LSE's Anthropology Department, on the sixth floor of the Old Building, has a new exhibition of photographs on its walls.
The pictures were all taken by Emeritus Professor Maurice Bloch between 1990 and 2005, and represent ordinary life among the Zafimaniry of Madagascar, with whom he worked for many years.
Professor Bloch is now retired from the School but still teaches in the Department of Anthropology, and this year has taken up the prestigious Chaire européenne at the College de France. The Department recently published a collection of his essays in the LSE Monographs on Social Anthropology series with Berg: Essays on cultural transmission.
The Zafimaniry photographs illustrate life in a small forest village in Eastern Madagascar. The people of this village, approximately five hundred, are very similar to those of other villages who, like them, identify themselves as Zafimaniry and who number approximately 30,000. These villages are only accessible on foot and feel very remote from the urban centres, without electricity, water supplies or regular communication with government or non governmental organisations, but many of the inhabitants are well acquainted with modern town life as a result of labour migration.
The photographs are intended to illustrate ordinary life. They could have been taken on almost any day if it were not that, for technical photographic reasons, the rare moments when the weather is dry are greatly over represented. Exciting things happen occasionally, almost exclusively rituals, but since these type of events are often visually over represented by anthropologists, they have been omitted here. The pig's head carried by the boy, however, is a sign that some important family event is being prepared.
The Zafimaniry are famous wood carvers. The wooden shutter is the work of a great artisan, now deceased. He can be seen having his hair cut in another photograph. The staple food is dried maize which hangs from the ceiling of all houses. This is not only to prevent rotting by drying but also so that it can becomes covered with soot and thereby protected from insects. Honey is also an important part of the diet and the man carrying a black wooden box, the brother in law of the carver, is coming back from a raid on a hive he has found in the forest. Apart from agriculture the plating of mats, baskets and the distinctive hats worn by everybody is the main craft activity of the women.
The Zafimaniry have been the subject of more than 30 articles by Professor Bloch who has lived for various periods in this particular village over the last 30 years.