Thursday, July 25, 2013


The Bara are a cluster of 18 pastoral  Bara Malagasy -speaking ethnic group which are mostly of clear African bantu descent living in the southern part of the central plateaus of Madagascar, in the Toliara Province, especially in the arid climate Ihosy-Betroka area.

Bara People in the mountains of Andringitra, Madagascar. By Pierre-Yves Babelon

Bara territory spreads its tentacles into the West and East, where Ibara, is the home of Bara people.  They are about  760,000 Bara people living in Madagascar.
Bara child. By Pierre-Yves Babelon

As has been said, the Bara people just like Sakalava people are Madagascar's most African-looking tribe and reputedly its fiercest warriors. They have remained faithful to the ways of their ancestors. Known for their traditional sport of cattle rustling, the prerequisite for entering into manhood and long been a feared and misunderstood race.

Bara old man at Ivohibe, a small town in the Ala Atsinanana , the eastern humid forest of Madagascar. It lies between Andringitra National Park and Pic Ivohibe Special Reserve.

They are brave and hardworking from an early age, regard virility and intelligence highly, and are usually of a tall and slender build.
They are said to be divided into five principal groups:
 1) the Ianatsantsa ("Force and Agility of Sharks") in the East;
2) the Bara Be ("The Many Bara") in the in the center;
3) the Imamono ("Those who Kill") in the West;
 4) the Vinda ("a kind of plant used to make mats") in the Southwest; and
5) the Tivonjy in the South.
Bara warrior with hunting dog at edge of Analevona sacred forest, Southwest Madagascar
Bara warrior with hunting dog at edge of Analevona sacred forest, Southwest Madagascar. © Frans Lanting

Bara are located in the South central, Ibara, south of Betsileo, west of Tesaka, east of Masikoro, Anosy area and north, Mahafaly (Source: Ethnologue 2010).

Originally a nomadic people, the Bara of Madagascar, as might be expected, have a wide domain. Their principal cities are Beroroha, Ankazoabo, and Sakaraha to the West; and Ihosy and Betroka to the East. The Bara, however, are not city people and prefer to live in
small villages which are far from one another. In certain Bara regions, virility, courage and ability to marry was connected with halats’omby (institutionalized cattle theft”).
Bara women. by Pierre-Yves Babelon

The Bara people speak Bara Malagasy, a dialect of the Malagasy language, which is a branch of the Malayo-Polynesian language group derived from the Barito languages, spoken in southern Borneo.
Bara man in the mountains of Andringitra, Madagascar, by Pierre-Yves Babelon

The Bara people, now largely sedentary, are of many origins; but according to Louis Michel, one of the sub-groups and perhaps the name of the macrogroup trace their origin to a great African warrior called Rabiby who crossed the Mozambique channel with 1,000 warriors.

 Andriamanely, a historical figure well-known throughout Southern Madagascar was said to be his son. It is believed that the word "Bara" is also of African origin and, indeed, there is an ethnic group in the West Nyasa region that is called Mbara or Mbala.
Circa 1893

According to local Bara legend. the Bara people came to meet occupants of the cave "Grotte des Portugais" known as the Vazimba, an aboriginal people who are believed to have inhabited the island long before the  other Malagasy arrived in their outrigger canoes.

Europeans may have been coming to Madagascar but Bara people of the south were the first to welcome Europeans to Madagascar when their Island cave "Grotte des Portugais" housed 600 shipwrecked Portuguese Sailors in 1527. This paved way for Europeans to visit the Island, Saint Augustine`s Bay, south of modern-day Toliara (Tulear). Dutch and English vessels started to landed there for repovisioning, as well as trading in silver and beads for meat and fruits.

 One English man, Walter Hammond, was so overwhelmed with the nature and beauty of  the Malagasy that he blurted "the happiest people in the world." That statement fired Britain to create a colony there but couldnot succeed  as the original 140 settlers were soon whittled down to 60 by disease and through the murder of local Bara tribesmen who became less happy when they found their favorite beads were not available for trade and these pazaha shown no signs of going away. The British colonialist left the Island in 1476

In his Histoire des Bara, Pierre Nankany says that 55% of the Bara are of pure African descent and that the remaining 45% are of mixed African, Melanesian, Polynesian, Arab, and Portuguese origin. He goes on to say that they are a tall, dark, slender, well-built, and courageous people who, armed only with spears, are excellent Zebu herders

. Until recently (in certain regions) their virility, courage, and ability to marry was connected with "halats'omby" ("institutionalized cattle theft"). Surprisingly, in spite of their courage and daring, they submitted to Merina rule in 1873 without war.

The Bara people are polygamists  living on cattle (zebu) farming. A great deal of Bara traditions and habits revolve around cattle farming. Cattle raiding (dahalo) has a symbolic meaning in wedding rituals, as the groom-to-be is expected to raid cattle to prove his strength and to give the raided cattle to the bride-to-be family as a payment of bride price.

Despite their somewhat semi-nomadic existence, they have strong ethnic cohesion and frequently employ fanange ("blood brotherhood ceremonies") to increase inter-family solidarity and the "blood-brother" tie is considered to be even stronger than family ties.
Within the family, the division of labor is still very traditional, Men prepare the ricefields, raise cattle, sheep and goats, construct houses, harvest, hunt, and fight; whereas women collect and gather, fetch water, clean house, cook, weave mats, and care for infants. Females also have certain prescribed duties in the rice-fields.

                            The Malaso of Madagascar
Bara reside in the land of the sedentary rice farmers and are now in the land of semi-nomadic herdsmen - the land of the great pastures of the horombe swept by the Eastern winds where it is said that the cattle outnumber the people seven to one. Indeed, in 1653, Flacourt called it the richest cattle land on earth.
Until recently in certain Bara regions, virility, courage and ability to marry was connected with halats’omby (institutionalized cattle theft”).

                  Madagascar Ihosy Lutte Bara Ringa Men Wrestling. Circa 1893

In Jean Faustin’s thesis for the Ecole Normale Niveau III EPS (University of Antananarivo) entitled La Forme de l’athlete, he describes the “magic ritual” observed by the cattle thieves of southwestern Madagascar to better achieve their aim. He wrote (pg. 7-9):
"In southwest Madagascar, as in the case of other regions as well, it is
customary to consult an ombiasa (a sort of combination fortune teller /
sorcerer / healer) before undertaking a difficult enterprise. Such enterprises
include the construction of a house or boat, harvesting crops, going on a
long trip, sitting for an examination, making a court appearance, etc. It is
an ancient practice which continues even in present times; and the habit of
wearing a protective gris-gris (amulet) is not forgotten."

Thus many athletes wear amulets that they believe will give them strength. Local boxers and wrestlers in southern Madagascar are proud of their victories in which they secure the affection and admiration of local girls and it is thanks to the utilization of “magic” that a number of them managed to defeat their adversaries.
The malaso (cattle thieves), never forget to consult an ombiasa (also known as ambiasa or ombiasy) before going out on a raid.
Bara tribal warrior with a gun

The night before their departure, the cattle thieves go into seclusion to apply or ingest the concoction that their ombiasa has prepared for them. This secret preparation is often a mixture of wild plants and honey which serves to fortify the leg muscles of the thieves. It is also their custom that night to eat grilled fresh manioc with kitoza (grilled meat) rather than greasy foods which may slow them down.
This preparation is accompanied by a prayer that one makes before midnight – a prayer which is preceded by a sikidy reading by a diviner [Note: for a detailed description of the sikidy divination system see my Lore of Madagascar pg. 301 – 318 or my Black Religiosity pg. 66 - 75]
Circa 1920

Then armed with spears and axes, the thieves leave their village to spread the blood of an old cookoo bird along the trail that the owners of the cattle will probably use to pursue them. As they do this they utter a ritual prayer which goes something like this:
                                                       Ho soa ty liay!
                                                       Haleme ty manarakanay!
                                                       Tsy ho hita zahay!
                                                      [i.e. “Let our journey be favorable!
                                                      May those that follow us become weak from fatigue!
                                                      May they not see us!]

The seclusion of the thieves at the place of their ombiasa is considered necessary to obtain the “green light” to pursue the mission. They are not permitted to sleep with girls because if they did, the power of the amulet
or gris-gris would be nullified. This, in itself, has a correlation with modern science in that it is well known that sexual intercourse before a competition typically diminishes the strength of a competitor.

The choice of the cookoo bird for the performance of the blood rite is motivated by the fact that this bird is considered lazy and incapable of continuous flight. It always flies low from bush to bush and often looks to
the left and right before preceding. Moreover, it always stops to rest after only have covered a short distance. Thus, anyone who steps in its blood (here the pursuers of the thieves) will (by the effects of sympathetic magic) behave in a similar manner. Honey of course is a natural product used to fortify, massage, and heat the muscles whether they are in need of it or not.

Thus the combination of the elements of this ritual directed by the ombiasa both physically (abstention from sex, resting, eating honey and grilled food) and psychologically (eradication of fear of pursuers through
ritual prayer, cookoo blood, and gris-gris or amulet) prepares the thieves for their undertaking. Moreover, the diviner also tells the thieves exactly where to go to effect the theft. This, in short, is the explanation for the unparalleled successes of the malaso; since very few of them are caught.

ATR is practised by a good percentage of the Bara people — one of the major tribes of Madagascar. The religion is far from going into extinction. It will not disappear, they say, until the last survivor of the Bara tribe is gone. Thus, ATR, "source of ancestral customs", constitutes an important element of the identity of the tribe. The Bara man lives in a religious universe. The main stages of life are marked with religious ceremonies in order to maintain the harmony between the world beyond or the "extra-natural" and the human being in the world. In traditional prayer, there is always invocation of Zanahary (Creator God), and the ancestors and of Tansy Masyt (the sacred land, the land where for generation upon generation, is buried the raza, that is to say, the placenta). This attachment to the ancestral land (the tanin drazana — the land of the placenta) becomes as such a visceral attachment to all the customs inherited from the ancestors in the land where the past generations received life.

Religious practices / ceremonies: The Bara pray to "Zanahary who made hands and feet", and numerous sacrifices are made for the living and the dead. The hazomanga velona or mpisoro officiates during rituals at the hazomanga (sacrificial altar place; also refers to the person who officiates, the patriarch). The ombiasa (divine, witch-doctor, traditional healer, astrologer) also leads some ceremonies.

Only members of the same hazomanga can sit down before the sacrificial post and participate in ceremonies. The hazomanga is found a few metres to the north-east of the patriarch`s house (tra`on-donaky). The house is easily distinguishable from others, as it is often the highest of the village and is built in the north-east, while the other houses in the village are built to the south and the west. The importance of this house is shown by the slaughtering of a cow during its inauguration. The sacred objects inherited from the ancestors are kept in the north-eastern corner of the tra`on-donaky and consists of the long knife (vy arara, verara, vy lava, vy mengoky) for cutting the victim`s throat, the tin beaker (fanovy) for sprinkling water or a water-blood mixture and the marine conch shell (atsiva) for the convocation of the blood relatives. These objects are hidden and only brought out (in some areas by a special little door) when a sacrifice is to be made.

There are varieties of interpretation of the hazomanga. Among the Zafindrendriko, the Bara Iatsatsa and the Bara Imamono, the word hazomanga has a wider meaning. They do not erect a sacrificial post, but keep a special space swept and clean for the purposes of sacrificial ceremonies. To them hazomanga refers to the person of the patriarch, to his house (also called fatora) and to the three sacred objects. Fauble (1954:68) mentions that the Bara Vinda have a hazom-b`to, which commemorates circumcision and serves as sacrificial post.

Rites practiced by the Bara include the bilo (a type of healing through exorcism of the helo), savatse (circumcision), different sacrifices (soro and saotse), funeral rites and divination (sikily). The soro is sacrificial prayer offered to Za`ahary and the patrilinear ancestors, and can only be officiated by the patriarch. This is done on behalf of the whole lineage or family at the hazomanga. In the case of the bilo, sacrifices for marriage or when there has been a serious fault committed - such as incest or breaking some taboo - the required sacrifices to prevent any disastrous consequences from such transgressions are not made at the hazomanga, but somewhere else in the village.

Anybody can call on superhuman powers, especially on the helo, which are spirits of living nature, spirits of life, to make a vow (sareky) and ask a favour, in exchange for the sacrifice of a chicken or a sheep, for which the patriarch`s intervention is not required. In some cases a person becomes a medium for the helo and is then consulted by those in need. The helo are small dark spirits who live in particular trees or in particular water spots, or in particular creatures such as eels, that get fed with locusts, frogs or meat from a sacrificed cow. They sometimes haunt a person and sometimes show their favour of a child, who is then consecrated by abstention from certain foods and other soiling elements. Usually veneration of the helo concerns sterility or wealth or a guilt offering for having offended them by desecrating their dwelling place. This type of prayer is called saotsy.

Three elements are present in all sacrificial rites (Elli:93), namely tata (prayer, calling on Zanahary and the ancestors, explaining the reasons for the occasion and the request made); soro (the sacrifice of the victim, usually a cow; or some rice and honey in the case of a pregnancy); and tsipirano (blessing - sprinkling with water during the tata, or with a mixture of water and blood after the soro). The three terms are used interchangeably to indicate the total rite.

Bara are also known as dancers and sculptors. Their wooden statues have long eyelashes that are implemented using human hair.

Madagascar – Feast of life and death

In the south of Madagascar live the Bara, a cluster of 18 ethnic groups that share language and culture. They live in a arid land, where agriculture cannot thrive, and so they developed an economy based on husbandry. They also developed an interesting relationship with death and the deceased. The Bara claim that death is a passage that allows a person to become an ancestor, that allows to influence the life of the whole clan. This passage is celebrated in three stages.

When a person dies, the corpse is cleaned and wrapped in a shroud. The morning after, relatives and friends come to visit and condolence the family. The morning of the third day, the body of the deceased is interred in a solitary location, often in a cave which is then sealed. It is left there to rot for months, at times for years. In the meantime, the family prepares for the second step of this complex rite.

The second stage of the funeral requires large amount of goods and money. The family will have to plan carefully, and this may take long. If a family has no enough means, they will agree with other clans and organize a common festival, sharing the expenses. Once all the preparation is done, the family of the deceased will inform the chief of the clan. He will go to the formal sepulchre of the family and offer a libation of rum to the ancestors. After that, he will decide when the funeral will take place. This is always sometimes between June and September, the dry and cooler time of the year.
Wbara3hen the time approaches, a group of people go to the provisional tomb and exhume the corpse of their loved one. These are always the head of the family plus some adults of the same sex of the deceased. The old shroud is removed and a new, colourful one wrapped around the remains. Then everyone returns to the village in procession. Those who pass along the way will stop what they are doing to pay their respect and murmur a prayer. The remains are taken to the sacred land of the clan. This is always a piece of land with a sacred tree. No one would ever dare desecrate these spots, which are always free from litter and where animal cannot graze.
It is here that those invited to the feast gather. They are the members of the clan plus friends and people who live in the area. A bull is brought under the tree and sacrificed. This must be a large animal. The animal is offered to the ancestors to ask them to bless the ritual. Those who arrive to the ground start the feast buy dancing, while food and beverages are offered to all.
In the morning of the second day, another animal is sacrificed and its meat prepared for lunch. This is the time when the last guests arrive, while all participate in dancing and singing. The remains are brought around for people to touch and embrace them. This ritual goes on until midday, when people stop dancing to rest and eat. Once the food is finished, all go in procession to the sepulchres. These are usually built far from the village. From outside, they look exactly as other house, only they are sturdier and well cared for. This is to honour the ancestors and keep them happy.

bara4Once at their final destination, those carrying the remains go around the sepulchre seven times. Those in charge with putting the remains in their final resting place take off their shoes, and enter the house. Men are placed on the right side of the house, women on the left. The sepulchre is cleaned; old shrouds are replaced with new ones. People might fight over who takes home the old shrouds, considered important relics of the ancestors. Once all is back to order, the sepulchre is locked. The elders have a few words of leave-taking and then all go back to the village using a different route. This is done to confuse the souls of the ancestors who will not follow the people and remain happily in the sepulchre. Once back under the sacred tree, a third animal is slaughtered as a thanksgiving. All present receive enough meat to bring back home.
The third stage of the ritual is celebrated only by the members of the family. At dawn on the third day, all meet in the house where the deceased lived. An elder sings a hymn while blessing people with water. A calf is brought in the courtyard, it does not have to be big, but he must be red. The calf is sacrificed and the blood put in a container. The elder will asperse it on the walls of the house. Once this is done, the elders and some women of the family have a meeting to discuss family matters. The meeting ends with the sharing of food and dancing, which last until dark. The last morning of the rite, the family goes together to the river to have a ritual bath. This ends the ritual and the deceased is now an ancestor. While all return to their daily chores, the ancestor will watch over and bless them.
File:Famadihana reburial razana ancestor Madagascar.jpg

Josean Villalabeita
                                ISAHO NATIONAL PARK
Vegetation of the southern part of the Isalo Sandstone Massif (Central Madagascar, Africa) 
– differentiation and threats
                        Krzysztof Świerkosz1

The Isalo National Park is the fourth largest and one of the earliest protected areas in Madagascar. It was created in 1962, and covers an area of about 82 000 ha. The whole park (especially its southern section) is intensively managed by the local community and frequented by tourists. This may create many conflicts between the objectives of nature protection and human activities such as tourism, cattle grazing and gathering of useful plants. Although scientists frequently visit the area (comp. Andrew and Hawkins 1999; Nicoll and Langrand 1989), the fauna and flora of Isalo are still insufficiently described.

There are no ecological papers related exclusively to the Isalo Massif (Andrew and Hawkins 1999), and thus all information should be useful for future study. That is why I have decided to present a short characteristic of the vegetation of this  area, which summarises my observations carried out in January 2002.
Names of forest formations follow Du Puy and Moat (1998),

plant names follow Schatz (2001) and Samyn (2001). Documentation is stored as a part of the Herbarium of Museum of Natural History in Wrocław (WRSL) media collection.

Physiography of the study area
The Isalo National Park is situated between 22°10’–22°40’S and 45°11’–45°23’E in the southwestern corner of the Province of Fianarantsoa. It is a rocky massif characterised by a unique sandstone landscape, dissected by a labyrinth of deep (up to 200 m) canyons and a jumble of ruiniform contours. Large differences in relief are a result of variation in rock quality, and also of intensive colian and water erosion. The elevation varies between 510 and 1268 m.
Isalo is probably a part of the earliest sedimentary layers of the Permo-Triassic Karroo Series, which was formed on the bottom of the Permian sea which covered part of Gondwana (Battistini 1972), but some parts of the massif originated in the Jurassic period (Sourdat 1970).
The climate is hot and rather dry. Temperatures range from monthly means of 17 °C in June to 25 °C in February (Andrew and Hawkins 1999). The rainfall is about 850–1200 mm per year, but falls almost entirely in the hot season (90 per cent from November–March). The dry season may extend to several months (Donque 1972). Some rivers and streams are permanent; there are also many seasonal watercourses.
Phytogeographically, the Isalo Massif is included in the Centre Area (Koechlin 1972), which covers the central plateau regions above an average height of 800 m a.s.l. The latest revision of
primary vegetation places Isalo within “the evergreen sclerophylous forest zone” (Du Puy and Moat 1998).

Main types of vegetation
There are six main formations occurring in the Isalo area: sclerophylous woodland dominated by Uapaca bojeri, evergreen humid forest (in deep shadowed canyons), Pandanus gallery thickets, xerophytic rocky vegetation, secondary shrub communities and pseudo-steppes which originated from intensive
burning in the past. The differentiation of plant communities depends on two major factors – local habitat conditions and the degree of anthropopressure.

Evergreen sclerophylous (Uapaca) woodland (tapia forest)
The tapia forest is a lax formation with many gaps, where shrubs and herbaceous vegetation occur. The main components of this formation are small trees of Uapaca bojeri(Euphorbiaceae), which usually make up monotonous and monospecific stands. In some patches Asteropeia cf. rhopaloides (Asteropeiaceae) or Sarcolaena isaloensis(Sarcolaenaceae) also grow as subdominants.
Other tree species (Cussonia bojerii, Stereospermum euphorioides, Acridocarpussp., Erythrospermumsp., Grevia sp.) are very rare. All of these trees are resistant or tolerant to fire. The herb layer is composed of grasses and herbs; in some places it is lax. Some of the Catharanthus and Fabaceae species grow here. In general, the Uapaca woodland is very poor in species, both trees and other plants, but due to its rarity and uniqueness it deserves to be intensively protected.
The Isalo National Park protects one of the main remnants of this interesting forest of dry subtropical Madagascar zone (Du Puy and Moat 1996). The tapia forest also occupies other areas
in the Central Highland, but only as small isolated patches (Du Puy and Moat 1998).

Evergreen humid forest
There are three different evergreen humid forest formations in the southern part of Isalo, occurring near the streams, in the deep ravines and shadowy moist places. The deep canyons are covered by a formation of humid gallery forest. Its main feature is the presence of palm species (Ravenea cf. glauca and Dypsis spec.), Breonadia salicina (Rubiaceae), Weinmannia sp. (Cunnoniaceae), Voacanga cf. thouarsii (Apocynaceae) and Dracaena sp. (Agavaceae). Patches of this forest are very similar to the eastern Madagascar evergreen
rain forests, and they may have natural origin. Their occurrence depends on the local microclimate and the high soil humidity, which prevents fires.
Some of the humid forest stands, however, are distinctly of secondary origin. Many introduced or spontaneously naturalised tree species (e.g., Melia azedarach, Mangifera indicaor Eugenia spec.) occur in such patches. Most of these stands are very young. It suggests that this kind of vegetation was established
after the National Park had been created (comp. also Andrew and Hawkins 1999).
The third humid formation is the gallery Pandanus thicket, dominated by P. pulcher, and an admixture of some common shrub species. It covers the shallow valleys of small streams, which cross the plateau surface. This formation is probably also of secondary origin, and grows in places where the forest is degraded and frequently burned (Andrew and Hawkins 1999).
Saturnid Moth, Isalo National Park, Madagascar

Pseudo-steppes (Aristida-Heteropogon communities group)
The wide area of Isalo is covered by pseudo-steppes dominated by Aristida sp., Trachypogon sp. or the Heteropogon grass species. This is a type of anthropogenic formation that has been created by grass fires, which prevent tree regrowth. These fires were set for the benefit of grazing cattle, but due to the increasing number of foreign visitors, this management has been limited.

Although these pseudo-steppes are mainly built up by grasses, the biodiversity of these ecosystems is high. Many rare and endemic plant species occur here, too. The most common are Menabea venenata (Asclepiadaceae), Catharanthus trichophyllus (Apocynaceae), Poivrea grandidieri(Combretaceae), Ischnolepis tuberosa (Asclepiadaceae), Secamone tenuifolia (Asclepiadceae), Commelina madagascarica (Commelinaceae), Tachiadenus cf. longiflorus (Apocynaceae), Tephrosia cf. isaloensis. (Leguminosae),
Hibiscus isalensis (Malvaceae), Polygala isaloensis(Polygalaceae), Sinorchis sp. (Orchidaceae)and others. Preservation of this formation requires occasional grass fires or grazing of local influence.

Rocky communities (Pachypodium-Aloe community group)
In rocky areas, particularly on steep slopes or ridges, the vegetation is extremely xerophytic.

 Numerous interesting and endemic species grow in these habitats, e.g. Xerophyta sp. (Veloziaceae), Pachypodium rosulatum var. gracilius (Apocynaceae), Aloe isaloensis (Liliaceae), small climbing shrubs of Ficus and many succulent species of Kalanchoe, Cynanchum and Euphorbia. No threats to the rocky communities have been recognised.

Secondary shrub (Vangueria madagascariensisAphloia theaeformis community)
The outer slopes of the Isalo Massif, which are in contact with fields and pastures, are covered by dense secondary shrub formations. Mimosa latispinosa (Mimosaceae), Vangueria madagascariensis (Rubiaceae), Maesa lanceolata (Myrsinaceae), Aphloia theaeformis (Flacourtiaceae), Crotalaria sp. (Fabaceae),
Tamarindus indica (Caesalpiniaceae) are the most common components of this kind of vegetation. Many lianas and climbing shrubs such as Adenia olaboensis (Passifloraceae), Poupartia sp. (Anacardiaceae) and Cryptostegia madagascariensis (Asclepiadaceae) occur here, too. The species composition of this community is very similar to other secondary formations of disturbed areas of Central Madagascar.

Threats and human pressure
For a period of about 1000 years the Isalo area was under extensive human pressure due to grazing, burning, and forest clearing. Before human arrival, native grasslands had probably been restricted to small patches (Lowry et al. 1997). Today, after a millennium of human pressure, they are widespread not only in the Isalo Massif, but also in most of Central Madagascar. However, the rapidly increasing number of visitors, especially ecotourists has caused a reduction in traditional methods of pasture and agriculture.
At this moment there are some human activities pursued which may potentially be dangerous to the unique vegetation of the Isalo Massif.

The influence of tourism is difficult to assess. In the dry period there are about 50 guides working every day in Ranohira – the main visiting site. Each guide may lead no more than 10 people per day. This means that the number of visitors to the southern section of the National Park cannot exceed 500. In comparison with the sandstone areas in Europe (e.g., Góry Stołowe Mountains, Adršpašsko-teplické skály Cliffs or Bohemian Switzerland), the number of visitors is very low. In Isalo there are only three tourist paths, and the tourists are accompanied by a guide at all times. This suggests that, at this moment, tourism does not pose
a serious threat to nature protection in this region.

Gathering useful plants or their parts
Many of the plant species growing in Isalo are very useful for the local community. The fruit of the common native trees – Uapaca bojeri, Dracaena, Ficus– are gathered, processed to preserve, or eaten fresh. Pandanusleaves are used for making mats and thatching. Numerous native or even endemic plants mentioned in this paper (e.g., Catharanthus, Psiadia, Helichrysum, Commelina, Kalanchoe, Aloe, Tachiadenus, Maesa) have wide use in traditional medicine and local culture (Samyn 2001). All of these plants are still collected
as an important source of food and drugs for the local community.

Clearing of woods and regular grass fires
At present, woodland and grass fires are potential, but very serious, threats, especially to the Uapaca forest. Occasional burning or grazing of the pseudo-steppes, which occupy the Isalo plateau, should not be dangerous, because they are necessary to keep the current biodiversity.

Many introduced and naturalised plant species (mainly trees and shrubs) occur in the Isalo Massif and in its neighbourhood. The most common and dangerous to the native flora are Psidium guajava, Acacia sp., Lantana camara, Aphloia theaeformis, Melia azedarach, Cassia occidentalis, Ageratum conyzoides,
Euphorbia hirta and Mimosa pudica. Synanthropisation has caused very serious damage in many tropical countries (Świerkosz 2000), and currently this process should be acknowledged as the most important threat to the native flora and vegetation of the Isalo Massif.

The main features of the vegetation of the southern part of the Isalo Massif (Central Madagascar) have been described in a preliminary way. There are 6 main formations occurring here: the sclerophylous woodland with domination of Uapaca bojeri, evergreen humid forest (in deep shadowed canyons), Pandanus gallery thickets, xerophytic rocky vegetation, secondary shrub communities and pseudo-steppes originating from intensive burning in the past. The differentiation of plant communities depends on two major factors – local habitat conditions and the degree of anthropopressure. The most important threat to the native flora and fauna of Isalo is the occurrence of invasive tropical plants, mainly trees and shrubs, which cause many
changes to the structure and species composition of this region’s unique plant communities (compare the invasions on Central European sandstone landscapes, Hadincová et al.).



Bara woman> By 

bara village