Verbal Arts in Madagascar: Performance in Historical Perspective

Verbal Arts in Madagascar: Performance in Historical Perspective

Verbal Arts in Madagascar: Performance in Historical Perspective

Verbal Arts in Madagascar: Performance in Historical Perspective

Synopsis

"Verbal Arts in Madagascar combines a history of the encounter between Europeans and colonized people with a groundbreaking analysis of four types of Malagasy folklore: riddles, proverbs, hainteny (dialogic exchanges of traditional metaphors), and oratory. In this richly textured study, Lee Haring has collected several hundred witty, imaginative texts and translated them into English for the first time. Verbal Arts in Madagascar contains the first history of the collecting of folklore in Madagascar from 1820 to the present. Haring contends that when European investigators recorded this "native culture" they created a vision of "folklore" which served French domination by trivializing Malagasy reality. Now, through comparison and analysis of texts gathered during a century and a half by foreigners, Haring shows that the four types of folklore examined make use of a pervasive two-sided dialogic structure. Although Haring works from texts transcribed and published at least seventy years ago, his analysis always highlights the performance of folklore in actual social settings. By drawing upon the observations of collectors and upon information presented in chronicles, ethnographies, reports, and other historical documents, Haring successfully reconstructs the performances of the texts and the social context in which the performances took place. Verbal Arts in Madagascar pioneers an integrated approach to past folklore studies into contemporary theory. It will especially interest students and scholars in folklore, history, African studies, and anthropology." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

No oral literature has been more obscure to an English reader than the verbal art of Madagascar, the fourth largest island in the world, lying in the Indian Ocean 260 miles east of Mozambique. What little the English- speaking world today knows of Madagascar is mostly television documentary and "folklore," in the ordinary sense of lies. A legend about a man-eating tree circulated in European popular periodicals eighty years ago (Osborn 1924:8). Farther back in time and with a better supply of facts, Madagascar entered British literary history by means of the journal of Robert Drury (1687-1745?), a cockney sailor who was shipwrecked there in 1703 and stayed for thirteen years (Secord 1961). Drury's credibility has been attacked by literary persons ignorant of Madagascar, though seldom by historians. The reason is that the transcriber, editor, and ghostwriter of his journal (1729) was none other than that prolific writer of adventure stories, Daniel Defoe. He organized the sailor's narrative, padded out the story with descriptions he found in the classic 1658 account of Madagascar by Etienne de Flacourt, interpolated some philosophical reflections about primitive religion, and did the actual writing (Brown 1979). These services would not make the book fiction if later generations had not labeled Defoe as the founder of the English novel. His most famous shipwreck story was Robinson Crusoe, which is usually presented to children as a classic fiction. If Defoe the novelist was Robert Drury's ghost- writer, said the literary historian Moore, every word of Drury's journal must be a fiction. Historians of Madagascar, ignorant of this reasoning, have found Drury's book invaluable as a source for Malagasy history in the eighteenth century and have reedited and translated it (Grandidier 1906, Oliver 1890). Drury's posthumous career (Secord 1961) is a case study in the mutual incomprehensibility of two interpretive communities, British literary historians and malgachisants (a term often used for specialists in Malagasy studies). Few people have learned much about Madagascar from this story.

Language, colonial history, and ethnocentrism have been the main . . .

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