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Photographer's Note

I came across these two Malagasy guys sitting on the wall outside the entrance gate to the Ambohimanga Rova playing their guitars and singing. At first I thought they were looking for money from tourists visiting the Rova (not to be confused with the Rova in Antananarivo), but after observing them for a while I realised they weren’t taking any notice of the tourists (who were few and far between anyway) – they were just enjoying singing songs under the dappled shade of the jacaranda tree (I would have loved to have been there a month later when these steps would have been carpeted with purple jacaranda flowers).

It would be nice if I could say they were singing traditional Malagasy folk songs, but I don’t think they were. My Lonely Planet guidebook told me that traditional Malagsay music is now hard to find. The music you are more likely to hear in Madagascar these days is “a cheesy blend of guitar rock, rough-and-ready rap and hip hop, and soulful ballads. Love songs with catchy choruses are the nation’s favourite, and songstresses such as national treasure Poopy (yes, that’s her real name) keep the syrup coming with a stream of indenti-kit, but irritatingly catchy hits.”

Ambohinmanga (or ‘blue hill’) is the old capital of the Merina royal family, and right on top of the hill, a couple of hundred metres up the road from the village, sits the Rova, which is the fortified palace of King Adrianampoinimerina. Despite its proximity to the present capital, Antananarivo (it about 20 km to the north of the city), there are rarely more than half a dozen visitors at any one time, so it is a very peaceful place, enabling you to relax amongst the buildings and contemplate its history without being disturbed by hordes of tourists.

A few interesting facts from my Lonely Planet guidebook about this Rova:

-- It was constructed using cement made from egg whites – 16 million eggs were required to build the outer wall.

-- The king’s palace inside has a single trunk of sacred palissandre wood which was reputedly carried from the east coast by 2,000 slaves, 100 of whom died in the process.

-- The top of the pole is carved to show a symbolic pair of women’s breasts, a sign of the king’s polygamy and thus power.

-- Behind the palace are the baths (still there) where the king performed his royal ablutions once a year in the company of his 12 wives and diverse honoured guests. Afterwards his bathwater was considered sacred and delivered to waiting supplicants.

PP: Adjusted levels and sharpened. I used an external flash directed towards the tree (I felt the men needed some fill-flash but I didn’t want to over-expose the wall on the left). I shot this with a wide angle lens at 12mm (which is why the entrance gate is angled) but decided not to do a perspective adjustment as I quite liked the balance of the composition as it is.

kevinos, pboehringer, vincz, ktanska, sabyasachi1212, bakes888, elmec has marked this note useful

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Additional Photos by David Astley (banyanman) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 1237 W: 108 N: 2568] (7789)
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