Happy Independence Day, Madagascar

Today, June 26th, the island of Madagascar will be celebrating its Independence Day – a day that marks its freedom from French rule in 1960.

For weeks they’ve been preparing for the holiday – one of the most important for the nation – with national flags flying proudly from many (dare I say most?) homes. Another indication that Independence Day is approaching is all the stalls that start selling arendrina lanterns at the beginning of June, in addition to their regular produce.

These colourful, candle-lit paper lanterns date back to royal times where they were apparently used to drive away evil spirits. In terms of their role in the independence celebrations it’s said that they serve to exorcise the memory of the former colonisers.  Whatever the case, it’s the children who enjoy them most, parading them on the streets as soon as it gets dark enough on the evening of the 25th. The lanterns that don’t burn up (like I said, they do have candles inside) are safely stowed for the following year, or used as lampshades.

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Little girl with Madagascar-flag ears

This is also a holiday of feasting and fireworks.

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People in a street-side eatery in Talatamaty

We enjoyed a meal together with the neighbours and then all ventured into the neighbourhood, lanterns in hand, together. As we got home we were treated to a fireworks show up in Ambohidratrimo, 3 km away. It isn’t on the same scale as the one in town, but that’s alright, it was quite enough to get me in a celebratory state of mind, and I wasn’t scared of my camera being stolen.

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Today I expect downtown Antananarivo to be more of a bazaar than ever. Have fun making merry, Madagascar: I don’t have the energy or inclination to fight the traffic and the hordes of people in Analakely. Instead, I’ll celebrate from the comfort of home, cup of tea in hand, as I’m treated to one of your parties blaring across the rice paddie …

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