African wild silk and its role in Malagasy culture

In yesterday’s thread I introduced you to wild silk and suggested that it is one of Africa’s best kept secret.

As we all know when one hears the word SILK one immediately associates it with luxury or even indulgence. But something we don’t do,  I certainly never did is think about its origins and the role it plays in the culture of the communities that produce/process it.

Today’s thread is  therefore about taking you on a journey

Silk holds an important place in Malagasy culture and according to a Malagasy proverb, “Ny Lambalandy: velona itafiana, maty isalorana”, which loosely translated means  In silk one drapes ones’ self whilst alive as well as well as when dead. Silk is a sign of nobility for Malagasy people and the  deceased have to be  wrapped in a silk burial shroud, or “lambamena”, as sign of wealth.

On my last visit to Madagascar I happened upon a  procession on the outskirts of a town called Antisirabe (which is a must  visit when in Madagascar), I am not quite sure what the ceremony is called can only be described as waking the dead as it was do with celebrating the lives of those that died a while ago. It involves reopening the tomb and wrapping the body in a new silk cloth, lots of food, street dancing and it goes on for at least three days

typical tomb in Madagascar
typical tomb in Madagascar
funeral processesion in Madagascar
funeral processesion in Madagascar

In the past, villagers bordering the tapia forest did not value wild silk. During cocoon collection, the eggs were thrown away and the protein-rich chrysalides were eaten or sold.

But today Silk production has become an  important income-generating activity for villagers and is a promising sector because there is a large market for silk products, both locally and in the international  market.

I once heard someone say that if you wear Armani suits chances are you are wearing Malagasy silk as it is the very best silk you can get in the world. Is this therefore Africa’s best secret?

Weaving with wild silk is an activity peculiar to the Amoron’i Mania region, which is home to Madagascar’s most extensive tapia forests.

There are several  people involved in the  different stages of silk production; cocoon collection, reeling, weaving and the value adding of silk into clothing or decorative items (bags, shoes, clothes, lampshades…).

In the next thread I will tell you about the actual production process

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