We leave a beautiful sunset over the Alley of Baobab. A “short hop” flight takes us from Morondava to Tuléar, Capital of the Atsimo-Andrefana region, some 582 miles Southwest of Antananarivo on the Mozambique Channel, and deep in “The South.” “In the South, time seems to last longer” as sung by French singer Nino Ferrer (Nino Ferrer – Le Sud). Tuléar is also known as “Dust Town” by the Malagasy and is usually just a stop-off for the “Vazaha” to the beaches of Ifaty, seventeen miles to the north, or Anakao twenty-two miles to the south.
We take a sandy road that runs along the coast towards Ifaty… yet another unpaved road – gulp. We pass numerous small villages where locals sell anything and everything along the road is commonplace. For example, on the right a piece of zebu under a parasol (hic, we will eat fish on the beach!) and on the left a pile of manioc, and a little further on passengers from a taxi-brousse buy fish for a few coins. Who knows, maybe they will stay tonight at the hotel Tout et Bien!
The traditional houses of fishermen and the Vezo people dot the coastal plain. These are mainly built of rudimentary local materials–branches, leaves, straw,… These Vezo villages are surrounded by dunes, mangroves, and baobab carrot, but most surprising is the barrier reef, the second-largest in the world after Australia. The reef is 11 miles long and 2 miles wide. A wide range of colorful fish crowded around the coast of Madagascar to the delight of novice and experienced divers. Before arriving at Ifaty, we come to Mangily. Our guide translates the name of this village as “it itches.” It is known for its lagoon, its beautiful white sandy beach and also its sex tourism. Unfortunately, this is also part of the tourist attractions in Madagascar.
The Vezo people of Southwest Madagascar are strongly linked to the sea. The term “Vezo” comes from rowing, “vezo” meaning to row, but “Vezo” also means the people who fish, and to struggle with the sea. From childhood, they feel at home on the water and are accustomed to live from fishing. The sea is their livelihood, the place that gives them wood (mangroves) and a means of communication — all trips are made in canoes called pirogues (lakanas in Malagasy.) A Vezo proverb says. “Vezo Nenga-Daka, raha tsy misy Vitany” meaning a Vezo without pirogues cannot do anything. The pirogue is for a Vezo the equivalent of a zebu for most other Malagasy. The pirogue, like the zebu, represents wealth and social prestige. A pirogue is hand-carved from a tree trunk has a square sail and a unique balance—building techniques from another century. As I already mentioned in a previous article, in Madagascar nothing is lost, everything is recycled, everything transformed – each object has several lives.
During the visit to the fishing village of Ambolimailaka, about 25 miles from Tuléar in North Ifaty, we saw Vezo making fishing nets for fishing offshore from a pirogue. These nets are patiently woven from rubber threads found inside car tires and old mosquito nets. As floats, they use the soles of old sandals, for weights a mixture of sand and cement, and for sails bags of rice, flour and cement sewn together! Having all that in mind, we admire even more the parade of colorful pirogues, sails hoisted and carried until sunset by the wind along the beach.
The real marvel of life, are the children. In Madagascar, it is not just empty words. Malagasy children are pervasive, shiny eyes facing the lens of the camera… Some stay frozen, not saying a word, others more are more open want to repeat the experience–to be photographed “again and again…”
Vezo women make beauty masks for themselves from natural ingredients. The mask, called “masoanjony“, protects the skin from the sun and external aggressions. The mixture consists of water and shredded wood. The mask’s color depends on of the wood used, light wood sandalwood, red sandalwood, yellow turmeric, etc. The plants associated with the mask allow the skin to retain its elasticity and softness. The mask is worn for a few hours or a day. Some women embellish them with attractive designs, usually flowers … very artistic! This is a tradition handed down from mother to daughter…