Renowned Malagasy author, Mr Johary Ravaloson, visited the School of Arts on the Pietermaritzburg campus to address a group of French literature students who had studied his works throughout the semester.

Formerly a lawyer, Ravaloson is the author of the novels Les Larmes d’Ietse and Géotropiques and of the anthology of short stories, Les Nuits d’Antananarivo. He also runs Dodo Vole, a publishing company which, in addition to publishing authors in the Indian Ocean region, seeks to diffuse and translate Malagasy ancestral tales.

Ravaloson had been invited by the School to participate in literary discussions with second and third-year French students on the Howard College campus.

At the Pietermaritzburg campus, Ravaloson spoke about the difficulties of being a writer in Madagascar, a country fraught with social problems. ‘How do I sit inside and write when there is so much to be done?’ he said, adding that many people in his home country spend most of their time and energy ‘simply trying to find something to eat’.

One of the students was interested to know whether a ghostly character in one of the author’s short stories was “real or not”. ‘In Madagascar,’ explained Ravaloson, ‘we believe in magic.’ He spoke of belief systems, showing the audience a silver zebu (container) “containing spirits” which he carries with him. ‘In particular, said Ravaloson, the zebu contains the spirit of his grandfather who he (Ravaloson) said was ‘there in the room with them.’ He also described the ceremony of Famadihana (the turning of the bones) and its essential role in bringing together families. ‘We believe all living things have a soul,’ he said.

Offering advice to aspiring student writers, Ravaloson said, ‘Read as much as you can.’

Words: Melissa Mungroo

Photograph supplied