Monday, October 25, 2010

The Island of the Unpronounceable Names

The city of Tana is actually one big market. Wherever you go, you'll find stalls, vendors, sellers, you name it. You can find anything and everything on these markets, from Made-in-China plastic sneakers to beautifully crafted furniture, from home-made rat traps to crocodile meat.

There is also a cute second hand book market, where you can buy French Marie Claire magazines from the nineties, and all kinds of second (third, fourth who knows?)-hand books. Some time ago I came across an old history book published in the fifties, for usage in primary schools. I paid, after stern negotiation, 5,000 Ar for it - two Euro.

Super-contented with my purchase, I started reading it immediately, a chapter about the demography of the then four million Malasy.  The school book described the division of the people among at least ten tribes, with adventurous names that translate like: the Invincibles, the Inseparables, the Warriors, and They who are tempted by commandments.

After a few pages however, I began to lose my reading appetite. A chapter about the royal history read as follows: "And when Andianampoinimerina had become the king of Ambohimanagan, he appeased his parents Andrianamabotsimarofy and Ravorombatodambohidratimo, who was also called 'the wild boar'. He ordered a department of more than a thousand soldiers from Tsimanahotsy andTsimiamboholahy to protect Antananarivo. He then prepared himself to defeat Andrianamanalinorivo and Ravoekamabahoaka at which he succeeded at Kiririokafisakana’.

I kid you not. These poor, poor Malgasy primary school kids who have to memorize this! They must be very smart!

Of course the people here have found a way to handle these names, only one out of every so many syllables is pronounced. Hence Tana. I bet you the above two names are Raz and Andj. Or something.
Nevertheless, to me Madagascar is the Island of the Unpronounceable Names.

1 comment: