One of the largest cities that we will be close to during our project is Mahajanga. It is the capital of the Boeny region and has a population of 250 000 people.
Mahajanga is located on a very important seaport between the Betsiboka River and Bombetoka Bay. This location helps establish Mahajanga as a big trading city - particularly for frozen shrimp! The city is also known for processing agricultural products, canning meat and manufacturing soap, sugar and cement.
Tourists come here often because it has beautiful beaches, coconut-linked boardwalks and eight months of virtually rain-free weather! Around Mahajanga is just as beautiful as the city itself: islands, forest reserves, lakes and caves are popular for tourists and locals alike.
The city has had many different influences over the year. It was formed in the 1780s when a group of Indian traders formed the city at the mouth of the Betsiboka River. They used the area to trade weapons, gems, spices and fabrics. In the old city, you can still see evidence of this, from trading posts to sculpted wooden doors. In 1895, the French realized the strategic location of this city and occupied Mahajanga to begin their conquest of Madagascar. You can still see the old colonial houses which were built during this time, too!
Another important piece of Mahajanga's history is the royal relics of Tsaramandroso. This royal shrine holds some relics (teeth, nails, clothing) belonging to the Sakalaya Kings Adriamandrosoarivo, Andrimisara, Andrinamisara, Andrianamboniarivo and Andrimihanina. Once a year at the shrine, there is a procession in which the relics of the four male ancestors are paraded around the shrine and soaked in water in a ritual called Fanompoa Be, or Great Service. Foreigners are invited to visit the shrine but have to be careful to follow all the rules, so they don't insult the ancestors. This includes not wearing glasses, wearing traditional Lamba dress, and bringing a donation of money, rum or candles.
One of the most popular things to see in Mahajanga is the Centenary Baobab. Located at the end of the Avenue de France, just as it meets the sea promenade, this tree is 15m tall and is said to be 1,000 years old! When you visit the tree, you are supposed to go around it seven times to worship the ancestors and obtain their blessing. Maybe this should be one of our first stops!