Monday 5 December 2011

Mythical Beings of Madagascar

     It is about time I went back to making a few translations, to assist those who cannot read French. This article has really nothing to do with cryptozoology as such, but it is still highly interesting. It was sent to me on a French cryptozoological e-mail chat site by Mickaël Séon, who apparently obtained the information from the book by Decary, listed in the bibliography at the end of the post. It concerns what might be called the fairy tradition of Madagascar.
    Madagascar was originally settled sometime in the first millennium of the Christian era by seafarers from Borneo. They either first settled, or received immigrants from, east Africa, whence they acquired half their genes, ten percent of their vocabulary, and the custom of cattle raising. Unlike Africa, but like Indonesia, their staple crop is rice. Their cultural life revolves around taboos and ancestor worship. Indeed, the ornate stone tombs, differing in style throughout the island, make one of the most picturesque features of the countryside, while the homes of the living are of sticks and straw, like those of the first two little pigs. Hence, you will note the reference to the sacred tombs of the Vazimbas.
     The multi-dialect language of the island is related, not to any on Africa, but to those of Indonesia; I recognized a few of the words when I was there. Those who want to know how to pronounce the names in the article properly should check the entry for "Malagasy language" in the Wikipedia. I shall merely provide the following brief guide. The "s" is usually palatal, sounding somewhat like "sh". For some reason, the English "oo" sound is not written as a "u", as in most  languages, but "o". Stress is normally on the second last syllable (in the original French article, this syllable was marked with an accent). However, except in slow, formal speech, unaccented vowels have a tendency to disappear - especially final "a" and "y". The name of the people, Malagasy, is typically heard as "mulla-gush".
>     So, now for the article. The Malagasy have dark skin and curly hair, so the attribution to the spirits of pale skin and smooth hair seems to represent an attempt to categorize them as the "others". In a like fashion, the Andaman Islanders, who are stocky, black, curly-haired pygmies, believe that the spirits are tall and pale, with long limbs and hair - like Europeans, in fact. Readers cognisant with European fairy lore will notice some familiar themes eg changelings, the luring of mortals into water to be drowned, and the water spirits who own submarine cattle and marry human males.