Windows on the World of SipaKV

Archive for November 2005

L’exotisme vend encore et toujours. Et le nom de Madagascar est exotique. Pourquoi donc quatre animaux echappes d’un zoo new yorkais se retrouvent ils a Madagascar et non a Haiti, par exemple? Pour un Americain bon teint, Haiti reveillerait plutot des images de refugies, de Jean Baptiste Aristide, de Tontons Macoutes, de coups d’etat repetes, d’insecurite. Alors que le nom seul de Madagascar reveille des envies de voyages et d’ailleurs.

Madagascar? C’est une scenteur de vanille, des orchidees a perte de vue, le bleu aveuglant de l’Ocean Indien. Des lemuriens tout mignons, qui parlent avec un accent indien inexplicable, et qui sautillent avec une vigueur de bon sauvage dans la foret tropicale intacte, ou aucun indigene n’est encore venu se livrer a des feux de brousse.

Rien n’a change. On retrouve cet exotisme de bon ton, et bien colonialiste lors des expositions coloniales de 1900, 1906, 1922 et 1931. On y exhiba Madagascar avec toutes les autres colonies pour afficher l’etendue de l’empire. En 1900, des Malgaches furent emmenes en metropole pour etre exhibes. “Type Hova, type Betsileo, type Bara”… Ca vous dit surement quelque chose si vous aimez les antiquailleries sur Madagascar.

Il n’y a plus a s’etonner du ton Ya Bon Banania des affiches publicitaires de l’epoque ou on nous dessine sous toutes les coutures de l’exotisme.

Une lecture d’une biographie de Ranavalona III m’avertit qu’elle avait fait des publicites pour les biscuits Lefevre Utile. Quelle malheureuse femme fut elle, celle qui naquit princesse, que les colons surnommerent “Face de Singe”, et dont le dernier Bain Royal se deroula sous les quolibets des envahisseurs, qui se retrouva a quemander sa subsistence a son vainqueur, qu’elle appela avec justesse General Masiaka (Gallieni), et qui mourut si loin, en exil… Pauvre reine exotique…


Si vous vous demandiez encore quoi offrir a votre amie/fiancee/femme/copine pour Noel, j’ai une suggestion pour vous. Pourquoi ne pas faire appel a son “inner child” et lui offrir une poupee? Mais pas n’importe quelle poupee, une poupee de collection faisant reference a la derniere reine malgache?
J’ai nomme la poupee Ranavalona.

Trouvee ici , elle est designee par l’artiste Alice Leverett.

Thanksgiving is gone.
The turkey was delicious. Moist and well cooked. I declare myself a bona fide American cook. However…

The special Malagasy dish completely upstaged the turkey. It turned out to be, thank God, not tongo-kisoa, but a coconut flavored Ravitoto sy hena-kisoa. The Malagasy guests devoured it like there was no tomorrow and complimented a very proud BandyKV on his culinary prouesses. Some non Malagasy guests compared it to one Central African dish that also uses cassava leaves. It seems the whole world but the European continent eats cassava leaves (for a sample of recipes, click here. Do you know, you can even make cassava souffle? I’d be tempted to try if I weren’t so tired today).
BandyKV bought his cassava leaves at a Latino grocery store. He also bought the fatty hena kisoa there, because the pork they sell at our ordinary grocery store is too lean and too civilized to make a self respecting Malagasy meal.

Anyway, sorry Lili, between changing Zazakv’s diapers, chasing ZazaKV around the kitchen to make him eat his dinner and preparing the frangipane and the Bechamel sauce, and poaching the pears, and making the pate brisee at the same time, while wondering if the turkey was cooked enough or not cooked enough (my turkey had no pop up device and I have no oven safe thermometer), too dry or too pink, and if there would be enough foie gras for everybody, I have had no time to shoot the turkey post and before its passage in the oven.
Anyway the minute the ravitoto sy henakisoa made its appearance, the turkey lost its star status, so the only photographs I have are of my guests eating, and I doubt they would appreciate me posting pictures of themselves on my blog, especially because noone manages to look very sexy smiling at the camera with ravitoto in between one’s teeth, a fork in mid air, and I’m not even talking about the flushed cheeks from too much wine!

And Friday was Black Friday, the day the official race to buy Holidays gifts commences. I heard some crazy people lined up at two in the morning in the Walmart parking lot for a chance to buy a $398 HP laptop, or a digital camera costing less than $100, or a 42 inch LCD TV at less than $950. I was at two in the morning snoring happily with a full belly, nested against BandyKv’s also very full stomach. I didn’t miss that $398 HP laptop at all…

Determined to be a good immigrant this year, I am ready to go native and bake turkey for Thanksgiving. No cheating this year, no capons and no chicken, nothing but turkey will do.

The Thanksgiving turkey is not your usual tasty but skinny Malagasy turkey. It is a 20 pound beast that requires four hours of baking in the oven. Having never before baked such a big bird in my life, I am crossing my fingers that it will come out moist and well cooked for the sake of the poor persons who have ventured to accept my Thanksgiving Dinner invitation.

My American acquaintances are filling my ears with advice and their grandmother’s recipes. I have been told to buy a device I have never heard of which is the “turkey bag”. Apparently it is to be found next to the aluminium foil at the grocery store. I’ve never noticed probably because I’ve never baked a turkey. One person has told me not to worry because turkeys come with a “pop up” device, which will pop up when the proper temperature is reached, and so I will only have to wake up early on thursday for the turkey to bake in time ! What ingenuity ! You’ve got to admire a country which comes up with a special tool for everything imaginable, even for the very mondaine task of squeezing lemon juice.

BandyKV thinks turkeys are not very tasty, so he’s gonna cook his special Malagasy dish. He won’t say what it is and wants to make it a surprise. Good for him!

The menu I came up with is very eclectic and international (if you can call it that, knowing that everything under the sun that is not American is called “international” here).
Thanks to recipes harvested on the Food Channel, my guests will indulge with :

  • Foie Gras on a bed of caramelized apples,
  • Oysters Bienville,
  • a salad of roasted beets and arugula with blue cheese dressing,
  • roasted sweet potatoes with sweet aioli,
  • my turkey,
  • mushroom and parsley stuffing,
  • Bandykv’s surprise Malagasy dish (I hope it’s not tongo-kisoa, pigs’ feet, which I abhor but he loves),
  • rice of course,
  • and to finish we will have a simple but delicious pear tart with frangipane for dessert, baked by yours truly.

We promise to use only the freshest ingredients and to cook and bake everything from scratch. No frozen pate brisee, for us.

Mazotoa homana !

The feasting marathon has begun. Most people will also eat a lot if not very well on Friday following Thanksgiving, and also on Saturday following the Friday after Thanksgiving. An acquaintance has confessed to belonging to a Gourmet Circle and he will actually make the tour of this very foodie oriented circle on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. He has volunteered to supply the wine which he’ll bring not by the bottles, but by the cases.
I expect everybody will show up at work bloated and overweight on Monday.

But wait, Christmas is also around the corner! Another opportunity to overindulge… Thank God the New Year is coming with its set of readily forgettable resolutions…

Copyright National Geographic, Reg Hill, Paul Bayly, Danielle Eubank.

The collage above is composed of oil paintings of the Borobudur (by artist painter-photographer Eubank), the Amanagapa, the Sarimanok, and one modern day Malagasy outrigger canoe. The first three are reproductions of antique ships presumed to have sailed from Indonesia to Madagascar.
Can you guess which picture is which ship? And which one is neither one or the other?

Austronesian seafarers may have taken two different routes to reach Madagascar from Indonesia. The first route stopped at the Chagos archipelago, halfway between Madagascar and the Malay islands, with maybe a layover at the Maldives.
The second route went via the Andaman Islands, Sri Lanka, India, the Maldives, the island of Suqutra, Kenya, Tanzania, the Comoros and finally Madagascar. Click here for a map.

In 1985, Bob Hobman’s Sarimanok left Bali and took approximately fifty days to reach Madagascar. The ship was entirely made of vegetal elements, not a single nail was used. It was mostly built upon the Filipino ship vinta model. There were no navigational instruments to use and the sailors relied on stars to guide them. To make the experience more authentic, the crew ate only vegetables . The ship is now at the Oceanographic Museum of Nosy Be. Two books have been written on the trip (Sarimanok by Bob Hobman, Grasset, 1989 and Sarimanok by Albrecht Schaefer, Goldmann, 2000) and a movie was made, “Voyage of the Sarimanok (Bali to Madagascar)” which won the La Plagne Festival of Mountain Films.
In case you were wondering, Sarimanok is a bird in Filipino Mindanao mythology, a reincarnation of a goddess who fell in love with a mortal man. Today it symbolizes wealth and prestige in the Filipino culture.

In 1991, the Amanagapa was sailed by a Briton, Michael Carr, his wife and eight sailors of the Bugis group, an ethnic group of Sulawesi renowned for its sailing skills (an interesting trivia from wikipedia : the word bogeyman comes from bugis !). They left Bali on Aug 17, 1991 and joined Madagascar in 48 days, arriving in Antsiranana on Oct 5. The ship wanted to be more authentic than the Sarimanok.

In 2003, the Borobudur crew of fourteen took the ancient “Cinnamon Route”. It sailed across the Indian Ocean, leaving Jakarta on Aug 15, 2003 , arriving in Madagascar on Oct 14, before going on to Cape Town and arriving in Ghana on Feb 23, 2004. The ship was made to resemble vessels, with tripod mast and outriggers, depicted on reliefs found on the Borobudur Temple in Java, a Buddhist temple built in the 8th century. The Borobudur crew did not only rely on the stars, it had such modern devices such as GPS, radios and forward looking depth finder. The crew was handpicked among 800 applicants. The Borobudur idea was a life long dream of Philip Beale, a London investment fund manager who quit his job to pursue his dream !

A very detailed website can be found here. The book “Phantom Voyagers” that I already presented in this blog earlier was also presented to Indonesian officials by the Borobudur crew, during a formal ceremony that returned the ship to the Borobudur museum.

Other expeditions : Kon Tiki (from Peru to Polynesia in 101 days on a prehistoric South American raft) of the Norwegian legend, Thor Heyerdahl, and the Sao Mai (from Saigon to Saint-Malo. The Indonesia to Madagascar leg of the trip was made via the Chagos archipelago), of Michael Pitiot in 1999, the Sohar expedition by Tim Severin (from Oman to the Far East).

Next year, someone is attempting the transoceanic voyage alone, on a surfboard. Her name is Raphaella Legouvelo. She is set to leave Exmouth, Australia in April 2006 and make it to La Reunion island in 70 to 75 days. Stay tuned !

They are singing our King Radama’s praises in Brazil.

Madagascar Olodum
Criaram-se vários reinados
O ponto de imerinas ficou consagrado
Rambosalama o vetor saudável
Ivato, cidade sagrada
A rainha ranaialona
Destaca-se na vida e na mocidade
Majestosa negra
Soberana na sociedade
Alienado pelos seus poderes
Rei Radama foi considerado
Um verdadeiro meiji

Que levava seu reino a bailar
Bantos, indonésios, árabes
Se integram à cultura malgaxe
Raça varonil, alastrando-se pelo Brasil
Sankara, Vatholay
Faz deslumbrar toda nação
Merinas povos tradição
E os mazimbas foram vencidos pela invenção
Iê ê ê ê sakalavas onaê
Iá a a sakalavas onaá
Madagascar, ilha, ilha do amor

Translated :

“Various kingdoms were created
Imerinas point became famous
Rambosalana the healthy vector
Ivato, sacred city
The ranavalona queen
Exudes in life and youth
Majestuous black woman
Society’s sovereign
Estranged by his powers
King radama was regarded
A true meiji
Who led his kingdom to dance
Bantus, Indonesians, Arabs
All merge themselves into malagasy culture
Brave race, spreading throughout Brazil
Sankara, Vatholay
Fascinates the whole nation
Merinas peoples tradition
And the mazimbas were conquered by invention
Ie ê ê ê sakalavas onaê
Ia a a sakalavas onaa
Madagascar, island, island of love.”

According to the paper where I found it, the song, an effort to instill black pride into black Brazilians, was quite successful commercially.
Song and translation found in Black Music of all colors. The construction of Black ethnicity in ritual and popular genres of Afro-Brazilian Music.”, by José Jorge de Carvalho, University of Brasília.

An expedition, the Borobudur expedition, attempted in 2003-2004 to “make a journey that will recreate the ancient trading voyages between the two regions and demonstrate that this was the most likely vessel to have been responsible for spreading Indonesian influence and trade to Madagascar and the African mainland. “

This book, Phantom Voyagers, attempts to solve the mystery of our forebearers, the Indonesian mariners who sailed across the Indian Ocean to populate Madagascar. Who were they, where did they come from, and why did they leave their country for faraway Madagascar (and Africa)?

“… came to Africa and Madagascar in ancient times, long before Europeans knew anything of Africa beyond the Sahara, and long before Arabs and Shirazis sailed down the coast in their dhows to found exotic cities such as Kilwa, Lamu and Zanzibar.

We don’t know with certainty who these Indonesians were, where they came from, or even why they came. But though they left no records, their legacy on the mainland of Africa is far greater than is generally recognised. For beneath the surface of the Africa we know today, the footprints and fingerprints of those phantom voyagers are legion.”

The author is Robert Dick-Read and he argues that our forebearers were not full-blooded Indonesians at all, but Afro-Indonesians that had already stayed for a long time on the mainland. Nothing really new there, you may tell me.
But wait, the author investigates many similarities between Zimbabwe and Madagascar (among others the “tromba” that is also found among the Shonas of Zimbabwe), and finds many Malay fingerprints in African civilisations, not to mention that they brought native Malay food in Africa : banana, yam, coconut…

I’m not sure our ancestors revealed to be Afro-Indonesian will be of the taste of my Malagasy fellows who pride themselves of not being Africans, but it is another author’s theory, so we can read it and ponder on it.

The author sees traces of Indonesians even in West Africa, mainly during the introduction of the bronze technology in the famed Benin kingdoms !

He remarks that “The “discovery” of Madagascar, like the “discovery” of the Pacific islands, went unchronicled, yet both rank as extraordinary human achievements.

There is a website where you can learn more :

I will soon post about the modern day reproduction of the mythic transoceanic voyages.


  • Anonymous: Michener, le grand romancier historique raconte dans sa fresque sur l'Afrique du Sud (je ne me souviens pas du titre) la vie d'une esclave Malagasy
  • Anonymous: mahagaga fa misy album nataon'i nicolas vatomanga izay tany amin'ny taona 1999 tany fa tsy nivoaka ilay izy : redalandy (red island) no nataony anaran
  • Zanatany: j'ai hérité (de mes grands parents qui vivaient à Mada depuis 1927)d'une oeuvre phénoménale de Maurice Le scouezec peinte à Madagascar (Mahamas)