Things seen in Madagascar [book]

James Sibree
1856 unpublished
Act like the stepping of the chameleon : look where you are going ; look back the way you have come ; " thus advising foresight and retrospect. Like all the reptiles, the chameleon lays eggs, and these are like a small bean in size, and are enclosed in a leathery skin or shell. I have seen them digging holes in the pathway to deposit these eggs, which are hatched by the heat of the sun, and while engaged in this work the chameleons are reddishbrown in colour, so as to be very like the red soil
more » ... like the red soil in which the holes are dug ; the reason of this is no doubt that they may escape the notice of their enemies, the hawks flying overhead, or the little snakes that ghde out of the grass. A baby chameleon, about an inch long, such as I have seen in our garden at Antananarivo, is a very pretty little creature ; its long tail, coiled round a twig, seems to serve it like a fifth hand. Naughty little native boys are fond of making the male chameleons fight together, and it is curious to see how widely the red mouth is opened at such times. THE CHAMELEON 9 We cannot, of course, give any blame to the Chameleon for using, in selfdefence and concealment, the power of changing his colour according to his surroundings. He has no weapon in the shape of claws, or teeth, or sting, as many living creatures have, and so he has been provided with this means of protection. But in certain respects we, as human beings, should not be like him in changing our words or our minds so as to be just like the company we are in. Don't you remember how honest John Bunyan described such characters when he speaks in the " Pilgrim's Progress " about " my Lord Turnabout, my Lord Timeserver, Mr. Two-tongues, and Mr. Anything " ? We must not be afraid to hold our own opinion, for fear of offending othersŵ hen our conscience tells us we are in the right. We must not say, " Do at Rome as the Romans do." THE AYE-AYE II the wood and bark. As, however, the grub retreats to the far end of its hole, one of the fingers of the aye-aye's hands is sUghtly lengthened, but much diminished in thickness, and is furnished with a hook-hke claw. Thus provided, the finger is used as a probe, inserted in the tunnel, and the dainty morsel is drawn forth from its hiding-place. There are also other modifications of structure, all tending to the more perfect accomplishment of the purposes of its creation : the eyes being very large, so that it may easily see at dusk or by night ; the ears widely expanded, so as to catch the faint sound of the grub at work inside the tree ; and the thumbs of the feet, or hinder hands, being large and strong, so as to enable the animal to take a firm hold of the tree while using its teeth to cut into the wood. Careful observations were made for several months of an aye-aye which was brought ahve to England, and hved for some time in the Regent's Park Zoological Gardens. The probe finger was used as a scoop when the aye-aye drank water ; it was carried from the water to the mouth so quickly, that the liquid seemed to pass in a continuous stream. A remarkable fact has been pointed out in the structure of the lower jaw, namely, that the two sides are only joined together by a strong hgament, and do not, as in other animals, form one connected half-circle of bone. This partly accounts for the prodigious power of gnawing that the a3^e-aye possesses ; it was seen to cut through a strip of tin-plate nailed to the door of its cage. The animal, though not scarce, is difficult to obtain, as it comes out from its retreat only at night ; besides which, the forest people have a superstitious fear of it, so that even a large reward is often insufficient to induce them to attempt its capture. The aye-aye constructs true nests, about two and a half feet in diameter, which are found on trees in the dense parts of the forest. Near the coast these are composed of rolled-up leaves of the travellers '-tree, and are lined with twigs and dry leaves. The opening of the nest is at the side, and a small white insect called andaitra, probably the larva of some beetle, forms the animal's chief food. It is said to be very savage, and strikes rapidly with its hands. The coast people believe it to be an embodiment of the spirit of their forefathers, and so will not touch it, much less do it an injury, and if they attempt to entrap it, they think they would surely die in consequence ; and their superstition extends even to its nest. THE GREAT AFRICAN ISLAND SOMETHING ABOUT THE COUNTRY IN the two papers you have already read I have told you about some of the interesting animals which are to be found in Madagascar ; but before you go further into the contents of this little book, I think it will be well to say something about the country where these creatures live, so that you may understand more clearly their surroundings. And if you will also study attentively the map which is given herewith, that will still further help you to realise what the great island of Madagascar is like. First then, remember that it is the third largest island in the world, New Guinea being the first in size, then Borneo, and then Madagascar. People are often surprised to hear that it is just a thousand miles long, about 250 miles in average breadth, and is nearly four times as large as England and Wales. I was once asked whether it was not about as large as the Isle of Wight ! And the reason of such mistaken notions about it is, no doubt, that on maps of the world or of Africa, it seems so small compared with the great " dark continent," with its five or six thousand miles of length and breadth. But if we put beside it a map of our own country to the same scale as you see on the next page, we reahse how large it really is. There are three or four noteworthy facts in the physical geography of Madagascar which it will be w^ell to keep in mind. The first of these is that all round the island there is a belt of forest, which you must cross from the coast to get into the interior. This forest-covered country is densest on the eastern side ; at one part, towards the north, it is forty miles across, but it is much less further south, and for four or five hundred miles it divides into two lines, of which the lower one is the widest. On the western side of the island the woods are not nearly so dense ; for over a considerable extent of the coast plains it is rather a wooded country, with scattered clumps of trees" and among them groups of fan-palms, tamarind-trees, baobabs, and the Madagascar spice-tree, of which the leaves, the bark, and the fruit are all fragrant. A great part of the interior provinces of Madagascar is of bare, moorland country, rather uninteresting in appearance, but with many pretty spots in the river valleys, and often with grand masses of granite rocks rising up, which are sometimes like great castles, and in other places like a huge cathedral. These granite masses are very often like immense " bosses " of rounded rock. In the interior districts of Imerina and of Betsileo, which are the London Missionary Society's chief fields, we are from 4,000 to 6,000 feet above the sea, so that, although we are within the tropics, we have a very pleasant 12 13 Where? At the Mission House at 48, Broadway, Westminster, S.W.I. , in the Livingstone Bookshop of the L.M.S, Yo« never saw soeh a erowd of jolly-looking books ! There's lots of story books abovt missionary adventures, and sehool stories, and animal and nature stories.
doi:10.5962/bhl.title.104573 fatcat:jttcp3hpfjflhinauk4mcrnlni