Lords and Lemurs:
Mad Scientists, Kings with Spears, and the Survival of Diversity in Madagascar

Alison Jolly

Houghton Mifflin 2004
A book review by Danny Yee © 2008 https://dannyreviews.com/
Alison Jolly is a primatologist and lemurs appear on the cover and in the title of Lords and Lemurs, but its focus is on people. It presents a history of the de Heaulme family, the "lords" of the area around the village of Berenty — and their story is intimately interwoven with that of modern Madagascar, so it is effectively a history of the island itself.

Scions of a French family from Reunion, Henry de Heaulme and his brother arrived at Berenty in 1936 and negotiated access to land with the leaders of the local Tandroy; one notable early decision was the setting aside of a small forest reserve. Starting an air service, building a sisal plantation and export industry, spending time in prison or exile, and realising the possibilities of tourism, Henry and his children maintained their connection to Berenty for the next seventy years, through the vicissitudes of Madagascar's politics.

Madagascar was controlled by the Vichy French in World War II, and the south faced starvation under British blockade. After the war an independence movement was brutally suppressed, and independence was not achieved until 1958. Tensions remained between the central highland plateau and the coasts, however, and with the remaining French elites, and these led to violence. Socialism in the 1970s was followed by a debt crisis and IMF influence in the 1980s, and a famine in 1991-1992, when prompt action by aid agencies prevented starvation. Lords and Lemurs ends in 2003, with a firsthand perspective on the "civil war" in 2002.

Lords and Lemurs includes a range of other material as well. Jolly tells something of her own story, with elements of travel writing in accounts of her first visit to Berenty and her marriage. The one chapter that is about lemurs touches on the different social structures of ring-tailed and brown lemurs. And another chapter tells the story of Robert Drury, an shipwrecked English sailor who was a Tandroy slave from 1703 to 1716. There is background on the indigenous Tandroy and their customs, including a first-hand account of a funeral. And there are more general reflections on the past and future connections between biological and cultural diversity.

Jolly is hardly dispassionate and has a strong connection with the places and people she is writing about, so one suspects a little burnishing of her portraits of the de Heaulmes and the Berenty Tandroy. On the other hand, while much of her material is reworked from other sources, much of it is oral history based on her own interviews, making it of broader significance.

Lords and Lemurs mixes a broad range of genres — ethnography, primatology, history, travel — in an entertaining and informative fashion. It is excellent background for anyone curious about Madagascar.

December 2008

External links:
- buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
- share this review on Facebook or Twitter
Related reviews:
- books about Africa + African history
- more social history
%T Lords and Lemurs
%S Mad Scientists, Kings with Spears, and the Survival of Diversity in Madagascar
%A Jolly, Alison
%I Houghton Mifflin
%D 2004
%O paperback, notes, index
%G ISBN 0965929280
%P 310pp