Malagasy people and reading: do they still like to read books in the country?

27/09/2018. When I was a little boy, I was often told (bad joke inside) that I had to read, always read and read everything you could find. At that time, a century when everyone still knew how to look up a word in the dictionary (no, not CTRL + F), books had a completely different aura. We learned things we couldn’t find elsewhere and it was quite an emotion to discover one we liked. Just the sound, the touch and the smell of the pages you flip through make you feverishly anticipate a thousand questions in your head.

But that was before. Nowadays, people say Google is your friend and e-books are putting booksellers out of business. Funny world. There’s still the question of Madagascar: do you think people still like to read on the Big Island? Have we also adopted the digital world to the point of threatening the existence of the boky tonta of Ambohijatovo? The magazine looked into these questions and interviewed 1,058 Malagasy people in the street about their reading habits. What follows is the restitution of this survey.

Yes, we (still) read !

64% is the portion of respondents who say they like to read books, a proportion in which there are as many men as women.

Afterwards, it’s good to enjoy reading, you may say, but you still need time to do so. When questioned on this point, the majority of book lovers (62%) believe that they have enough time to devote themselves to reading for as long as they want. Over the last 12 months, 24% of them have finished 1 book and 21% have finished more than 6.

On the other hand, 18% did not finish any, 16% finished 2 and 8% read 3.

What do you read on the Big Island?

So we are 3 Malagasy out of 5 to love the company of books, but what exactly are we reading? Well, it seems that Malagasy people are fond of personal development books: 61% of the people interviewed are attracted by this type of writing. In second place are books and romance novels, which 24% of those interviewed say they prefer.

Self-help books are popular with Malagasy readers
Self-help books are popular with Malagasy readers

8% also say they like adventure books and 6% like comic books. Finally, 5% read detective books, another 5% read biographies, and 4% are more inclined towards science fiction.

It should be noted that 11% of the interviewees read other types of books cited in the margin of the questionnaire’s proposals, especially religious works (especially the Bible).

Used and in French

When asked about their usual book suppliers, reading enthusiasts confess that they mainly buy their books from second-hand booksellers and therefore read second-hand books above all (47%).

34% of them say they take their books from the library, while 20% go to bookstores where they buy new books. As for the supporters of borrowing books from friends, relatives or acquaintances, they account for 18%. Finally, e-books, PDFs and other digital books downloaded from the Internet still attract only 6% of Malagasy readers.

Malagasy people get their books mainly from booksellers.
Malagasy people get their books mainly from booksellers.

As for knowing in which languages are the books that Malagasy people devour, it is not surprising that in all, 66% of the interviewees answer in French. Next comes Malagasy, the language in which 55% of readers read books. In third place finally, we find Shakespeare’s language, English, the language in which the books read by 8% of book lovers are written.

Preferred literary genres according to the language of the book

If we have fun looking at the details of the types of books most read by Malagasy people according to their languages, we realize an amusing disparity: beyond the overwhelming popularity of self-help books, the readings are really different.

The top 5 favorite literary genres in French:

  1. personal development books (61%)
  2. romance novels (31%)
  3. adventure books (10%)
  4. comic books (8%)
  5. mystery novels (7%)

The top 5 favorite literary genres in Malagasy:

  1. personal development books (67%)
  2. “Other” books, mostly religious books (17%)
  3. romance novels (17%)
  4. adventure books (6%)
  5. comic books (4%)

And the top five favourite literary genres in English:

  1. personal development books (71%)
  2. romance novels (29%)
  3. detective novels (15%)
  4. Comic books (13%)
  5. science fiction books (11%)
In Madagascar, the typology of literary genres changes according to the language read
In Madagascar, the typology of literary genres changes according to the language read

Let’s end on a hopeful note: among the 36% of respondents who admit that they don’t like to read, 90% still think that knowledge is in books. Perhaps a motivation to open a book?

Conclusion of the survey on Malagasy people and reading

Slightly more than 3 out of 5 Malagasy people therefore like to read books, a score that is not so bad for a country whose literacy rate is 71.57% among people aged 15 and over according to UNESCO (2012), 64.5% according to UNICEF (2012). All in all, officially, it is commonly accepted that 30% of adults are illiterate…

So 3 out of 5 of us like to read books.
So 3 out of 5 of us like to read books.

Personal development is surprisingly the genre most read by Malagasy people. And we’re not just talking here about Father rich, Father poor or How to make friends, no, Malagasy authors also find their audience among readers who, moreover, do not deny their pleasure: no matter what language they read in, personal development will always be the most widely read genre.

As for which language is most widely read, it is no surprise that French, the country’s second official language, is the most popular, with 66% of readers reading books in that language. Next come Malagasy (55%) and English, which is still far behind (8%).

But the most interesting fact to emerge from this survey is that only 20% of those surveyed buy their new books in bookstores and that it is mostly second-hand books that are read on the Big Island (47%). And it’s not even loans or books taken from the library, we’re talking about second-hand books and novels (at best:)) that find a second, third, nth life to make new readers happy.

The Loharano Soa association, the boky tonta booksellers in Ambohijatovo

It’s hard to talk about second-hand books without mentioning the famous Ambohijatovo book market. Kingdom of comic books, Harlequins and all kinds of manuals, this little paradise of the bibliologists (yes, yes, it exists) was born in 1997. Finally, in its present form, since the booksellers who make it up were already practising at the time of Zoma.

Ambohijatovo's boky tonta seen from the bus stop side
Ambohijatovo’s boky tonta seen from the bus stop side

In the early days of boky tonta

At that time, they occupied iron kiosks like the Parisian newsstands, and were still in Analakely, at the level of the current vary mitsangana “Zaimaika”. They spent peaceful days there until the day when Guy Willy Razanamasy, mayor of the city at the time, initiated the sanitation of Zoma. The decision meant the end of the famous market where many Malagasy people used to do their shopping, and the relocation of the book dealers.

Transferred willingly or unwillingly to Roland Garros, Ambohijatovo, they finally enjoyed the quietness of the place, which suited them perfectly. They were indeed the only ones, since the eyeglasses manufacturers and other perfume sellers who had been moved at the same time as them disappeared one by one from the square. Literally. For the booksellers, on the other hand, began a period of splendour that was to last about ten years.

A second-hand book stand in the foreground in Ambohijatovo
A second-hand book stand in the foreground in Ambohijatovo

The Great Depression

With the 2000s came the democratization of computers and the Internet in the Big Island. It became easier and easier to get information, to train and to learn. With the help of modern reprographic methods, people began to leave Ambohijatovo with a number of visitors that only decreased over the years.

Proof and consequence of this trend: of the 200 or so stands that the association had, only around 150 remain today. Many of them only manage to survive by carrying out a sideline activity next to their book stand: silk-screen printing, hairdressing salon, multi-service and even carpentry, they had to adapt. “If sales used to go cahin caha throughout the year, only the peak of sales in the autumn is still there,” says Richard Razafinitsimialona, president of the Loharano Soa booksellers’ association in Ambohijatovo. And he continues, “Passing this, it’s dead calm. »

Asked what he thinks the future of the boky tonta will be in 30 years, Mr. Razafinitsimialona is worried: “Few people will read anymore,” he says. This is an alarming statement from a book lover who would like to continue the activity that has long sustained him and his peers.

Behind the scenes

Because yes, we must not forget that the land as well as the stands belong to the commune. The booksellers therefore have, among other things at their expense, a daily ticket of 500 ar/day and a patent of 50 to 60,000 ar/month to pay to the State. These costs are weighing more and more on the sellers of old books, especially since if those on the outskirts of the square manage more or less to get by, it is not uncommon that those stuck inside sometimes have to deal with a book sold by … month! Enough to leave you wondering about their stock management.

Stands open, stands closed...
Stands open, stands closed…

In addition, there is the fear of fires (4 or 5 years ago, a fire in a nearby hotel destroyed about 15 stands) and the more visceral fear of seeing a profession disappear. “My wish would be that the politicians would finally respect their words and make us permanent stands as they have always promised us,” says Mr. Razafinitsimialona, his eyes in the void. “I would like this activity to be sustainable again and to evolve. »

Personally, I spent a lot of time walking the low, narrow alleys of the boky tonta looking for a Roger Zelazny or a Jack Vance. It’s crazy how time flies when you’re in the company of books, even if it’s not to buy everything (because yes, with my poor high school pocket money… :D). I’ve made up my mind: I’d go back more often, if only to support this heritage (in my opinion) and give future generations the chance to see what it was like before :’).


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