Friday, October 28, 2011

Day Seven – How to respect the Sacred Tree

The next day dawned exceedingly bright and very early, but we found we didn't mind. Since we had no electric lights other than a couple of torches, we all happily adapted to a sunrise-to-sunset clock – and when the sun rose at about five-thirty, by six o'clock it was far too bright and hot to stay in bed for long. 

We breakfasted on fresh fruit and black coffee, consoled Mark for his murderous sentiments towards the chickens adjacent to his hut, and then it was all aboard the Salaama Tsara for a morning of snorkelling on the coast of South Afrika Island. I found a stingray (happily some distance from me), Mark found pretty shells on the beach, and Tim stayed in the water so long that we began to wonder if he'd ever return. As we chugged back towards Russian Bay, we passed a peculiar beehive-shaped island named Ankivonjy, and watched flocks of beautiful white birds with long tails flying around the cliffs.

What are those called, Henri? The white-tailed birds”
Them? Called “white-tailed tropicbird””.

Yup. So much for imaginative naming.


After lunch back in Russian Bay, Henri took us for a stroll through the nearby village and up the hill. The first thing he showed us was a large tree with a set of logs (for use as seating) arrayed around it. This, Henri explained, was the village's sacred tree. When a boon was required, one would come and tie a white cloth and a red cloth to the tree, leave a case of beer, offer rum, and later one would return (presumably after fulfilment of the boon) and pour the beer on the ground with elaborate ritual. We listened in interest, and then, aware that the Malagasy have many fady (taboos) relating to their spiritual beliefs (such as not pointing at tombs, or photographing them), we asked whether it was permitted to photograph the tree, and walk as close to it as we were.

But of course,” replied Henri, looking bemused.

Well, we just don't want to offend anyone, so please tell us if we're about to do anything inappropriate, since this sacred tree is right next to our campsite. Is there anything we must be careful not to do?”

Henri thought for a few seconds, before responding solemnly “Just don' mak' the toilet on it, OK?”

Following that revelation, the rest of the walk with burrowing crabs, a fish sunbathing in a mangrove tree (mudskippers seem terribly confused creatures), a sea eagle, and a plethora of children making rude noises and laughing at the vahaza had a lot to live up to. 

Mudskipper. In a mangrove tree.

 But it managed it, with the addition of further rum and fireflies on the beach near the sacred tree when we got back to camp.

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