Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Lords & Lemurs by Allison Jolly

This is a fascinating book about Berenty, a lemur nature reserve in the south of Madagascar, that was set aside in its natural state by the de Heaulme family (the "lords"), wealthy transplanted aristocrats who owned sugar plantations on Reunion island to the east, who settled in the region in 1928, and built a sisal plantation for rope as well as mined mica for insulators for electronics.
As an interesting aside, Jolly tells the tale of one Robert Drury, nicknamed Robin, shipwrecked in 1703, who was ultimately captured and then assimilated with the natives, the Tandroy. It is in effect a reverse Robinson Crusoe yarn, where Friday is a black Tandroy ruler, and Robin his white slave.
Most fascinating is the exciting life the de Heaulmes led. In 1953 they drove their Land Rovers from Cape Town to Cairo and then to the Rover factory in Manchester, England. A more modern version of this trip in reverse can be found in Paul Theyroux' Dark Safari, which is a detailed account of his hitchhiking from Cairo to Cape Town, including run-ins with bandits in Chad and the Sudan.
Perhaps the best story concerns the transport of the small two-seater planes, the Chipmunks (which can be seen in the film The English Patient). The Chips had a range of 350 km, which meant 9 refueling stops between Rhodesia and Fort Dauphin, with several stops in Mozambique on the way. That meant stops in Que Que, Salisbury, Umtali, Vila Pery, Beira, Quelimane, Antonio Enes, Lumbo, anf finally the spec of island Juan de Nova. Great stuff ! All 9 amateur pilots made it.
Finally, the book recounts some interesting history, especially during World War II, e.g., the Rape of Madagascar (when the British took control briefly) and the role of France's Vichy (occupational) government.