At the Lemurs’ Festival

Posted on 29 September 2006
Celebrations at the Lemurs' Feast. Madagascar 2006.
© Claire Balbo
After having spent one week with our host family, we five volunteers from Europe together with the WWF Andapa spent another full week close to the rainforest, from where we could observe lemurs. Spending some time waiting paid off: We finally managed to spot a Simpona mother together with her baby! Afterwards, with the WWF Andapa’s assistance, we made arrangements for the «Festival of the Lemurs», a festivity for the people of Anjialavabe.

Lest more rainforest, and with it the lemurs, be cut down, the WWF founded the «Simpona Project». The inhabitants of Anjialavabe have little to virtually no school training. For them to learn about the WWF’s concerns as well as the importance of a sound natural environment in an entertaining way, we helped to organise these festivities. «It is crucial, that the population does not get the impression the WWF was only here to instruct them. They should be able to perceive that together with us they can discover new things, a new quality of life», explains Iarilanto Andriamarosolo, CEO of the WWF Andapa.

At these festivities, which take place during five full days, everything is centered on lemurs: traditional songs and dances, sport competitions, poems, games and quizzes. The highlight usually was the nightly showing of a Sensibilisierungsfilm (a movie which aims at making the inhabitants more sensitive and receptive for certain topics). This movie shows how the usage of timber could be reduced with simple methods, contributing to a better preservation of the richness of Madagascan nature. Due to the non-existence of electricity in this area, a generator had to be brought along for the presentation of the movie. It was the very first time that these people were able to watch a movie on a big screen – they would have liked to watch it over and over again.

Anjialavabe lies within two days’ marching distance from the next bigger hamlet. With the exception of a footpath, there exists no access to the outside world. It is the last day in the five-day festivities. About 40 young women sit in a circle around us volunteers. They are members of the «Association Feminin» (French: Feminine Association). Most of them are old enough to be our mother, bearing in mind that most of these women bear children at a very young age. We volunteers asked for this meeting in order to find out more about the status of women in these villages.

This group of women stick up for their community. I would never have expected to hit upon so much interest from their side. The women asked us many questions and listened attentively to what we had to tell about the women’s status in Europe. They showed particular interest in family planning. It seemed to surprise them that most European families only have one or two children and they inquired about contraception. Consequently, we made an effort to explain how the feminine cycle functions and how to use condoms.

I did not expect that sex education might be part of my volunteer service in Madagascar. However, during my last month, which we mainly spent in very small communities, I’ve finally come to realize that it is the daily life and habits which ultimately influence the environment. Therefore, we should take the daily habits of these people as a starting point from where on something about the environmental problems might then be altered. Here in Madagascar the immense birth rate (international rank ‘17’: 41.41 births/1’000 inhabitants; source: The World Factbook, Estimates for 2006) is a determining factor. More children mean more timber usage for construction of new homes and daily life (heating, cooking etc.).

Every day, over a thousand people from the surrounding hamlets came to Anjialavabe and participated eagerly in the programme. I will never forget the lemur dances and the songs of the «Association Feminin» – these women are beaming with so much happiness and energy when they are singing. I hope that I will be able to bring some of their enthusiasm back to Switzerland.

Text: Corinne Eisenring
Translation: Sandro Trunz
Published by: Limmattaler Tagblatt (2006)
Celebrations at the Lemurs' Feast. Madagascar 2006.
© Claire Balbo Enlarge