Among The Sakalavas
( Originally Published 1904 )
LEAVING Tananarivo, we make our way in filanzanas across the high plains to the western edge of the plateau, and then wind in and out down the hills to the sea. Toward the end of our journey we are able to take boats on the Betsiboka
River, and after a little more than a week from our starting time, we find ourselves in Majunga, the thriving sea-port of the northwestern coast.
Our journey has been a hard one, and by no means so pleasant as that through central and eastern Madagascar. On the plateau we had to deal with the Hovas ; but here in the west we are among the Sakalavas, a black people with features like negroes, more fierce and less civilized than any of the natives we have yet seen. Some of the men have ornaments on their foreheads. They wear white cloths about their dark forms, and their woolly hair is done up in little braids, so that were it not for their beards we might think them women. The women also have curious ways of dressing their hair, some twisting it so that it stands out in great round tassels on all sides of the head. Both sexes are fond of jewelry, and wear all they can get.
The Sakalava villages are ruder than those of the Hovas. Some of them have walls about them with great fences of cactus outside, and heavy gates which can be closed at night or in times of attack by hostile tribes. Many of the houses are mean huts of mud bricks. There are pigs everywhere, and we are troubled with mosquitoes and all sorts of vermin. On our way we pass large herds of cattle. Many of the Sakalavas are farmers and stock breeders, and a man's wealth is estimated by the number of cattle he owns.
We go through a belt of forest on our way down from the plateau, and at night hear the lemurs howling in the woods. The lemur is found in most parts of Madagascar. It is a sort of half ape with a long tail, enormous hands, and a head not unlike that of a cat. There are tame lemurs kept as pets in some of the villages. The animals make us think of foxes or monkeys, and they are supposed to belong to the monkey tribe. Some lemurs are white and black, some have white fur rings about their black tails, and some have a fringe of long hair around the face like a ruff. They are a night animal, prowling about through the darkness and often howling in concert like cats. They are rather timid, and will not attack man unless brought to bay.