Voices of the forest: SOS radio expedition to Mandrivany

From February 22nd-25th, Lova and I joined the dynamic My Rainforest, My World team on an unforgettable expedition to Mandrivany village to begin the scoping process for our SOS radio project. The aim of the trip was to share information, drum up interest, gather baseline data around community knowledge and needs as well as begin the process of recording stories from the forest about human-lemur interactions.

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An hour’s drive along the winding road between Ranomafana and Manakara took us to Kelalle, a small roadside stop and another hour’s hike through sun-kissed rice paddies and banana plantations framed by wild guava vines lead to the picturesque Mandrivany village of roughly 200 mostly Tanala households.

 

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Dinner with the Ampanjaka (village “king”) and Fokutany (village leaders) yielded a wealth of fascinating information about the village’s history, attitudes and the logistics of radio in remote villages. Although reception in the village is very poor, and electricity non existant, hand/solar powered radios remain a popular medium for news and entertainment. Good news for us!  Less good news was their candid admission that many villages still hunt and eat lemurs for bush meat.

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Word spread fast that we were interested in stories about lemurs and by the end of the week we had recorded 5 insightful conversations with men and women who had close encounters with mischevious, mysterious, human-like lemurs in their youths when the forest sprawled thick to the North of the village. Many made reference to similar birthing practices and the use of a medicinal plant for prenatal massage. A lot of people talked about how, through eating and excreting fruit and seeds, lemurs help to “grow the forest”.  Rakotozafy, the husband of one of the primary school teachers penned a beautiful 2 page poem about treasures of the forest and their unique and important role.

IMG_2304As he sang a hauntingly beautiful hira (song) about a lemur caught in a trap, Lova and I pondered the fragile coexistence of man and creature in the forest, both competing for fast diminishing resources, both trying to make their way in a fast changing world.

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At the school, Lova expertly facilitated some storytelling and mapping activities with T4 students, to ascertain their knowledge and attitudes towards lemurs as baseline data for our project and an indicator of strengths and areas to focus on. The week before, we had assembled 6 sample podcast formats to test with the kids- an ako book story, traditional angano in Tanala dialect, interview with a technician, animation of lemur meeting tenrec,English learning lesson. The engagement was obvious and giggles ensued at every sound effect or joke. It was such a delight to watch faces light up when we played stories gathered around their own vilage in Tanala language, which strengthened our resolve to ensure a good balance of local voices on the podcast.

IMG_2275The week flew by and I was sad to pack up our tents at the end of it.  I learned so much and was humbled by the openness, hospitality and generosity of the Mandrivany community. I’m so excited to continue working with children and parents around Ranomafana to develop educational podcasts that value and celebrate local voices and knowledge and showcase the wonder of lemurs.

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