Fady of the Malagasy highlands

Betsileo land – semi-arid plateaus rising over a dessicated river. A rock formation jutted out from craggy rock face rising behind our encampment. Up towards the peak, two large cairns opening like a jagged mouth. Above them, a diagonal crevice, clearly delineating two eyes and a nose. The realization that you were enveloped by the spectre of a monstrous sarcophagus hit you unawares, like the late afternoon winds carrying malaria and scorpions and other hidden dangers.

Beneath the shadow of the rock formation, the hill sloped downwards. Hundreds of boulders clung to the hillside – Easter island oblong shapes that appeared to have been placed there in pre-determined order.

Further East, the Ifaga mountains jutted into the small plateau of arable land in the shape of a hippopotamus. Descending from this second range, the hills formed seven perfectly symmetric triangle-tents, and another massive stone in the shape of a crouching lion – a grove of trees. Then SSE – a sheer wall of adjoined peaks, and the serpentine RN7, leading back to Ambalavao, the first market town on the road back to Fianarantsoa.

We held a notarised deed in our hands, and it would be honoured by the local Betsileo, or they would send us a message from the ancestors for breaching fady. The ombiasy would handle the matter, and there would be no warning prior to the execution of sentence. As Santorini had warned back in Tana, tradition kills.