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Madagascar - Expo Paris 1900

Madagascar at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1900
Architect(s) : M. Jully

The Industrial, Commercial and Ethnographic Exhibition of Madagascar was originally linked to the operation of a Panorama which retraced the military history of the conquest. In a single building, cylindrical in shape, of vast dimensions, where one could walk through a maze of corridors, inclined planes, terraces, etc., the visitor had before his eyes a summary of everything that is manufactured, sold and consumed in the Red Island; he encountered models of all kinds of dwellings, types of inhabitants, beasts and men, and, at the same time, by examining the beautiful Panorama of the painter L. Tinayre, he fixed in his memory the main features of this so painful campaign by which a whole country, things and people, became our property. Nothing escaped him, from now on, of the whole colony.

The building had been constructed to the plans of M. Jully, the island's architect, who had come somewhat closer to the Arab style in the main lines. The real merit of the building lay in its ingenious layout.

The interior layout of the monument was indeed excellent, in that it allowed for a rational and methodical division of the exhibits.

In order to facilitate the visit to the Madagascar exhibition, it was necessary to distinguish three parts: ground floor, first floor and second floor.

In the centre of the ground floor, replacing the Trocadero basin, was an island of naturally very small dimensions. This island was entirely occupied by a virgin forest, rigged like theatre sets and so well imitated that the illusion was complete for the spectators, who had to contemplate it from a distance. In order to give this landscape an unmistakable local colour, those who established it were inspired by photographs taken in the forests of the colony; they had followed the advice of officials and settlers who had known Madagascar for a long time.

To animate the landscape, they placed the ordinary inhabitants of the forest massifs of the Big Island, snakes, birds and makis. These makis of Madagascar constitute a species known as lemurs, special to the island and of great scientific interest.

On the shore of the island, caimans came to rest and were given hospitality by the Trocadero basin.

All these animals had been in France since the beginning of the year and had been fed by the Museum of Natural History in Paris before appearing at the Exhibition. In October, they returned to the Museum's galleries.

Around the island, dioramas represented the main crops grown in the colony, the sowing of rice fields, the transplanting and harvesting of rice, the harvesting of rubber, etc. The rest of the ground floor was occupied by gardens and greenhouses where the orchids that adorn the salons and grow wild in the colony were planted in profusion.

Along the fence of the Exhibition were nine Malagasy huts brought from the Big Island at the same time as the natives who lived there during the day and worked according to the custom of their country. Some wove "rabanes" or "lambas"; others worked as blacksmiths or potters. Others, finally, looked after their oxen or zebus, remarkable for their hump.

This reduced Malagasy village comprised 112 inhabitants, including 48 craftsmen, 15 militiamen, 24 riflemen and 35 musicians, who played in an orchestra of performers who did not claim to rival the music of the Republican Guard, but who played with enough ensemble to prove that they were far from being devoid of musical sense.

These natives appeared in the colony's pavilion only during the day. They were, in fact, housed in the bastion 57, boulevard Lannes, graciously placed at the disposal of the commissariat of Madagascar by the military administration. They lived there in excellent hygienic conditions and were treated, in all circumstances, with the humanity and benevolence to which French subjects are entitled. Their fate was in no way comparable to that of certain blacks whom unscrupulous barnums have sometimes exhibited in Paris for their greater personal profit and for the misfortune of their poor victims.

In making the ground floor of its pavilion a sort of colonial garden, the colony's commissariat had undoubtedly shown originality; but it had also shown a very real practical sense

Indeed, while most colonial pavilions were surrounded by gardens that relieved visitors from the contemplation of exotic objects whose interest too often escaped them, the Madagascar pavilion was squeezed in tightly and suffocated by the Exposition fence. The narrow ring around it could not possibly constitute an attractive garden in itself.

attractive garden. The dioramas and the rainforest, skilfully arranged by talented artists, were a real treat for the eyes and, what never hurts, a lively education for the mind. The first floor was reached by two gently sloping ramps and a footbridge which linked the pavilion to the Trocadero Palace and thus put it in direct communication with the whole of the Exhibition. The ramps and footbridge gave access to a circular gallery 5 metres wide which constituted the part of the first floor reserved for the colony's exhibition. The central part of this floor, as well as the second, was occupied by the Panorama de la prise de Tananarive installed by a concessionary company whose administration was separate from the Commissariat de Madagascar.

Visitors entering the gallery from the footbridge would find the Comité de Madagascar exhibition on the left and the ethnographic exhibition on the right.

The Committee did not offer to the public's curiosity any curious objects, panoplies or products of the Malagasy soil; it had left this care to the private exhibitors, who had taken care of it in such a way as not to make it regret its abstention. He had wanted to be truly useful to the future colonists by indicating to them what equipment they should obtain before embarking for the Big Island. Those who are already initiated into colonial life, civil servants, traders or farmers, are overwhelmed with requests for information which often emanate from people who are very well-informed in business and of very sure intelligence, but who are very embarrassed to fill their settlers' canteens. Of course, we do not bargain with them for indications, but these are necessarily vague, because they only strike the ear and not the eye, and the future colonist cannot imagine precisely the true form of the objects with which he must be equipped. The Madagascar Committee had imagined dressing wax mannequins, like the "Musée Grévin", in the costumes deemed most suitable for service in the colonies; the mannequins were arranged in such a way as to form a convoy of Europeans on the march, accompanied by natives dressed in their national costume.

Porters or 'bourjanes' carried a settler in a 'filanzane' as he made his way to a house where the white owner was waiting to welcome him. On the first floor of the house, leaning against her window, the mistress of the house was watching the arrival of her guest. Not far from there, a camp tent was pitched, and the canvas, slightly raised, allowed a European to be seen inside writing at his field table.

All these characters had different costumes: the inhabitant of the tent, to use a trivial expression, had put himself "at his ease". The traveller in filanzane was a guest and etiquette had temporarily enslaved him. He did not exhibit a latest style frock coat, but his colonial attire was free of the "slovenliness" that is so easily forgiven there. The owner of the house was dressed in the classic type of planter.

This ethnographic exhibition was organised by Mr Guillaume Grandidier, son of Mr Alfred Grandidier, the member of the Institute who has contributed so much to the geographical knowledge of the Big Island by his explorations and his learned works. Mr. G. Grandidier himself travelled through Madagascar and it is with an indisputable competence that he was able to classify, according to a rational order, the documents of all kinds which informed us about the customs and the history of the tribes which inhabit the Big Island.

On the first floor, Mr. G. Grandidier had also organised part of the zoological, botanical and mineralogical exhibition, the other part of which was installed on the second floor of the pavilion. The visitors stopped for a long time in front of the picture reproduction and the unfortunately incomplete bones of the AEpiornis, the giant bird, much larger than the ostrich.

On the first floor, the Madagascar Exhibition showed visitors a relief map of the island, drawn up by Mr Hansen, the cartographer of the Ministry of Colonies, on the instructions of Captain Merienne-Lucas, former head of the geographical service of the staff of the occupation corps.

This map had the advantage of making it easier for the less experienced reader of geographical documents to understand the orographic system of the island and the existence of two distinct regions on its territory: the coasts and the central plateau.

Another relief map, of much smaller dimensions, showed the bay of Diégo-Suarez and the military works being carried out there to give this support point of our Indian Ocean fleet a solidity that would be beyond reproach.

On the first floor, a lecture room was set up where speakers, chosen from among the explorers and colonists who have made a specialty of the study of the Great African Island, gave practical advice and explanatory instruction on the exhibition itself to a large audience.

The second floor was occupied by the part of the zoological, botanical and mineralogical exhibition which could not be accommodated on the first floor, and by the exhibitors, both private and official.

The number of colonists who had responded to the call of the Commissioner of Madagascar was relatively small; but it should be noted that Madagascar is very far from the Metropole, that colonisation is only just beginning there and that many of our compatriots had, with good reason, recoiled from the by no means negligible expense which would have been necessary for them to install themselves in the pavilion of the colony. The most important of them had sent samples of their products and we had before our eyes a sufficiently complete collection of the objects of exchange between Madagascar and the European countries. Moreover, the local administration, represented by its various services, public works, forests, domain, education, put before the eyes of the public documents as clear and precise as varied, which made it possible to note the progress of our influence in Madagascar and to grasp the real causes. Through the construction of roads linking the main commercial centres of the island, through the creation of an estate service which assured the Malagasy of their rights as owners, which had previously been essentially precarious, through the dissemination of education and especially the teaching of our language, France made its new subjects appreciate its desire to provide them with a well-being which they hardly suspected. These efforts bore fruit and the documents exhibited by the colony's services were striking proof of this.

The forestry service presented a magnificent collection of the colony's forest species. According to all the experts, these woods can be usefully employed by our furniture manufacturers, and it was enough, to convince oneself of the correctness of this judgement, to see in the galleries the furniture built in local wood by the professional school of Tananarive.

To make the exhibition galleries even more attractive, the Commissariat had commissioned Mr. Cornillon, a decorative painter, to decorate the walls of these galleries with large panels depicting Malagasy scenes. The execution was perfect and harmonised with the exhibition itself, so as to form a whole without any disparate elements.

Photographic enlargements also represented the main types of Malagasy population and a few landscapes deliberately chosen to give visitors an exact idea of the country.

Finally, the local administration had the happy thought of sending to Paris drawings and paintings executed by young Malagasies, mostly copies, but which showed enough taste and skill in their authors that they were not considered unworthy of being shown to a delicate public.

We have said that the Panorama of the capture of Tananarive was installed by a private concessionary company of the colony and occupied the central part of the pavilion, except for the ground floor.

It was accessed through an entrance facing the footbridge; the visitor, after climbing a wide staircase, entered a Malagasy hut with a veranda. His view extended over the entire countryside surrounding Tananarive and the city itself, whose image has long been popularised by photography. General Duchesne's troops are making their battle preparations and are about to attack, when the Hovas ask to parley. In these scenes, the painter, M. Louis Tinayre, has depicted the officers under General Duchesne's command in their true guise.

The whole exhibition was a great honour to General Gallieni, Governor General of Madagascar, who had opened the largest credits to the Commissariat of the colony and to the Committee of Madagascar represented here by Mr. Etienne Grosclaude, with Mr. C. Delliorbe and Mr. F. Crozier as assistants. The work that these commissioners carried out was admirably conceived, both from the scientific and practical points of view. It gave the appropriate notion of the history, the social state and the future of the Big Island; the latter appeared to us as a land which is now French, where all good colonising wills are welcomed and encouraged, where the administration is firm and far-sighted, where resources of all kinds are considerable. This demonstration can be the starting point of a metropolitan immigration that does not await, by any chance, too frequent setbacks.

©Paul Gers - 1900