Madagascar's capital has a long name, like many other places and
people there, but it is often shortened to Tana. Tanána means village,
and An-tanána-arivo is the thousand villages.
The island is two
and a half times the size of Great Britain, the city is in the middle,
and the chain of mountains runs close to the nearly straight eastern
coast. So most of the river valleys slope westward, and Tana covers
an area where several tributaries meet to form the plain of the
Imagine a lot of
little cups placed upside down on a sheet of glass. The mountains
ramble down into hills and these become separated by winding lanes
of flatland covered with rice paddies (or, increasingly, with brick-making
fields). The cups are the little hills, some touching each other,
some separated by the rice flats. Each round hill is covered by
a village, with its own name. Each in the past had its feudal clan
lord; their descendants are now the rich class. Each village has
its jumble of roofs pierced by the small spires of two churches,
Protestant and Catholic, because the British and French took turns
turning the Malagasy into Christians. On Sunday even the poorest
walk to church in good clothes, washed on Saturday in Lake Anosy.
There are no direct highways through this wide-scattered tangle,
across which our journeys kept taking us by one long traverse or
The road crosses
a flat rice-paddy corridor on a straight causeway; hits a village,
twists around the base of its hill and curves up and twists through
the center. Here the village is densest; people and chickens swarm
beside and vaguely across the road, stepping perhaps a little faster
toward the sides as the driver mildly toots his horn. Traffic isn't
ferocious; it might not be particularly dense if there weren't the
chickens and lorries to hold it up. Stalls encrust the street, selling
tomatoes, roasts, radios. Where do the people get money to buy them?
They buy cooking oil, fetched up from the vat with a long dipper
in the small quantity that a family can afford per day. The road
twists down again, off the hill onto another causeway that lances
it at its next entanglement with a village.
The lanes of rice-paddies
that were once swamps gradually merge into the plain of the Digue,
which joins many other rivers to come out on the west coast at Majunga,
where at the end of the rainy season the sea for hundreds of miles
around is red with topsoil washed off Madagascar.
villages are the embryo of Antananarivo, but so much of the
population of Madagascar has been drawn into the city that it now
spreads over the hills far around.