The Zafimaniry region – “the people of the forest”
Discover the Zafimaniry people and their art. Walk along paths used by the local Zafimaniry people through rice paddies and villages. Known for their distinctive woodcraft, the Zafimaniry’s exquisitely decorated houses, granaries and tombs are constructed using perfect joinery, without the use of nails. These have been recognized by UNESCO as Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, and each carved pattern tells its own story. The Zafimaniry community is the sole remaining repository of a unique woodcraft culture previously widespread on the island.
In the Betsileo area around Ambositra, another landscape more different from the whole of the country will hypnotize you still more: it is the traditional Zafimaniry village. These very old villages of small dwellings still exist. Houses, utensils, and everyday objects are hand-crafted in geometric shapes of Austronesian motifs, reminiscing the Arabic influence (which is very present in Malagasy culture), called “Sikotra”. Practically all wooden surfaces – walls, window frames, posts, beams, stools, chests, tools – display elaborate ornamentation. The Zafimaniry use twenty different endemic species of tree, each adapted to a specific type of construction or decorative function. Houses and tombs are assembled entirely with traditional mortise and tenon joints, without the use of nails, hinges or other metal hardware. The traditional granaries, perched on round piles, are a distinctive feature of the mountain landscape.
A walking tour will make you discover beautiful and undulating landscapes. The few distances to be covered only on feet, are worth doing to meet the Zafimaniry people. By visiting these villages, you will have the impression to go up time with an authentic and ancestral decoration. One can even say that in these villages, time seems to have stopped. The typical example of these villages is the village of Antoetra, 40 kilometers from Ambositra, where you’ll discover a warm and welcoming people. The houses there are built out of carved “palissandre” wood and thatches.
In the rolling hills of the south of Ambositra there lives a group of people known as the Zafimaniry, or the "the people of the forest”. In the eighteenth century, the Zafimaniry settled in the remote wooded region. Originally, the Zafimaniry are descend from people who fled into the forests from the cruel queen Ranavalona I. This way they could not be obliged to toil at court as slaves or serfs. Today, approximately 25 000 Zafimaniry live in some one hundred villages and hamlets scattered in the highlands of this region.
Typically a trekking starts from Antoetra, the capital of Zafimaniry.
On the way, you pass some Betsileo graves topped with carved wooden posts called teza (heart wood), some of which can measure several meters high. This Betsileo funerary art is now on the verge of extinction. The trek usually heads to Ifasina, which nestles in a hollow between two mountain ranges, along the way several tombs of Tsangambato overcome Zafimaniry, or Tatao (stele) are shown. The town is known for its intricately carved homes. Other trails lead to Andikio and Faliaivo (5 hour walk from Antoetra), where the presence of tourists is remarkably less and the children smiles brighter (you can easily combine the visit of these too villages with two overnights). From Faliarivo you can continue trek to Vohitandriana (45 min) and Andraitokanana (2 h). On the following day you can visit the falls of Fanandrano (2h30) and then continue to Sakaivo (3 h), where a further night will be spent. In the third day you get back to Antoetra in about 3 hours.