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A little romance story of the rum factory of the former Djamandjary sugar village

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History of Madagascar

Article written by Tamim KARIMBHAY professor, historian and novelist author of a cultural and historical monograph of an insular cultural and tourist space in the Indian Ocean and the Mozambique Channel: Nosy-Bé: Malagasy soul, French heart and autobiographical novel and geopolitics: a versatile and visionary hypertext: Year 2043: Autopsy of a Countercurrent Memory. Original source: http://www.zinfos974.com/Petite-histoire-romanesque-de-l-usine-de-rhum-de-l-ancien-village-sucrier-Djamandjary-Nosy-Be-sur-les-rails-des_a53260. html

I remember that the cane cutters had dubbed her "the black fool" because once launched, it was hard to curb her. She was there, excluded and abandoned to her fate, serving as the first stage for the visitors, she, whose villagers had heard the whistling, and she, who had pulled thousands of wagons loaded with canes, for years, was sadly left to his own fate, thinking silently about the cruelty of human nature. It was one of those old steam locomotives running on charcoal. At the time, when I was little, you could hear her rhythmic hissing when she came back to the station. At dawn, while the roosters sang in chorus to sound the alarm, his whistles mixed with the bells of the bikes, the horns of the few taxis, the first tractors John Deer and Caterpillar and the van 3 CV Citroen of the bread deliveryman who made his triumphant entry into my village, woke the countrymen daily, at the same hour. It was one of those old machines black and dilapidated by time, recalling by its form and elegance, the first industrial revolutions of the nineteenth century where we replace the animal traction by mechanization and steam, like that of Richard Trevithick who was the director of the first locomotive in 1804 or the rocket of Ro-bert Stephenson dated 1814. Forgotten Djamandjar, she has the nostalgia of time before, a time irreversible and gone, where men had a certain value in the world of work. It recalls a bit of Lison of the Human Beast of Emile Zola who described in 1857,

"This monster of iron, steel, and copper," which for the first time became a romantic figure. The heart of this steam locomotive was its boiler. In principle, she used coal as energy, but she also sometimes used oil, wood, sugar cane waste and peat. The fuel burned on the grill inside the fireplace. The outer carcass, which is still there, containing pipes completely in ruins, was surrounded by water, whose role was to absorb the heat emitted by the fire. The air necessary for combustion arrived at different ends. The primary air was coming in below the grate and the secondary air was coming up through the fireplace door. The va-fear then circulated, in a pipe which allowed to obtain reheated steam. Its temperature was approximately 316 to 376 ° C and then passed through the valves to the cylinders. It was this mechanism that triggered the bars, where the wheels were connected. The hot gases thus expelled, caused an exhaust steam of the cylinders, which arrived at high speed in the chimney. The train obviously required the presence of personnel, such as mechanics, controllers, machinists, fixed personnel and controllers. But all that is so far away in Jamandjar, all is forgotten, except this locomotive black as coal, which remains there, passive, melancholy, wandering, poor, condemned and abandoned-born by the cruel world of men who advance in an illusory world and virtual, like tentacles of an octopus swallowing everything in its path. This locomotive is a little reminiscent of the Pacific that we saw in Jean Renoir's film of 1938. In this former sugar village where you can feel - through the rusty smells of the ruins of the boiler, chassis and massive wheels sleeping on the bereaved rails - the difficult jobs of these mechanics and drivers who wonderfully recall the film, where these roles were interpreted, by Jean Gabin (Jacques Lantier) and Julien Carette (Pecqueux). This locomotive, now in ruins, was firing huge wagons of burnt canes. The latter, once at the factory, would be transformed into rum or red sugar so famous in Madagascar. I still remember that time, when when I was little, I went with the friends of the village, extract some rods of canes cars that scrolled at full speed like go-goers. We were being dragged by the force of the black monster who was shooting them. The pleasure was for us, children of the village, to chew these hard canes like iron, with our little teeth that smelled of molasses. The sight of this ruined factory and its remnants, which are eternally sleeping, also reminded me of its glory days. The cane was still cut, at the time, old-fashioned manually in the fields. A bit like the culture rice was a laborious, exhausting, exhausting and rarely mechanized work done by the villagers of the Antandroy tribe, who were also zebus breeders. Sugarcane, like rice, needed sun, water and heat. Where water was scarce, the cane fields were irrigated all along the peripheral and coastal road of Jamandjar, thanks to the pumps which drew water from the various thousand-year-old lakes and some rusted reservoirs of Nosy-Be; these were certainly from the colonial era. The cane is a perennial plant, that is, it does not need to be replanted every year. The cane regrows after each harvest. After five or six "regrowths", the old plants were torn out and a "virgin cane" was replanted. Sugarcane was multiplied by cuttings of stems that peasants buried horizontally. As the growth progresses, the sugar accumulates in the stems up to a maximum, called "maturity": It was the optimal moment for the harvest which took place between June and October. Harvesting consisted of cutting the stems leaving the lower part, the "stump", to allow the plant to regrow. The cut of the stems was traditionally done by hand, using a machete or saber, which required a large workforce. It was a difficult operation because the cane stalk was hard, the leaves were sharp, the heat was strong and the insects swarmed. Once cut, the stems had to be brought to the plant within two days because the sugar content was falling rapidly. The harvest was therefore a milestone. It required a great deal of organization in the supply of factories that made sugar, rum, and many other products. A Malagasy man could cut a few kilograms of stalks a day, while a "cut-and-saw" could in the industrialized countries harvest up to 60 tons of stems per hour. In Nosy-Be, to facilitate cutting, the field was often burned, but this practice was gradually abandoned because it was polluting, it reduced the quality of the stems and it destroyed the biological equilibrium, without forgetting that this process caused problems. fires, which can make disappear Malagasy villages and their traditional houses in straw on stilts. Once the previously "burned" cane was cut manually, it was then loaded, after weighing, into tractor trailers or locomotive wagons using a three-wheeled Cane Loader Bell. The canes were then transported to the Djamandjar factory, where they were unloaded in the cane yard until they were crushed. Grapples then grabbed the already stacked canes to send them with the cane chains in the plant to be crushed. Afterwards, there was talk of purification with respect to bagasse: the juice from grinding (vesou) was then treated with lime. This transformed the acids into insoluble salts. After liming, the juice was boiled in heaters. Once brought to a boil, the juice was then sent to the clarifiers. By decantation, the clear juice was separated from the impurities. As the juice continued to progress through the manufacturing process, the sludge was filtered by rotary vacuum filters. Before crystallization, evaporation occurred. This operation consisted in removing the water from the clear juice thanks to the action of the steam. At the outlet of the last evaporator, the juice had lost up to 75% water and became syrupy and took the name of brown sugar. The residues were called molasses. The syrup that came out of the last box of evaporation was supersaturated in the boilers, so the crystallization was initiated at the opportune moment, it developed and became generalized. The cane syrup was introduced into the cooking apparatus in which it allowed the enlargement of small sugar crystals. There remained the molasses that could be used to make the famous white rum on the Red Island. Finally, the mixing, the spinning and the drying were carried out: the contents were poured into a mixing tank where, by regular agitation, its temperature was brought back to about 45 ° C; the cooling crystals were becoming larger at the expense of the "mother liquor" which surrounds them. The completion of the operations consisted in separating the crystals from the mother liquor which was also called sewer syrup. The wet sugar from the turbines passed through a dryer, then the dry product was then conveyed by a transporter to the bagging units. The brown sugar obtained was often sold in large bags of 50 to 100 kg. The red sugar could be consumed as is. On the other hand, in order to obtain white sugar, brown sugar had to undergo a final series of refining operations in the factory. It was a very difficult job, but many workers, mechanics, farmers found work in this sugar factory which made the splendor of the village of my childhood. All of these people had purchasing power that allowed them to buy necessities in my father's small grocery store. Even if people were still buying on credit, rarely signing debt certificates or, above all, by putting their fingerprints on the so-called "good notebooks", the cane factory paid its workers a small wage. They then came to shop in our grocery store. This allowed my parents to support our family, to buy the rare and beautiful books that allowed me to cultivate myself. We sold a little of everything and workers and farmers were our first customers because, in addition, they could pay their purchases in several times.

Roger then gave me some additional explanations ...

"The factory was imported piece by piece from Brazil or Venezuela in the 1923s," he says. Sugarcane has been grown there for a very long time. This plant, whose call sirens at work and the whistling of locomotives have punctuated the whole life in the village of Djamandjar between 1930 and 2005, is currently in a state of industrial wasteland. At the time of my childhood, the village felt vesou, bagasse, brown sugar and molasses. The cows graze here today, among the debris of cars and locomotives German, English and French, dating from the 1910s. It is also there, that one produced the most quoted rum of Madagascar: "the Djam ". The abandoned rails, forcing bush taxis to slow down, merge into the landscape, reminiscent of the glorious past of this sugar factory, which has given life to many traders, bars, grocers, workers, mechanics and farmers in the village. Djamandjar. All life was governed by the rhythm and the operation of this factory. Well, it's getting late, he said, the sun is going down, let's go back to the hotel, after this fruitful day ... "

Night began to spread its long black coat over the village of my childhood, like a curtain that falls when the show is over. From the cracked windshield of the taxi, I could already see the flying bats dancing collectively in the sky, and hear the chimes of the cicadas and the screams of the crickets waking up in their turn. I realized then that even if the world had evolved since, there are things that remain uninterrupted. I was happy to find this peaceful and lively atmosphere - by the little beasts of the night - that I did not find later ...

In the taxi, back from our tour of the island, I took the opportunity to tell another story to my family and Roger.

"There was a gentleman who was a cane cutter in this factory at the time. His name was Sambou, a Malagasy who, on the weekends, sold banana beans. He was always dressed simply, in lambas, a sort of traditional Malagasy cloth. Sometimes, during periods when there was no cane cut, he would sell beautiful shells and some artisanal products, to tourists on the beach next door. Tourists would give him or exchange in exchange, junk, soap, perfume, toothpaste, little toys, ... and one day ... he went back to my father's shop ... evening was falling ... my father had just lit the only am-hen that illuminated our little grocery store and I would almost say the main street of the village, creating, a flagrant contrast, between the small light and the big night that arrived, as every evening, in this village of Djamandjar. As the screeches began to sing, the crickets shouted, the flying bats passed to join their home, Sambou entered our shop. He had come with a Bled, three Bescherelles, a 4th Bordas grammar book and an atlas of the world's animals. It was in 1985. I was nine years old ... My father bought for me, all those books, which helped me to face the middle and high school years. I was the only child in the village to have access to the French School and I realized that I was lucky and a wonderful privilege to which I pay tribute, now years and years later! My father had put his least savings in the books, and I owe him a lot for the affection he had for me and the means he put for the success of his son! He is at the origin of my bibliophile. "

We finally arrived at the hotel.

"The day was grueling. My bones are not very young anymore. I need to rest the children. I suggest that I rest a few days before starting an adventure. During this time, you will enjoy to discover for yourself the island!

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