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Voyage to Madagascar: Thomas Locke Lewis and the Anglo-Merina Treaty of 1817

Food, feasts and ceremonies

Manuscript text relating to a voyage to MadagascarOpening showing pages 52 & 53Lewis takes a keen interest in the diet of the people he meets, which was largely rice, meat and fish, and a drink made inside the vessel in which rice was cooked.

The people appear to have regarded this diet as important to their health, which Lewis believes to be good, aside from near the coast of Tamatave, where Lewis blames the stagnant water that forms under certain weather conditions for the poorer health of those living there. 

Having made these statements about the general good health of the people, Lewis also claims that drug taking and heavy drinking were prominent among the people, though, given his previous statements, seemingly without significant ill effects (pp 20, 24, 37)

The way food was grown was also the subject of comparison. Lewis says of farming practices that among the people, ‘Oxen are used for the purpose of trampling of ground to plant or sow rice in – the land being previously watered the Cattle are drove on it till it becomes soft, and Women complete the work.’ He relates this to an Ancient Egyptian practice in which pigs would trample the ground exposed by the going out of the Nile (p 52).

Making an historical comparison, Lewis states that feasts appeared to involve a public monarchical bathing ceremony, which he relates to a practice which ‘prevailed among the Egyptians’, wherein the Pharoah would bath in the river.

Rights of circumcision appear to have been important to Ovah communities. Lewis records that time could be measured by ‘forked posts’ constructed for circumcisions. These posts had notches, ‘each of which indicates the holding of a circumcision Feast.’

Lewis states that ‘Ovah circumcision is performed with great attention to ceremony, and is considered a very necessary operation.’ The moon was also used to measure time and the people ‘computed in days weeks and months for which they have names corresponding with those in our generally used almanac.’ The year was also twelve lunar months long (pp 51, 82).

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