he new Silk Road. It is being discussed today as an idea that will further confirm China’s sprawling place on the world economic scene, if it has not already done so. That is why not a chance to revive the ancient maritime Silk Road, authentic and historic, especially as some of its implications throw another light on the history of Madagascar and the Malagasy silk. We need this article to knowledge and passion for this country of the historian-anthropologist, also a full member of the Malagasy Academy, Jean-Pierre Domenichini, we had the pleasure of welcoming in the columns of Bemiray. Zoky Raiamandreny, you have the floor!
Ancient Time – The Silk Sea Road
Spinning of silk and its weaving is undoubtedly one of the oldest techniques in the history of mankind. It seems attested from the third millennium before Christ in the Far East, in the south of what is now the Chinese space. The historian begins to assume the existence of a trade in the Indian Ocean in the fourth century before Christ, when he saw the arrival of spices Indies in the Mediterranean and cinnamon on the table of Herodotus. Then in the time of Augustus, besides spices, this trade also involved other products. Among the most important included silk, the great Roman families awaiting the arrival each year.
According to Pliny the Elder, the silk trade was in the hands of the Seres, “silk men” that Orientalists like Pelliot and Needham identified him once, with the Chinese. The silk road that already existed in the Red Sea, led to Adulis. Browsers were Austronesians southern Chinese space and Southeast Asia. Already in the second century BC, Emperor Wudi had authorized the pilgrimage to Buddhist monks to use the ships of “Kun Lun” and probably the boats Champa “land of black men,” the mandarins called “Lin-yi” when they discovered it later. Since that time, the Austronesian built large boats sewn sail, the “Kun-lun-bo” or boats black men, and can be identified as the “koliandio phonta” navigating between India and Asia South East. The science of navigation and the construction of “Kun Lun” Austronesian became when Chinese mandarins recorded it, which allowed Joseph Needham to write that “Ethiopia and East Africa have been known to Chinese traders from the first century before the Christian era. “
The Austronesian sales network in the Indian Ocean had uncovered the island of Madagascar where the first visitors came, no doubt, to exploit the resources of the foreshore (cucumber, ambergris, tortoiseshell …) and to assess the possibilities of the forest. Then, in the maritime and colonial tradition of Austronesian, the island was the subject of settlement companies, parts of Southeast Asia. With the techniques that these early settlers brought with them, it is likely that we can count spinning and weaving silk. Recent ethnology work, it appears, in fact, that the loom Madagascar is in Indonesia to a profession that is said and summary that is used for cotton, silk weaving are requiring more complex model. This suggests that the Malagasy craft was brought by settlers to an ancient time when it affected the silk had not yet been perfected.
Beautiful work of Malagasy weavers
In the archives preserved in the British Museum, figure the testimony of Reunion Creole caterer who had attended Madagascar before 1750, discoursing at length the work of Malagasy weavers and fabrics they produced: “They are loincloths who vie with our soyeries and so can compete with fabrics manufactures Lion that was forced to make defend the importation into the kingdom (…) it is with little means they are fabrics that attract the admiration of connoisseurs. They are still working women to dyes. The colors that are caught in the silk and cotton take much better than the Indians. “
For silk, nature offered cocoons of wild silkworms. In the seventeenth century Flacourt distinguish four kinds of silk, more or less fine and strong as the silkworm and the plant from which it fed. If the interior provinces were providing a lot, “the thinnest and strongest of all was that the worm installed in coastal filao stands and gave the landin’anakao”. The scientific and agronomic works of the twentieth century did not have retained only one, the “landibe” (borocera cajani) who lives on the Tapia. It happened also that it has been high on the pigeonpea. This is against a small silkworm, the “landikely”, which rises in the silkworm. We do not know the exact date of its introduction, if indeed it ever was.
Under the monarchy, work and wearing silk were regulated. To preserve the quality of this material “divine and alive”, spinning and weaving were banned during the year of a royal mourning. Originally, only the nobles could clothe, but were excluded those whose parents were still alive, or had had contact with the impurity of biological death. These beautiful old silk, it no longer exists in a museum collection of Madagascar. It is however important in London, joined by missionaries in the nineteenth century. There is also the “lambda” purchased by Ralph Linton between 1925 and 1927, and are at the Field Museum in Chicago.
Editor’s note: To find the beautiful creations of their past, the Malagasy are therefore obliged to draw a road of very special silk which concerns only they. And they did would bring a deep nostalgia, mixed perhaps with an angry frustration …