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Lords and Lemurs: Mad Scientists, Kings With Spears, and the Survival of Diversity in Madagascar

"A wonderfully vivid and beautifully written book that brings to life the social and natural history of a remarkable place." — Sarah Hrdy, author of Mother Nature and The Woman That Never Evolved

About the Book

"Where can you find scientists from all over the world, a family of French aristocrats who never quite noticed the French Revolution, a pastoralist tribe who still think of themselves as spear-carrying warriors, six species of lemurs, and usually a TV team underfoot?" asks Alison Jolly. The answer is Berenty, Madagascar.

A nature reserve located among the spiny deserts of the south of Madagascar, Berenty is a tiny place, but in some ways it is "a microcosm of the whole world — rich and poor, international and traditional cultures, people and animals," according to Jolly. In Lords and Lemurs: Mad Scientists, Kings with Spears, and the Survival of Diversity in Madagascar, Jolly takes us inside the unique universe of Berenty, where three groups that so often seem to be in conflict — Westerners, people of the developing world, and wildlife — remarkably coexist, to the benefit of all.

When Jolly (one of the "Mad Scientists" of the book's subtitle) first went to Madagascar forty years ago to study lemurs, she discovered her ideal research site at Berenty, a private wildlife refuge on a plantation owned by an old aristocratic French family, the de Heaulmes. These lords had first come to Berenty in the 1930s. As they developed their plantation over the years, they set aside land for lemurs, and they treated the local Tandroy tribespeople with respect, helping them preserve their traditions alongside the commercial economy.

The Tandroy, the "Kings with Spears," are as noble and proud as the de Heaulmes, and Jolly shares the amazing story of how the tribe has maintained its vibrant culture while obtaining some of the most important benefits of the modern world, including health care and education. Tandroy continue to live in traditional villages surrounded by walls of thorns, and they continue to keep their cult of cattle and hold exuberant funerals (Jolly and her husband were honored to be invited to one), but they have given up some other customs, like keeping slaves and stealing women from other tribes.

The de Heaulmes have kept their pact with the Tandroy in a globalizing world. True, they are capitalists and they were colonialists, but these leaders epitomize noblesse oblige; they feel an honorable sense of responsibility for the place where they live and the people and animals they live with. For example:

• When the people of Madagascar campaigned for independence from France, the de Heaulmes stood with them and joined the first government.
• When one of the de Heaulmes was imprisoned during a civil war, the Tandroy marched on the prison to demand his release.
• When the sisal grown on the plantation was made obsolete by artificial fibers, the de Heaulmes did not pack up and return to France to enjoy their wealth; they transformed Berenty into an ecotourism resort that continues to provide jobs for the Tandroy, protection for the lemurs, and a sanctuary for scientists.

"In the year 2000 Berenty and its lemurs still flourished because the de Heaulme family are still here. And vice versa. Forest and family saved each other," Jolly writes.

Poignant and colorful, tragic and funny, Lords and Lemurs is a remarkable tale of one of the last great places on earth and the extraordinary people who inhabit it.

About the Author

Alison Jolly, a pioneer in the study of primate behavior and the evolution of social intelligence, is the author of A World Like Our Own: Man and Nature in Madagascar, The Evolution of Primate Behavior, and Lucy's Legacy: Sex and Intelligence in Human Evolution. She has taught at Princeton and is currently at the University of Sussex, England.

Advance Praise for Lords and Lemurs

"There is no other book remotely like this one. Alison Jolly is an extraordinarily gifted writer. She is also an astute observer of the peculiarities and ironies of the human condition, as well as the social lives of lemurs. Lords and Lemurs is a wonderfully vivid and beautifully written book that brings to life the social and natural history of a remarkable place — Madagascar." — Sarah Hrdy, author of Mother Nature and The Woman That Never Evolved

"Lords and Lemurs is the bright and loving story of a strange land, a special people, and a few exotic tribes of primates and primate-watchers — as told by one very distinguished member of the latter." — Dale Peterson, author of The Deluge and the Ark and coauthor of Demonic Males.

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