The Red Island of Africa


January 15

The moment we entered the village of Antoetra, dozens of people surrounded our car. Everyone was trying to say something, but we could not understand what they were saying. We came here to see the traditional mountain village. At first glance, it was not a very picturesque location. We expected unique wooden houses, but it was hard to find them here. After a long conversation, we realized that local rules required us, as they said to pay a visit to the community house to see the president of village. He greeted us warmly and requested a fee for a visit. It was 10,000 airary (around 4 USD) per person.

Driving Across Rice Fields::Antoetra, Madagascar::
Driving Across Rice Fields
Zebu Ox Cart::Antoetra, Madagascar::
Zebu Ox Cart
Narrow Bridge::Antoetra, Madagascar::
Narrow Bridge
Wooden Houses::Antoetra, Madagascar::
Wooden Houses
Storage::Antoetra, Madagascar::

In the mountainous region of Madagascar’s Central Highlands, there is a tribe revered for their wood carving talents. They are known as Zafimaniry. Their houses and art are unique among all Malagasy ethnic groups. We were the only visitors to the village on that day and in the beginning, it was not a very pleasant experience. Swarms of children who attempted to sell us carved items constantly surrounded us. However, while walking around the village we managed to meet more friendly children and other villagers. At one point, we were invited to see the interior of a house.

Eva, Matt and Zafimaniry Girl::Antoetra, Madagascar::
Eva, Matt and Zafimaniry Girl
Old Chief's Home::Antoetra, Madagascar::
Old Chief's Home
Window Shutter With Three Traditional Motifs::Antoetra, Madagascar::
Window Shutter With Three Traditional Motifs
The Door With Sun Motifs::Antoetra, Madagascar::
The Door With Sun Motifs
Little Girl Carrying Younger Brother::Antoetra, Madagascar::
Little Girl Carrying Younger Brother

It turned to be the house of an important elder. He showed us that traditional Zafimaniry wooden houses were erected without nails. There are not so many of them in Antoetra, the community we visited. They are located mostly in the upper part of the village. This is because of high price of wood, which is now hard to get due to deforestation. It is cheaper to build out of clay or use other materials. When we entered the old chief’s house, we found the simplest interior you can imagine. There was only one room with small windows and no glass. There were no beds or any other furniture; there was no stove, no sink, and no running water, not to mention a bathroom. There was absolutely nothing inside except woven mats on one side, an open fire on the other and a few small everyday items by the wall. The house had no chimney and smoke filled the entire interior. Smoke blackened the ceiling and internal walls. Our host without wasting any time started to explain. “Our homes always have a traditional setting, where each corner has a special meaning the most important is the northeast corner of the room where we pray to our ancestors.” It actually made sense. Most of the Malagasy tribes share common ancestors that arrived centuries ago not from Africa, as many may think, but from Asia, today’s Indonesia, probably Borneo, an island, which lies in the northeast direction from Madagascar. “The northern part of the house where you are sitting is reserved for men and guests. The southeast corner is a place to store water. The northwest part of the house is where we keep our tools”—the elder continued—“and finally the southwest corner is for the hens.” It was the moment we noticed a cage near the door. The host added-“chickens are safe here from other animals and people who may steal them.”

Girl at the House Entrance::Antoetra, Madagascar::
Girl at the House Entrance
Antoetra Village::Antoetra, Madagascar::
Antoetra Village
Zafimaniry Woodworker::Antoetra, Madagascar::
Zafimaniry Woodworker
Girl with Little Brother::Antoetra, Madagascar::
Girl with Little Brother
I want a Biscuit Too::Antoetra, Madagascar::
I want a Biscuit Too

© 2015 Maciej Swulinski