Europeans think of the island of Madagascar in terms of a place that is bigger than France and Belgium put together. At first sight, this might seem true. But in fact, it is much much bigger. Those who travel this strange land can not measure the distance they travel in mere kilometres. Strangers to this land may not have the feeling that they have travelled far but rather that they have travelled a long time. But here, too, it can not be measured in terms of days and weeks.

The true distance that has been covered is only relevant in relation to where we have come from. It is as if some unknown magnetic force had caused our memory to lose its bearings. Thus, there is a risk that comes with travelling in Madagascar; the risk that we might be sucked into another time whose rhythm we can not relate to. Perplexed, we end up classifying Madagascan Time as one related to our own, that is to say, to our own economic and cultural past – to the obscure past when we were not yet modern.


Is this a primitive world, preserved by poverty, by superstitions, or by the absence of the Internet? No it is not. Other than colonization and a few tales of piracy, Madagascar owes us nothing.

Travellers are well advised to accept Madagascan Time as it is. They will search in vain for their past or for traces of a time before European modernity. They will find only the lemur heritage : a world which allows the coexistence of seven species of baobab, one hundred and forty kinds of frog, nearly half of the known varieties of chameleon, who, according to the Malgaches, keep one eye on the past while the other looks out for the future. Faced with such a wealth of species, it is little surprise that the Madagascan spirits are so numerous and so diverse - and so dominating. It seems that in Lemuria the dead imposed their laws on the living aswell. So strangers to this land must be ready for timeless encounters : wherever they go on the island the ancestors will be waiting for him. They will be there "physically", still mumified, in the shape of exhumed bones, or in decayed and cherished shrouds.

In this some will see only macabre customs. Others will understand that in living with the dead, man gets closer to Zanahary, the “Perfumed Lord”, the only God, who has control over the ancestors.He is the clockmaker of Madagascan Time.

Michael Stuhrenberg

The photos in this exhibition are taken from the book : " Madagascar :Voyage dans un monde à part " published by Editions Vents de Sable, September 2001.

Pascal Maitre

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