture of Borneo. Even though the early settlers arrived from Borneo thousands of years ago, there is clear evidence of this bond in their musical instruments, home construction, cuisine, and other features. Their art, with inspirations of both Southeast Asia and mainland Africa, is no different. 

Traditional arts were definitely dependent on the materials readily available. Silk and cloth weaving are necessary skills for the creation of the lamba cloths (the traditional cloth that is wrapped around the body). Embroidery and sewing arts also go hand-in-hand with the weaving arts. Raffia weaving is also integral to Malagasy arts and is used to make a variety of items used in housewares, such as baskets and mats. Raffia is also used in textiles, such as bags, purses, and hats.

Side of djembe drum
Woodcarving, a common art form throughout Africa, is a highly developed form of art on Madagascar. Many of these decorative skills are found on furniture and in home building. Sculptors vary their skills between functional sculptures like furniture and funeral posts to smaller carvings aimed for the tourist market. The Zafimaniry are especially known for their wood carving skills; it made the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list. 

Women Grooming, by Dzery
In the urban areas, art galleries are popping up here and there. It’s still a small number, but it’s growing. Local painters are gaining recognition in their communities through these galleries as painting arts gain popularity. 

Literature in Madagascar is mainly written in Malagasy, a language that is synonymous with its national identity. The earliest examples of writings from Madagascar were mainly religious in nature and written using an Arabic script called sorabe adapted specifically for the Malagasy language.

At the beginning of the 20th century after the French colonization of the island, a Western style of literature began to emerge among writers. The early part of their modern literary history (1906-1938) is divided into four phases with these aptly named periods: 1) learning to walk, 2) nostalgia, 3) a return to origins, and 4) the search for what’s been lost. Through these periods, Malagasy writers not only developed their own writing styles but also developed their voices as a people. For many, a national identity was formed in the struggles of colonialism and a national voice began to be heard. 

Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo. Rough translation: "Reflections, a silent dream / Almost no vibration / Glide, to where? crossing, / And which? Not found ..."
The great poet Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo and is often touted as Africa’s first modern poet. What made his work different from others at that time was his ability to merge romantic, modernist, and surrealist styles of poetry with key features of Malagasy oratory. He didn’t just write poetry: he also wrote several historical novels and even an opera. His suicide by cyanide in 1937 also contributed to immortalizing his works. 
Clarisse Ratsifandrihamanana, circa 1952
Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo paved the way for other modern Malagasy writers: Elie Rajaonarison (poet), Jacques Rabemananjara (poet, playwright, politician), Jean Verdi Salomon Razakandrainy (also known as Dox, poet and writer), Jean-Luc Raharimanana (writer, journalist, teacher), Clarisse Ratsifandrihamanana (writer, recipient of seven literary prizes), and Michèle Rakotoson (film maker, writer, journalist).

Up next: music and dance

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