Madagascar’s first settlers came from southeast Asia 2000 years ago. They were soon joined by migrants from neighbouring Africa and the Arabian peninsula. This melting pot of Indian Ocean populations evolved into distinct kingdoms, only becoming unified in the 18th Century after much resistance. This new-found unity could only last so long and in 1869 the French invaded taking the island as their own, a title they retained for over 60 years. This was sufficient time to influence day to day life. Since then, the islanders have been bumped from one violent leader to another. Currenty, Madagascar remains one of the poorest countries in Africa
What interested me about the Malagasy people are the vast differences in their appearance, dialect and culture. Around half of the population maintain their indigenous religious beliefs, while others follow Christianity and a minority, Islam. The idea of a mini continent becomes very prominent when traveling around the island. The first chapter of this book is made up of a series of images I took over the period of an hour in the capital, Antananarivo. My approach there was different to that adopted later. Admittedly, it was not always the most respectful, but in a way that I was able to capture intimate moments as I walked through the busy markets and streets. Looking beyond the poverty, there was a real vibrance and atmosphere that I set out to capture.
My journey then took me to the northern most tip of the country. I stayed for 6 weeks on the very small volcanic island, Nosy Komba. The isolation there means that many of the locals have never set foot from the island. There is no electricity supply and fresh water is supplied from a small river at the tip. It’s a very simple ‘Mora Mora’ (taking life slow) way of life. The lives of the local communities revolve around the land, making herbal remedies from some of the 70 medicinal tropical flora. Crafting pirogues from trees, techniques passed down from generations, each family creates their own unique variation. The duration of my stay there meant that I was able to really get to know the people and surroundings, their initial feeling of hostility towards the camera quickly passed as I gained their trust.
Back on the mainland I travelled 800km by road from the tropical eastern rainforest to the dry deciduous forest in the west, noticing yet more diversity in traditions, culture, beliefs and ethnicity. Passing many nomadic tribes and observing very different methods of home construction that rely on timber as the most abundant natural material from their location, I was constantly reminded of the integral part that nature plays in the lives of the Malagasy people. Driving across the barren landscape it was hard to visualise a time where dense primary forest once stood. This potentially unsustainable practice may now be moving beyond the point of redemption.