The first colour I thought of for Madagascar was a pinkish tone. The pink hue of a collection of houses in a particular village I remember seeing. But I hesitated… something about that pink felt too artificial to truly represent what Madagascar is to me. I began my hunt for the true colour of my country and recruited help along the way.
I kept on my Colours of Africa search.
Off-season, the Lohataona – our word for spring, marked the end of the lockdown in Madagascar. Although the sky and the sea have been closed, life on the island continues. People want to believe that nothing has changed and yet everything has changed. We were focusing on the outside world, scrutinising the latest numbers and trends, waiting for tourists to come back, for our products to export.
I asked Vanf, a good friend of mine, to explain the meaning of Lohataona. Vanf is a great chronicler, guardian of knowledge and kind-hearted enough to share his encyclopedic knowledge of Malagasy culture. Lohataona, he taught me, is guided by the traditional calendar inherited from our Muslim heritage.
I asked him what colour comes to his mind when he thinks of our island.
“Just go with ochre,” he said to me.
Ochre is the colour of our homes.
Ochre; the colour of the earth, the walls, the colour of the paste the workers mix up from cement, water and cow’s blood.
By the time Lohataona arrives the seeds that hang from the ceilings in every house in the countryside are waiting to be sown.
I ask Bekoto Paysans, a sociologist for rural causes and also one of the last members of Mahaleo most acclaimed Madagascar music band, to be my guide through the twists and turns of this seasonal awakening.
Together we visit studios and ateliers. We discuss the shades of tannins, of wood, of mangrove, of natural dyes.
As the days pass by I resist the colours that were suggested to me.
Time slowed during lockdown. We were already by definition the land of “Mora Mora” – of “take it easy”. But it slows even more now. I visit the tombs of the ancient kings, and there again I find an ochre shade. Old walls made of compacted earth that mark out where the old guardians of the country now lie in peace.
I take the black burnt wood colour of the trano, the first homes that were built in Madagascar. The word itself means to be together all day. It speaks to our history, to our culture. I take the ochre colour of the tamboho, the compacted earth walls. Ochre is the colour of home.
note on December, 13th 2022
this was written 2 years ago when we were celebrated the end of lockdowns. everything appeared to be blossoming. little did we know life went on but we were not thriving as expected. we put on the hard work though. I dedicate this from the bottom of my heart to Monsieur M. a good person who kindly invited us into his home and asked us to build his dreams. He will be missed by his family and all the people he worked with. I just left them this morning with projects filling our agendas and notebooks we didn’t know at this time he already was gone…