The Zebu

Zebu (the Malagasy cow), an iconic symbol of wealth, but also an intricate part of daily life. The Zebu are used to trample and loosen the soil to plant rice, yoked together to plough fields for the planting of maize and crops. They are harnessed together to pull the carts across the country. A form of currency, a barter system. Importantly also source of food. The Bara and many other southern tribes will go out and rustle Zebu in order to prove their worth and worth as a desirable man to marry.

The cattle have a distinct big wobbly hump on their backs and folds of loose skin on their necks which give their body more surface area for cooling and the fat storage for lean times.

The beginning of this journey I have spent many a night in little villages, with my tent pitched close to the kraal of this prized beast. Placed docile and dead quiet at night. In a way graceful. There is a side to this village life that puzzles me. This animal such a part of life and so prized, but so harshly treated.

I will never forget following the annual Zebu trek which moves over 200km north to Ihosy where the markets are. Day and night hundreds of the cattle are hoarded. As they tire they begin to straggle, then the sticks come out and the relentless beating starts. I remember one of them limping from and injury sustained from the long trek being relentlessly whipped, with no hope of recovery.

In the evening when the cattle are herded into the kraal, every child in the village seems to pick up a stick and club the cattle as they pass. In some of the drier areas where the skin just hangs on the bones, you can hear a crack as they hit the skin and bone, the animal quivers and quietly moves on.

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