Author Alison Jolly, an expert in the study of primate behavior, poses the following question with her remarkable new book: "Where can you find scientists from all over the world, a family of French aristocrats who never quite noticed the French Revolution, a pastoralist tribe who still think of themselves as spear-carrying warriors, six species of lemurs, and usually a TV team underfoot?"
The answer is Berenty, Madagascar.
Some 40 years ago Jolly went to Madagascar for the first time to study lemurs. The perfect research site was found at Berenty, a private wildlife refuge located on a plantation owned by a French family, the de Heaulmes.
As the family developed their plantation they also cultivated a congenial relationship with the native tribespeople, the Tandroy. The Tandroy, the "King with Spears are as proud a people as the French family that came to share their land. In this remarkable book Jolly tells the story of how the tribe lives today, retaining much of their original culture while availing themselves of beneficial modernities, such as health care and education.
Credit is due, Jolly notes, not only to the Tandroy but to the French aristocrats who feel and exhibit both respect and responsibility for the land, the people, and the animals with whom they live.
For instance, when the people of Madagascar sought freedom from France, the de Heaulmes stood with them, and when one of the de Heaulmes was jailed during a civil war, the Tandroy stormed the prison demanding his release.
Jolly is a gifted writer with an acute perception of people and places. It's a pleasure to visit Berenty with her as guide.
This report prepared by The Snide Gail Cooke