A peek at Antandroy fashion.
Some of the styles and fashions of Tandroy are worth illuminating. The women here wear the colorful cloth (lambas) wrapped around their waists or rolled up under their arms. Seeing the women go about their day is to witness a parade of patterns and local imagery: a village scene settled with blue huts around a cook’s bust, teal and orange urchin-spiny shapes wrapped about a washerwoman’s waist, and red herds of cattle traipsing along a vendor’s derriere are familiar fashions in town and in the outlying countryside. In my house I also sport the lamba, since it’s too hot to wear anything else. Cotton breathes, you know.
Men here wear round hats (satro_bory) that rise to a point on top. A triangular design around the rim distinguishes this hat from the other round, pointy hats worn by neighboring tribes. I’m still trying to understand the practical use of this hat, as it provides the face no protection from the sun. The men from the depths of the countryside (ambanvoitse) sport sheep and goat hair hats. I imagine that they’ve robbed the poor animals of a buttock, dried it, and placed the pone of startled hair on their heads to scare foreigners.
Our big market day is on Fridays. It’s a day when the town is inundated by people coming by foot, bicycle, truck, or cattle cart from distant and local villages. Most of the men and young boys either carry spears (lefone) or a hatchet (famake). At first I was a little wary walking past these men. What if they went a little nuts for a brief moment and decided to bring down the white girl shopping for tomatoes in the market? The herdsmen typically wear either a lighter baby blanket or a heavier bed throw. It is thrown over their shoulders, mantles the chest, and drapes down to the knees. For a more dramatic effect, the blanket can also wrap over the head. If the specter of a heavily shrouded man wielding a spear sounds menacing, the floral or teddy bear print on the cloth should allay any doubts in your safety. I typically think of these men as long-legged cranes; their sinewy legs showing from beneath the plumage of their baby blanket.
My favorite fashion statements here come from the second-hand clothes piles (frippery) sold on market day. Discarded by Europe and the US, these neglected treasures depict images or words that are of no concern to the people wearing them. A woman who sells fish always wears a scowl above a bright orange tee-shirt with a big smiley face on it. Written above the face in bold block print is STUPID.
The sweaters that men choose to buy from the frippery piles either make me question their wearers’ masculinity or endears me to the display of holiday spirit. They are decorated with holiday inspired themes, such as Halloween or Christmas. I always feel comforted to see little ghosts swimming all over a black sweater or a sweat shirt adorned with Christmas bells, bows, and ribbons. The man who comes by my house to sell bread and yogurt sometimes sports a large red sweater that swallows up his lean body. The image on the front is of a baby tiger with blue eyes and a little bow-tie. The words sewn above the tiger kitty read, “I love my new bow-tie!”
The most curious trend is found among my male students. They grow the nail of their little finger out long and paint it with fingernail polish. I’ve gotten various answers to my questions about it, including “It’s just cool” and “You’ve got to have something to help pick your nose and ears.”