Markets in Madagascar
If you, like many travellers, are a fan of markets then Madagascar — in particular Antananarivo — is a treat. Many people living in the capital buy nearly everything they need from the vast outdoor sprawling markets which spread out over many parts of the city. There are some supermarkets and larger shops in Antananarivo but they are very expensive in comparison to the goods on offer in the markets in Madagascar, hence the booming trade.
These markets form vast complexes running along the main and side streets and are incredibly easy to get lost in. Analakely market– aptly named, as it means ‘little forest’– runs down Avenue de l’Independance in the city centre and into the areas off it, and is often rammed with people. A myriad of entry points lead you inside, where live chickens are for sale, mothers can be seen bargaining over vegetables, young people try on the latest fashions, and children enviously eye racks of toys and games. The vendors are so close together and the place so packed that at times it is a squeeze to move through, and personal space comes at a premium.
The markets in the capital do come with a warning which I was told about numerous times by everyone from taxi drivers to people in the local bar and that is not to bring your valuables when you venture to one. It being such a squeeze means that pickpockets and thieves can operate here and slip back into the crowd with little chance of being caught. That being said if you go out with a sense of what to expect and only the bare minimum in cash it can be an enjoyable few hours and you may even pick up the odd culinary delight along the way.
Depending on the season there can be a rich bounty of mangoes, lychees, pineapples, bananas, apples and more is to be had. As I was there in November, ripe mangoes were plentiful, so I usually bought a combination of these and some other fruit such as strawberries. It was so tasty in fact that I brought an empty water bottle with me, and had the vendor fill it up with juice which I kept in the fridge.
Many people in Tana do not have jobs in the traditional sense of the word, but operate micro-businesses such as market stalls. There is no welfare system in Madagascar, so people need to make a living – if they don’t earn anything, they and their family do not eat. There seems to be little regulation in the markets and I doubt that taxes are paid on anything sold, but all of the produce looks good and business is thriving. There is also a market near the northern taxi brousse station not far from Ambodivona, which I saw on my way to and from there: it looks just as busy as the ones close to the city centre.
Outside of the capital markets become much less chaotic and from my point of view more enjoyable to walk around due to the relative abundance of space in comparison to the markets in Antananarivo. The regional markets are just smaller versions of the ones in the capital and still have a vast array of fruit, vegetables, meat, clothing and many other essentials.
For some of these cities like Fort Dauphin on the southeast coast the market felt like the real centre with the official centre of town just a collection of ageing colonial buildings housing banks, hotels and a handful of shops that always had a Sunday morning feel about it whenever I walked through. The market on the other hand is more of a Saturday night out after payday with people coming and going in all different directions looking for a bargain for their hard earned money.
There are also other kinds of markets in Madagascar like the zebu market where people come to buy and sell cattle in either a village or town on a prearranged date. On these occasions thousands of zebu descend on these normally quiet towns with herds to be seen for miles around on the approach to the market. I saw one such zebu market in the village of Manambaro on the road between Fort Dauphin and Berenty in the southwest of the country. There were thousands of animals on the roads in, inside the village itself and on the road out the other side and looked like organised chaos as deals were done and zebu bought and sold.
The craft market in the town of Tamatave on the east coast was the most easygoing market I visited. I was taken there by my guide for Tamatave, Frederick, who was almost insistent we take it in as part out trip. I was reluctant at first having had enough of the melee that are the markets of Antananarivo but once we got there I was pleasantly surprised. It consists of hundreds of stalls of handmade items from bags and scarves to carvings and paintings. My favourite of all were the stalls selling little metal cars made from recycled tin. These cars were designs of old French vehicles of yonder year and included 2CVs and Renault 4s which really caught my eye. This turned out to be my favourite of all the markets in Madagascar, but I would still recommend a visit to the madness of the markets in Antananarivo also.