Lords and Lemurs Paperback – 2004
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It is one of the far-flung parts of the once huge French empire that is the subject of a very unusual book by the well-known primatologist Alison Jolly. "Lords and Lemurs" is mostly set in southern Madagascar in an area dominated by mimosa thorn scrub and populated by the native Tandroy, the French settlers and by several species of Madagascar's unique lemurs. Jolly writes a somewhat eccentric book about a very eccentric (from our view!) land. You find it difficult to dislike most of the people, even though some had to fight for the puppet government of Vichy during World War II and you find the fauna and flora fascinating.
Jolly does not spoon feed us. We are shown the horrors as well as the joys. Lemurs, we find, are not quite the cuddly creatures of Disney cartoons (they fight and sometimes kill even their own species), but they are for all that enchanting creatures (and who are we to throw stones anyway?) The people have not always had admirable intentions and are sometimes quite flawed. The French colonial government included some sadistic types who used their power to torture and rape and some natives staged somewhat brutal (if often also somewhat muted by today's standards) uprisings and sometimes threw their best friends in jail. On the other hand you see people go to extremes to help others in times of need in ways that make you admire their moral strength. You even understand the French fighting the British on Madagascar, despite the fact that the British forces are acting against Hitler and Tojo. Local conditions alter realities and "friends" may become bitter enemies. You are also to some extent shown the environmental successes as well as the stupidities. However, the book is mostly about very different peoples facing the often grim realities of life and often surviving.
If you would like to broaden your understanding of our world, both human and "natural" (a false dichotomy in any case!) read this book!
She graciously and eloquently addressed our small tour group and gave us a rare insight into her understanding of lemur behaviour.
The book is an absolute must for anybody with even a passing interest in Madagascar, anthropology and lemurs.
Most importantly, it documents this remarkable family (the de Heaulmes) and sheds light on the complex and mysterious history of Berenty and its part in the modern history of Madagascar.
Lemurs brought Alison Joly to Madagascar but the fascination for this reader was her evocative portraits of people. Zebus and sisal rather than lemurs seem more relevant to her tale, until Prince Philip arrives and appears to shock an uncaring government that the country is committing ecological suicide. There is now a new government and it may be taking the environment more seriously. That would be a change in Madagascar!
As a former resident of Madagascar, I loved the book and the way Alison Jolly brings the place to life.