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Soatanana

Not to be confused with the often-mentioned Soatanana closer to Fianarantsoa, Soatanana by Ambohimahazo is a good excuse to go far off the main routes and visit a small village about [40km] from Ambositra. The area is getting recognition for its silk scarves woven here and rightly so.

The wider region has a history of producing wild silk garments that have dwindled in recent times. Weavers in the village have been encouraged to strengthen their older weaving traditions as a means to prevent farming being the only source of income (the area, as with much of Madagascar, is full of paddy fields).

The small remaining tapia forests nearby are home to the worm that produces the silk and provide a good enough reason for the population to keep the forests rather than clearing them for farmland. As with other silk weaving associations who have returned to traditional crafts, you will be ensuring that a larger percentage of profits goes to the maker and will get to see exactly where the scarves come from and who makes them. Scarves were being hawked to us in Ambositra town but we're very glad we travelled to and bought from one of the sources.

Organising Visits

We turned up unannounced, which sent the weavers of the town into a little bit of a panic. They felt they wouldn't be prepared enough for our visit and might give a less than stellar demonstration of how they make scarves. They had nothing to worry about whatsoever as they were incredibly welcoming. We really enjoyed going from workshops into some of the weavers houses to see their loom setups despite my lack of any knowledge on the subject (or any prior interest in seeking out looms). Although we were happy to eat later they insisted we have lunch and coffee there at a very reasonable price.

The association of weavers here is Tambantra and can be contacted in advance by ringing +261 (33) 258 3511 or +261 (33) 727 7900 (provided so that you don't start a small frenzy of panic, like us). This trip reminded us a lot of a similar wonderful project in the village of Sainte Luce, Fort Dauphin called Stitch Sainte Luce. It focuses on embroidery under a similar goal of providing a source of income other than being reliant on fishing. If you are near the south-east of the country I highly recommend dropping by.

Brick houses in Soatanana.
Soatanana provides an opportunity to visit houses of weavers and see the looms operating inside. Many of the homes are built with retractable ladders to access upper floors—a tradition in the wider area that offers valued security, or convenience when outdoors.

Getting Around

We didn't see any taxi-brousse on the way there or back but friends managed to cover most of the journey from Ambositra to here in one, though not without delays. Otherwise you're going to be arriving in a 4x4 and it's not entirely obvious which way to go at the various junctions along the small roads once you leave the [RN7] at Ivato. The important thing to know is to take a left at the junction of Anjoman'akona along the [RN35], then get to know everyone walking along the road as you're directed along for another fifteen minutes or so.