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Alison Jolly was an anthropologist who specialized in lemurs. This put her in a unique position to study the very different groups of people in Madagascar, forming the centerpiece of Lords and Lemurs: Mad Scientists, Kings With Spears, and the Survival of Diversity in Madagascar.

She made repeated trips over a period of almost 40 years for her own studies, to lead students. to lead tourists, and to accompany her husband on his work as an international development economist. She worked closely with people at all levels of society. And so, this book is a fascinating look at what makes a post-colonial developing nation tick.

The centerpiece of the book is the de Heaulme family, who were French colonists in Madagascar. The maintain ties to France, to other French colonial families around the world, and to Madagascar. The family maintains a reserve in Berenty, near Ft. Dauphin, that is popular with high-end eco-tourists. The de Heaulmes began preserving a lemur habitat in 1936, and it is a popular destination with scientists. Jolly helped them expand into limited tourism as a way to preserve the habitat and create good jobs for the local community.

The de Heaulmes operate more or less as benevolent feudal lords, or at least they were at the time that Jolly wrote the book. They were committed to the country that they called home, working hard to maintain economic stability and a safety net in their community. They felt a sense of connection to the place, unlike many newer investors who built prefabricated manufacturing facilities that could be moved to the next-cheaper market. The de Heaulmes represent the best of the colonial system, making a multi-generational commitment to the country. They are still part of the colonial system, though. They considered themselves to be Malagasy, but their lives were structured apart from their fellow, non-French citizens.

The de Heaulmes are not the only lords referenced in the title; they and the scientists also had to work with leadership of the Malagasy community and their own royal system. Part of the reason that Berenty worked is that the colonists respected the local social structure.

Jolly published this book in 2004. More than 40 percent of the country’s population is under age 14 – mere babies, or not even born, then. In a way, this is ancient history in a world that changes so quickly.  It’s a poor country, dependent upon agriculture and apparel manufacture. It’s not a place for investors right now, and few investors would show the commitment of the de Heaulmes.