King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
Voyage to Madagascar: Thomas Locke Lewis and the Anglo-Merina Treaty of 1817

Display of social hierarchies

On one occasion Lewis records that those at the top of the social hierarchy could adorn their person in a saimbou (a kind of robe) of high quality, whilst those beneath wore one of poorer quality made of rofia, as opposed to cotton or silk. Taking an historical example, Lewis notes that the saimbou is similar to the dress worn by the warriors of Briton at the time that Nero was Emperor of Rome.

Lewis claims that some individuals wore an item akin to a Turkish cap, whilst others preferred a turban that Lewis considers similar to those worn by Arabs. This clothing, he claims, was enjoyed because it could be efficiently shed when necessary. Lewis also notes that a piece of straw was worn by some, and that it indicated surrender to Radama, who was expanding into the lands of Chief Fish, in which this observation was made.

Another adornment noted by Lewis was composed of caiman teeth and worn around the arm. The placement reminded him of phylacteries, as worn by Jews. Similarly, he compares the Madagascan people’s custom of sleeping in their clothes to the requirements of Mosaic Law (pp 9, 11, 15-19, 38).

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