Madagascar: 50 years of independence.
There is always a surprise around the corner! So be prepared for the unexpected. Our old friends, John and Sally Rawlinson, long-time members of the Anglo-Malagasy Society, invited us to join them in London for a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Madagascar’s independence day. So what do you know about Madagascar, its political past and present? I have to confess, I knew very little, but I had been enthralled by the excellent David Attenborough series on Madagascar, revealing the immense variety of both climate and wild life, in particular the numerous varieties of lemurs, some of which are native only to the island of Madagascar.
But on this day, June 26th, fifty years ago, Madagascar was granted its independence, having formerly been a French colony, but one which had close ties with Britain through past missionary activity and because of invasion during World War II to topple the Vichy government that had been installed as a puppet administration by the Axis powers.
The celebration was enlivened by live Malagasy music at the hands of the Malagasy musician Modeste and his band. There was Malagasy food and Three Horses beer (special Malagasy brew), Malagasy dancing, there were words of welcome and a short speech by Mervyn Brown, former ambassador to Madagascar and President of the Society, who formally cut the cake and discreetly promoted his recently published History of Madagascar to those who would like to find out more about this recondite island. I jumped at the opportunity. And when I was introduced to Julian Cooke, and learned he had cycled the 1000 kms from one end of the island to the other, I was even more intrigued!!
Though the Society has a membership of little more than 100, the turn-out was numerous and enthusiastic, one Malagasy lady even coming down from Edinburgh for the occasion. And the gathering was blessed by the presence of an up and coming tennis star who has been having an excellent Wimbledon this year. Ethnically, the Malagasies are a mixture of Indonesian groups that came out of Borneo and settled in the Highlands, and East African groups that occupied the coastal areas. Sadly, these ethnic divisions are still evident in the politics of
the island today, which continue to destabilize the administration and isolate the country in terms of international relations and investment. But what strongly came across, from those attending the celebration, was the sweet gentle nature of the Malagasy people and their sense of fun.