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

Homes and community

The natural resources of the island and their uses in construction appear to have been of interest to Lewis.

He notes, in relation to the dwellings of Tamatave: ‘the houses were generally of a small size, unprovided with either a loft or chimney, and chiefly built of the fonse or ravenalla … Some of these small houses had only a door way; others were supplied with one, and some with two openings on the sides of this entrance, used as windows, and closed with a shutter of wood; also in the internal economy of a few of these buildings, the floor had been laid on joists, and sticks crosswise; was covered with bark, and afterwards a mat.’

The gardens of Tamatave also received comment: ‘In and about these Gardens were to be seen some cocoa nut trees, the bois noir, a mimosa indigenous to Egypt; the papaw an Indian fruit … the gourd, balsam apple, some European vegetables, a few pine apples; and mango trees’ (pp 76-78).

Lewis describes the home of Chief Fish as being composed of a single chamber with a matted floor, except from in one section where room had been made for a fireplace for cooking. The homes in Yvondrou were described as structured using the ribs from the fonse or ravenala tree with rods strapped to the walls. The ribs were connected to the rafters and the leaves on the roof were arranged so as to keep the dwelling dry.

Basket and lid, raffia palm leafBasket and lid, raffia palm leaf, possibly produced during the mid-19th centuryThough the structure of homes could vary, Lewis observes that they typically contained few possessions (p 16). Lewis’s inventory simply included: mats, baskets, a bolster and cushion, a mortar and pestle, a felling axe, a loom and a winnower. The home of the Ovah are described as ‘more substantially built’ than those on the coast, using different resources, and ‘thatched with the Papyrus’ or similar (pp 10, 15-17, 36-38).

The image to the right shows a basket made of raffia palm leaf, which may be akin to the ones Lewis observed. Further details on the image are available through the British Museum’s holdings information here

This image is used under a Creative Commons licence, and is displayed courtesy of the © The Trustees of the British Museum

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