The sun sets
over Africa. And as I watch the orange horizon across the Mozambique Channel,
another day approaches its final moments. I can’t help but wonder whether
here also lies the closure of an enchanted time in African history. It
is an era which has inspired legends and grand stories. It has captured
countless dreams and imaginations. Does it pass as just another sunset?
There are no flags and fanfare to send it off. It slips quietly over the
horizon and before you realize it has gone, the legacy is just a collection
of tales for future generations of children to marvel at in disbelief that
such a time was ever real. If asked upon me, I will affirm that Africa’s
legacy is true as I recall the magic to sit on the shore of Madagascar
and experience the remaining moments of a sunset over Africa.
the Coconut Club. A dugout
boat and some fishermen pulling in a net
- Tiny people with very long hair
I had been
in Madagascar for almost three months. I came to do research for graduate
school and was studying how the United States international environmental
policy was being implemented. Madagascar is known for having one of the
worlds most diverse ecosystems, yet its rainforest are facing an epidemic
plight. Less than fifteen percent of the original forests still remain.
Madagascar had just been named the poorest country in the world. Its gross
domestic product per capita was only $820 per year. This number becomes
even more astonishing when considering that only 3.6% of its work force
earns wages. In the face of this situation, a new national park was being
established with American dollars. I had traveled there to study it first
hand. Most of my stay there was spent in the small village of Ranomafana,
the headquarters for the park.
first time the truck got stuck.
to transform the local people from practicing slash and burn agriculture
were not working well. The project was seen by many local villagers as
simply an intrusion by expatriates who were running a park for foreign
tourists. Besides building trails and a visitor center, little was being
done to help the villagers adapt to a less environmentally destructive
lifestyle. The project staff who did work with villagers complained that
the Malagasy just don’t believe that the forest will ever disappear. A
crucial aspect of traditional Malagasy religion is the importance of ancestors.
Many Malagasy believe that, no matter what happens, their ancestors will
always take care of the future. With that cultural foundation, there is
little a park boundary will do to halt the continuation of slash and burn
months of living among the local politics of the project, I was starting
to become disenchanted with Madagascar’s environmental programs. My despairing
philosophy, however, would soon change. One night there was a small get
together at the home of two British men who worked for a small non-profit
organization. An American couple who worked for the park project brought
over some Malagasy beer. The five of us would often get together on the
weekends, engage in discussion about world power and share in a subtle
humor that could only be appreciated in western cultures. These get together
provided a refreshing escape from the harsh realities of our surroundings.
Someone mentioned that they had heard rumors that a very primitive tribe
had recently come out of isolation to complain to the government about
their forest being cut down. Another person interjected that he had heard
it on the radio. He elaborated on the story adding that the organization
they complained to was ANGAP; which is responsible for managing the country’s
forest reserves. He went on to say, “These people live so deep in the forest,
that most people don’t even know they exist. Any history book on Madagascar
will mention that there are nineteen ethnic tribes in Madagascar but this
tribe is never even mentioned. They’re Pygmies and most people have never
seen them.” “Yah, but they are a different people than the Ete Pygmies
of Zaire,” someone else said. There had just been a quick reference on
the radio, but supposedly, many Malagasy know about them.
If this story
were true, I would find them. A plea like this, from a people innocent
of corporate permutation, could possibly build international support for
conservation efforts. The next day, I talked with many people to see if
I could learn more. The director of the park had heard of the radio story.
“Good luck finding them,” he said. “About two-hundred anthropologist and
reporters will probably be looking for them as well.” Some Malagasy people
said that these people are half animal, not real humans and that they only
stand a few feet tall. Another person said “They are very, very tiny people
with really long hair” These remarks would ignite the Indiana Jones instincts
of any ambitious adventurer.
be an opportunity for further investigation that weekend in Antananarivo
(Tana) during scheduled meetings with some policy people in the capital.
I could talk to the people at ANGAP and hear the news from the source of
the radio report.