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After devoting a 100 posts to spirituality and nature, i would like to begin with my impressions of  foreign lands where I was posted which impacted my being in fundamental ways. The first is on the exotic island of Madagascar, off the eastern coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean – more a sub continent than an island. Everything about the  land  was extraordinary and mysterious. The people were a rare racial mix of Asian and African, which we do not see anywhere else.  The original inhabitants from far away Indonesia became the first colonizers after the pre-historic migrations of the Mongoloid races moving from the Asian continent to the Americas when the land masses had yet to separate, becoming the American Indians and of course before Columbus and Cook.

The remarkable Malagache originated from Indonesia coming in reed boats ( the book Kontiki Expedition dwells on the phenomenon ) , touching the southern Indian land mass and then moving into the Indian Ocean to discover the great virgin uninhabited island. In the process they acquired several Sanskrit words including the word for God ( Hari) into their language  which is closely related to the Malay group of languages.

In the cool highlands of Madagascar one is surprised to find the upper class aristocracy being  an  entirely light-skinned Mongoloid race, Later they inducted African slaves from the mainland and thus the two races mixed and merged in quite an extraordinary way.



The flora and fauna is equally unique and startling. Forests of baobab trees are surreal, almost as if Salvador Dali had painted them or imported straight from Alice in Wonderland. Man’s earliest ancestors the Lemur monkeys are only found here, whom the Malagache believe, not surprisingly, to be their ancestral souls. Their variety is a naturalists’ delight, ranging from tiny owl like creatures of the night to a variety of colourful species.  

credit : wikipedia commons

credit : wikipedia commons

The Malagache have the most exotic customs for housing their dead. Besides every home, whether a stately aristocratic mansion or a hovel one finds a small mysterious colourful doll-like house which is actually a cemetery where deceased ancestors lie in coffins ( not underground). My secretary, a fashionable smart lady fluent in French, once a year would take leave to honour her ancestors, which involved redressing the embalmed bodies in fresh clothing and carrying them ceremoniously through town, with band music, before returning them to their colourful little cottages, freshly attired in silks  amidst mysterious, if nerve-wracking singing throughout the night. Even the name of their capital city is a unpronouncable – Antananarivo. to complete the exotica the land is totally Francophone.




Over the rainbow

In Madagascar,

People always in whispers

Cupping their laughter in their palms,

 Seething with anger in their calm,

Came in reed boats

A thousand years ago

From the Indonesian archipelago.


The extinct Elephant Bird

No longer lays its eggs on the sea-shore,

Though Paradise Fish cavorting in the ponds

Still change colours to become

Phosphorescent warriors pouting and glum,

Like queen Ranavalona who was known

To have thrown down her lovers one by one

From the palace walls

When her lust was done.


Tangerines never had a golden glow

As in the Zoma markets of Antananarivo

Where fossils of giant molluscs

Are sold with amethysts and agate

As precious paper weights.


The churches resound

 With stirring psalms

Secretly for the ancestors

Lying embalmed,

Waiting to be dressed anew

In silken shrouds in their tombs,


Ylang Ylang - perfume plant

Ylang Ylang – perfume plant

As Gondwanaland drifts

With its wonders, The Malagache

Are hushed in a trance

Before wide-eyed lemurs

Leaping in the Boabab gums,

risen like dumb ancestors

From the fragrance of Ylang Ylang,

Over the rainbow

In Antananarivo.

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