Tourism is a splendid opportunity for international communication and interaction which attracts a great deal of attention on the part of the Malagasy government, owing not only to its economic potential but also to the authorities’ obvious eagerness to open up to the world and thereby to obviate the country’s insular out of the way situation. Indeed, this country stands outside the run-of-the-mill traditional circuits offered by the travel agents from developed countries, which accounts for its remaining an unknown entity with relatively few visitors. Madagascar, however, has abounding and exceptional treasures to offer.
Standing on known ground, we shall first list the usual four S’s of almost all of the world’s tropical destinations: Sand, sun and surf which are aplenty on the Malagasy 5,000 km of shoreline. But we hasten to add another commodity which is getting scarcer and scarcer: Solitude which Madagascar can boast because it has remained out of the reach of the hordes of holiday makers. A fifth S, safari is still little practised as Madagascar’s fauna remains confidential instead of being a mass consumption product as is the case for Africa’s Big Five. Although our local handicraft workers have started making raffia mementoes in the likeness of giraffes and elephants which never roamed this island.
Let us mention some of the delights available in Madagascar: they are of course of a totally different nature and relate to sport, eating or intellectual pursuits, making all kinds of tourists happy in the country. From climbing the Isalo rocks to skydiving off Nosy Be, from surfing in Mahambo to eighteen holes in Ambohidratrimo, the choice is yours. And we didn’t even mention the splendid hiking trails of the Eastern primary rain forest or the leisurely boat rides down majestic rivers, or even the possibility of white water rafting down the East coast torrents, although very few people have dared try the latter. Are you less adventurous or more attracted to gustatory delights? Just say the word! We can sit you to sumptuous five-star meals of classical European style, or present you with the best from Asian cuisine. Not to mention the traditional Malagasy fare subtly enhanced and concocted by international class chefs. They will neither play dirty tricks on you, like serving exotic foods such as sheep eyes or grilled caterpillars: Just some healthy authentic food, from the roast zebu sirloin to the green soup with fresh giant prawns or freshwater crayfish. With a tempting bottle of our own local Betsileo wines which are said to be worth the finest burgundy or the stoutest red Bordeaux wines.
I know one or two people will twitch their noses when talking of slightly too earthly fare, and will rather look for culture. We do not have Plato’s banquet, but we can thrill you with our intellectual treasure troves, which unfortunately may remain unattainable because of our minority language; but do not cringe away: some excellent translations are available, at least in French, but possibly in other languages as well. We can understand that you didn’t travel some 10,000 km for the sake of bringing back tons and tons of books, but you can enjoy good music, from Lulli’s chamber music to the most heavy metal rock, not to mention our gospel singers and the a cappella renditions. Please, do not presume there is no indigenous Malagasy music. After many years of being kept under the bushel, our traditions are surfacing again, not only at popular folklore festivals, but also in more sophisticated forms thanks to young researchers who have delved into the sources and instruments of Austronesian sounds.
Madagascar’s youth keeps naturally abreast of modern art forms, as witnessed by modern pictorial art: our best painters organize yearly salons where they present not only traditional realistic photograph-like masterpieces but also their research on cubism, surrealism and even pieces which remind us of Juan Miro. On your trip back, your suitcases may be bulging with books on Malagasy traditional games such as the fanorona or on the highly refined oratory art practised, enriched and taught by a number of masters who are much sought after on life’s major events such as births, circumcisions, weddings, burials and the uniquely Malagasy Famadihana (reburial/ change of shroud) feasts.
Concerning the last mentioned event, unknown abroad, it is much regrettable that tourists do not have the opportunity to attend it, except upon very special invitation, as it usually involves the next-of-kin, the closest friends and the village community. Some tourist guide books very quickly mention that it is as a curious phenomenon, but their views are heavily influenced by Christianity and western civilization. We may however have the opportunity to take a look at some ceremonial rites which guide books just shyly mention in passing without trying to look into the whys and wherefores.