About 165 million years ago, during a cataclysmic earthquake, Madagascar broke free from Africa, drifting approximately 250 miles to the northeast and its present position.
Insects the size of animals, giant tortoises and ten-foot elephant birds, big enough to kick a human to death, roamed the island. They cavorted beneath 1000-yr-old Boabab trees, comical-looking with very fat trunks, crowned by tops disproportionately small. There were no lions, tigers or wolves. These animals evolved long after the land split away. Her forests were tangled masses of dense vegetation. The first humans arrived on Madagascar a mere 2000 years ago and most likely arriving in outrigger canoes from India and Africa and Arabia.
Madagascar was always one of the world’s poorest countries. Corruption, in-fighting and decades of mismanagement by French Marxist regimes left her isolated. No investors were interested. Their jungles are reduced to 15 percent of their original size, scores of species are disappearing, topsoils thinning and her future is very uncertain.
Of the good old days, Marco Polo wrote, ”Pirates contributed booty, buried treasure and genes to Madagascar’s population. At one time more than 1000 English, French, Portuguese, Dutch and other pirates were based on Madagascar’s east coast. They used it as a convenient base to attack ships rounding the Cape of Good Hope.” Captain Kidd was sent by England to capture pirates but instead he became a pirate himself. Later the island became a haven for slave traders before it fell to France in 1896. She became self-governing in 1958 as the Malagasy Republic, and in 1993, she gained complete freedom as the Republic of Madagascar.
Currently 13 million Malagasy are adrift on this island in the Indian Ocean, a synthesis of Malayo-Indonesian, African/Arabic and European/French ancestry. These Malagasy are a complex mixture of hundreds of years of tradition, religion, language and genetics and make up a large group of people from everywhere else, uniform in its language, beliefs and handsome in physical beauty.
As immigrants, they brought along seeds for the crops they grew, consequently the extensive island rice paddies look as if it belongs in Asia rather a chip off of nearby Africa.
Conrad Phillip Kottak, noted Anthropologist, wrote in his book, Cultural Anthropology, Second Edition, “The Malagasy keep humped zebu cattle. When the rice fields have been flooded and tilled, they let the cattle go in. By yelling at them and switching them, young men drive the cattle into a frenzy so that they trample the fields, breaking up clumps of earth and thoroughly mixing it with water. [forming] a smooth mud in which women can plant rice seedlings.” To fend off the large bird population, guards are posted 24 hours per day to drive off birds during the last two months before harvesting the rice.”
From Mexico came the vanilla the Malagasy grow. It is harvested from climbing orchids. Today, they produce two-thirds world’s vanilla, in addition to peppercorns, native to India along with many other Indonesian Moluccan Islands’ spices.
More than 75 percent of the labor force is engaged in agriculture, however only about 5 percent of the land is farmed. Subsistence crops are rice, cassava, beans, bananas, corn, sweet potatoes, potatoes and taro. Cash crops are shrimp (the most important), coffee, sisal, spices, tobacco and much of the world’s supply of vanilla. They also raise cattle, goats and pigs.
AKOHO SY VOANIO, a chicken dish prepared with rice and coconut (recipe below)
FOZA SY HENA-KISOA, a stir-fried crab, pork and rice dish
KOBA, a pate of rice, banana and peanuts
LITCHEL, an alcoholic fruit drink made from lychees
PANGO, a beverage made from scorched rice and boiling water, served with most meals
RAUGAILLE, peeled tomatoes, onion and lemon
RICE DISHES, frequently served with beef, pork, chicken, crab, fish, corn, peanuts and potatoes
SAKAY, a paste of chili, ginger and garlic
TOAKA GRASY, a crude rum made from rice and sugar cane
TOMATOES ROUGAILLE, a tomato sauce with green peppers, onion, hot pepper sauce and rice
TREMBO, a coconut toddy
VARENGA, beef cut, simmered, shredded, then roasted
RECIPE: AKOHO sy VOANIO
Two cloves of garlic
One can coconut milk (Unsweetened)
Two tablespoons ginger
Oil, salt, pepper
Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper to taste. Slice the tomatoes into small cubes. Set aside.
Add a small amount of oil to a frypan. Saute chicken until almost done over medium heat.
Add onions to the pan. Continue stirring over medium heat until the onions are brown.
Add ginger, tomatoes, and garlic to the pan. Saute together briefly over medium heat.
Add coconut milk. Mix well. Reduce heat.
Simmer over low heat for thirty minutes.
Serve with rice and salad. Serves four.