Sunday, 6 March 2016

Maison Morange music museum

Inaugurated in Hell-bourg, Salazie, in November 2015, Maison Morange is a museum about Indian Ocean music and musical instruments. Located in a traditional Creole house (built in the 1920s by the former mayor of Bras Panon, Henri Morange), it displays over 400 instruments (from a selection of almost 2,000 collected over forty years by François Menard and Robert Fonlupt), it is France's third richest music collection. The museum itself took four years to see the light of day, and covers 450m2.

Reunion is of course remarkable by the diversity of its people, and this is reflected in the music and instruments displayed, which - like the Reunionese people - come from Africa, Madagascar, India (both Tamil and Gujarati) and China.

A small audioguide allows you to listen to the sound made by various instruments without disturbing other visitors, and all written texts have been translated into English, German and Spanish.

Indian processional handcart, on display in the entrance

The local music genres that have been born of the mix of this diversity, principally maloya and sega, has not been forgotten either. For information, in 2009 maloya was inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Some maloya musical instruments on display: three drums, a piker at
the back, a kayamb at the front, and a bobre musical bow at the far left.

a selection of sega and brass band instruments

Each region has a room or rooms devoted to it. For China drums, gongs and cymbals are on display, amongst other instruments, and there is also a section on Tibetan music (religious and profane).

Part of the Chinese display

bronze Bianzhong? bells, Chinese display

In ancient China music was believed to be of divine origin, and it was thus granted great importance. It was a discipline that every gentleman, educated according to the Confucian tradition, would practice.

recreation of the boudoir of a Chinese man of letters

In the corridor the four divisions of musical instruments are shown: membranophones, chordophones, idiophones and aerophones. Even if instruments were made in different geographical regions by people of different cultures they are all based on the common principles of sound production, and can thus be classed into one of the above groups. 

This Chinese gong belongs to the idiophone group

Drums are part of the membranophone family
The festive aspect of African music in Reunion often overshadows its ritualistic origins.

part of the African display

Hindu Indian indentured workers arrived in Reunion to work on plantations after the abolition of slavery in 1848. Like the Chinese, Indians also attribute a mythical and divine origin to their music, and many deities of the Hindu pantheon are represented playing instruments. From the 16th century onwards Mughal princes in Hindustan developed a refined courtly lifestyle, and until the early 20th century princes and Maharajahs maintained groups of musicians and had music rooms where the latter performed.

Private music room of a Maharajah

Due to its size India has a wide diversity of cultures, and the musical instruments created by its people reflect various social and religious traditions. Animals and family life feature strongly amongst these themes.

Tribal Indian instruments

In the museum a small Indian luthier's workshop has been recreated. He and his assistants would have worked sitting on the floor, surrounded by tools and half-made instruments.

part of the workshop of an Indian luthier

Madagascar is itself an island that has been influenced by East Africa, the Arab world, Indonesia and Europe, but its music is nevertheless original. Malagasy have local versions of lutes, zithers, and brass bands, but it is the valiha - a bamboo tube zither - which has become the 'king' of Madagascar's instruments. Maybe that explains why I found the display of valihas one of the most beautiful exhibits in the whole museum.

display of valihas

Practical info:
  • Open Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 6pm (closed Mondays).
  • Price €7, free for children aged 8 and under.
  • Website: (French only)

© Maison Morange

© Maison Morange

© Maison Morange

© Maison Morange

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Monday, 1 February 2016

New guide book in English for Reunion

Planning a trip to Reunion? Looking for the perfect travel companion? Be inspired by the fully-updated 2nd edition of the Insight Guide to Mauritius, Reunion & Seychelles: a full-colour and comprehensive guide in English for real visitors and armchair travellers alike. It has excellent maps, beautiful colour photos breaking up the text, as well as informative and easy-to-read articles and listings. This new edition is thoroughly up-to-date, with its trademark ‘Insight’ articles and features on local history, culture and touristy stuff. To write their books Insight Guides use local experts who provide insider know-how and share their love and knowledge of the destination.

Inside Insight Guide Mauritius, Réunion & Seychelles:
· A fully-overhauled edition by three expert local authors (that's me for the Reunion section ).
· Inspirational: stunning, specially-commissioned photography brings these idyllic destinations and their people, sights and excursions to life. 
· Highlights of top attractions, including Piton de la Fournaise, one of the planet's most active volcanoes; and the Cirques, Reunion’s three huge caldera-like valleys.
· Descriptive region-by-region accounts cover the destinations in depth.
· Detailed, high-quality maps throughout will help you get around with ease, pinpointing the key attractions featured in every chapter.
· Travel tips give you all the essential information for planning a memorable trip, including an independent selection of the best places to eat and the best activities on offer, and useful advice on everything from climate to money.
· Rich heritage: explore the islands’ vibrant history and culture and understand their modern-day life, people and politics.
· Editor’s Choice: whether it be sporting activities, best beaches, culture and heritage, wildlife watching, or parks and gardens, there’s an at-a-glance guide to highlights of the most special places to visit.
· A free app and e-book. The Walking Eye app features an up-to-date A to Z of travel tips, information on events, activities, and destination highlights as well as hotel, restaurant and bar listings.

Insight Guides has over 40 years' experience of publishing high-quality, visual travel guides. They produce around 400 full-colour print guidebooks and maps as well as picture-packed eBooks to meet different travellers' needs. Insight Guides' unique combination of beautiful travel photography and focus on history and culture together create a unique visual reference and planning tool to inspire your next adventure.

The Insight Guide to Mauritius, Reunion & Seychelles is published today in the USA & Canada, and was published on January 15th 2016 in the UK.

This article was originally published on the Go To Reunion blog.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Namibia: wildlife

Following my recent trip to Namibia, here are some photos of the wildlife we saw there. For photos of landscape see here, and for people, birds and plants see this post

Female Eland, Bagatelle Kalahari Game Ranch

Much of the wildlife we saw was in Okonjima Game Reserve or Etosha National Park, but not all of Namibia's wildlife is confined to National Parks.

Blackbacked jackal, Okonjima Game Reserve

Okonjima Game Reserve is family-run and is the home of the AfriCat Foundation, which is committed to the long-term conservation of large carnivores, particularly cheetah and leopard.

Leopard tortoise, Okonjima Game Reserve

Okonjima means 'the place of baboons'.

Banded mongoose, Okonjima Game Reserve

Group of Kudu, Okonjima Game Reserve

Cheetah, Okonjima Game Reserve

Leopard, Okonjima Game Reserve

Dik-dik, Okonjima Game Reserve

Etosha means 'place of mirages', 'place of emptiness, or 'great white place' according to which source you consult, and the National Park covers 22,912 km2. It was first proclaimed in 1907 when it covered ≈80,000km2, but was gradually reduced to its present size.

Black rhino? Etosha National Park

At its centre is the large Etosha Pan which covers 4,731km2. At its widest point it is approx. 110km by 60km. The Pan is mostly dry except after heavy rains.

Parent & child, Etosha National Park

Entering the Park from the east, we stayed one night at each of the Namutoni, Halali, Okaukuejo camps.

Giraffe, Etosha National Park

Lying 1,000 to 1,500 metres above sea level, the Park is composed of semi-arid savannah and contains 114 mammal species.

Elephant, Etosha National Park

Honey badger, Etosha National Park

Millipede (known locally as a shongololo)

Zebra crossing, Etosha National Park

Etosha National Park is home to many of Namibia's lions

Pride of lions, Etosha National Park

male lizard, Grootberg

caterpillars galore, Spitzkoppe

On the Skeleton Coast can be found the country's best-known breeding colony of Cape fur seals, where they number 100,000.

Cape fur seal, Cape Cross Seal Reserve

Pups are born during late November or early December, meaning at the time of our visit about half the colony was composed of pups.

Cape fur seal cub, Cape Cross Seal Reserve

Cape fur seal colony, Cape Cross Seal Reserve

Cape fur seal, Cape Cross Seal Reserve

beetle in sand dune, near Swakopmund

Wildebeest: mother & calf

unidentified insect, Kalahari

Meerkat, Bagatelle Game Ranch

This is just a small selection of the many animals we saw.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Namibia: people, birds, plants

I've just spent almost three weeks in Namibia, a south-west African country which is one of the most sparsely populated regions in the world. 

Here are a few photos of the people, birds and animals that we saw while there.  The population of Namibia comprises 12 major ethnic groups. Half the people come from the Owambo tribe (50%), with other ethnic groups making up a relatively small percentage of the population: Kavango (9%), Herero/Himba (7%), Damara (7%), Capri­vian (4%), Nama (5%), Afrikaner and German (6%), Baster (6.5%), San (1%) and Tswana (0.5%).

One of Namibia's most well-known tribal groups are the Himba, a culturally rich group of nomadic pastoralists who have retained their striking appearance and dress. 

The Himba number approximately 50,000 people, and are closely related to the Herero, yet continue to live much as they have for generations on end.

Himba infant with shaved head; the small crop will later be braided to a plait

Himba women are famous for smearing themselves with otjize paste, a cosmetic mixture of ochre, butterfat and bush herbs, which dyes their skin a burnt-orange colour and cleanses their skin over long periods (necessary due to water scarcity), as well as protecting them from the hot, dry climate and against mosquito insect bites.

We visited a Himba village near Kamanjab.

Smoke from incense, made by burning aromatic herbs and resins, is used as an antimicrobial body cleansing agent, deodorant and fragrant.

In the Kalahari in Eastern Namibia we went on a morning walk with some San bushmen. Although these particular bushmen, like many of their tribesmen and unlike the Himba, no longer live traditionally, knowledge is still being passed on from generation to generation. The San are the original inhabitants of Southern Africa and their presence stretches back as much as 20,000 years. 

The word San is a collective term referring to the traditional groups of hunter-gatherers that occupy sub-Saharan Africa; anthropologists have dubbed the San our ‘genetic Adam’, stating that all living humans can ultimately trace back their lineage to this population group.

We found out how to deal with a scorpion bite, how to catch a porcupine or ostrich, how to recognise certain animal tracks and many other things. Their language is characterised by six click elements; you can hear a sample of it I recorded here.

Namibia’s desert landscape is quite harsh and inhospitable but nevertheless support 706 species of birds, including birds of prey, coastal wildfowl and a range of migratory birds.

Southern masked weaver, near Windhoek

Northern black korhaan? in Etosha National Park

African grey hornbill in Etosha National Park

Male comb duck in Etosha National Park

Ostriches roam all over Namibia 

African hoopoe in Etosha National Park

Namaqua sandgrouse, a ground-dwelling bird found in arid regions

unidentified bird

Pelican at Walvis Bay

Flamingoes at Walvis Bay

Flamingoes at Walvis Bay

unidentified bird

more pelicans, Walvis Bay

Southern pale chanting goshawk

Namibia is the driest country south of the Sahara, and plants have had to adapt to the harsh environment.

unidentified plant

Among Namibia’s many botanical curiosities, is the extraordinary Welwitschia mirabilis, which exists only on the gravel plains of the northern Namib Desert. Despite their dishevelled appearance, welwitschias actually have only two long and leathery leaves, which grow from opposite sides of the corklike stem. Over the years, these leaves are darkened in the sun and torn by the wind into tattered strips, causing the plant to resemble a giant wilted lettuce. Pores in the leaves trap moisture, and longer leaves actually water the plant’s own roots by channelling droplets onto the surrounding sand. Welwitschias have a slow growth rate, and it’s believed that the largest ones, whose tangled masses of leaf strips can measure up to 2m across, may have been growing for up to 2000 years! However, most midsized plants are less than 1000 years old. The plants don’t even flower until they’ve been growing for at least 20 years. This longevity is probably only possible because they contain some compounds that are unpalatable to grazing animals.

Welwitschia, only found in Namibia

Flowering cactus

Last but not least is this photo of a quiver tree, a tall branching species of aloe indigenous to Southern Africa and found in Southern Namibia. It gets its name from the San bushmen's practice of hollowing out the tubular branches to form quivers for their arrows.

quiver tree

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