Sainte Marie

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Nosy Boraha Nosy Ibrahim, Nosim-bavy (Island of women) is the largest amongst the chain of small islands located at the east coast of Madagascar.

The island had been known as Isola Santa Maria since the 16th century, when it was discovered by the Portuguese. Following their custom, the discoverers gave the name of the saint of the day to the places where they disembarked. They named Madagascar Isola Santa Lorenzo and when they saw Nosy Boraha, they baptised it Isola Santa Maria, a name which was later Gallicised as Sainte Marie when the French settled there in the 17th century.

The island of Sainte Marie is rich in legends and anecdotes: One early story tells the tale of a man who while sailing in his pirogue was carried far away by a whale, then miraculously returned to the island by a dolphin, a legend reminiscent of the story of Jonas and the whale. Another presents the island as an ancient den of pirates and buccaneers from where such famous names as Nathaniel North, David Williams, Thomas Tew, La Buse and Plantain operated. By the beginning of the 18th century it was rumored, that with their innumerable crews their number reached over a thousand.

But it was also the love nest of princess Betia, daughter of the famous Betsimisaraka king Ratsimilaho, and of the French corporal Jean Onésime Filet - nicknamed "the winkle". The marriage of the couple instigated a major resounding event when, on her husband's insistence, the queen ceded her island to France which thus became French territory in 1750. However, the island was reintegrated with Madagascar upon the independence of the country.

Thanks to their names the other islands also carry the traces of these various moments of history: Ile aux Forbans (the Corsairs' Islan) and the pirates' cemetery, immortalising the memories left by these ocean mercenaries; Ilot Madame, in honour of Madame, the daughter of King Louis XV. All this gives a charm to the island of Sainte Marie, adding to the natural beauty of its sites and beckoning visitors to immerse themselves in a not very distant past - only a few centuries separate us from these events.

Text from "Passport for Madagascar" - July, August 2017 - 101st edition

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