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Ancient authors, navigators or travelers, love in their works paint pictures, sometimes very picturesque, about the customs of Madagascar. The scenes of dances or rejoicings are frequently reproduced by the burin of the engravers. A certain G.M.A.W.L. In the “History of navigation in the East Indies by the Dutch, and things of their own,” reports an episode of the voyage of the Dutch. It shows the reception made in 1595 to the sailors who have just dropped anchor in the bay of Morombe, in the south-west of the island.
They are greeted by about twenty “natural”, “making rare jumps with great noise, regressing like horses. The women serve them as minsters, strike with their hands and sing, resuming their tone and walking gently. According to Raymond Decary, this description is not lacking in accuracy despite its brevity.
Indeed, this type of dance consists of violent movements of men. Movements chanted by the clap of hands and the chanting of a group of women. It is still in use throughout the southern part of the island.
Half a century later, Chevalier Etienne de Flacourt gave a “truly idyllic” image of the festivities held by the inhabitants of Madagascar. Men dancing by beating on drums, young women with floating skirts holding in dais by hand, sketch farandoles. Others make rounds while mothers, seated or lying “amiably” on the ground, point the finger at joyful groups to their children …
“They dance in Carcanossi (Anosy) twirling and marching one after the other, or the sound of drums or rhythms to songs, answering every two or four that start the song. And the men who are the dancers make a thousand postures of ballet that incite to laugh a person, while observing the cadence of the song. In other places, they hold a stick in their hands and handle themselves with good grace. “
Raymond Decary cites another region, the Betsimisaraka, where, at a less distant time, dances of a different kind welcome the foreign traveler. Leguevel de Lacombe, who made four voyages to the island between 1823 and 1831, describes the reception reserved for him at Andevoranto.
Several rows of women are ranged in front of long and large bamboos, which two of them hold up to the stomach and on which they strike in cadence with the aid of chopsticks. To the sound of this primitive rhythm, two other women perform varied dances which the assistants accompany with their songs. The White, in honor of which are organized these rejoicings, contemplates the scene in the shade of a high parasol.
According to Raymond Decary, in the twentieth century, bamboos are very frequently used on the east coast as musical instruments. However, in general they are no longer held by hand, but rest by their ends on forks or easels stuck in the ground.
Moreover, besides games and dances, occupations more necessary to life, scenes of cultural ethnology, also repeatedly try the illustrators of ancient books.